The National Guard scandal has ended in silence, casting doubt on all involved

Criminal investigations continued at least until last summer in an Alaska National Guard scandal that exploded in 2014 with allegations of sexual assault, drugs, theft and fraud.

But official secrecy created the impression nothing was happening. It still obscures all but the most basic facts.

That's a problem. Public trust in state government and the Guard took a big hit with the scandal. The apparent lack of follow-through delivered another hit, this time to law enforcement and the media.

Conservative commentator Dan Fagan and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy both charged last year that the scandal had been hype — particularly blaming ADN — to defeat Gov. Sean Parnell's re-election.

"Once the election was over, the stories disappeared," Dunleavy wrote.

But the reason coverage dried up was because information did. Judges and lawyers are still keeping the truth under wraps.

[Report calls for apology, accountability for toxic culture at Alaska National Guard]


The story begins in 2010, when a group of chaplains went to Parnell with concerns about misconduct at the Guard. He didn't take effective action at the time, but in 2014 ordered a thorough investigation.

That report, by the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations, blew up during the election campaign.

It found the Guard's leadership had mishandled allegations of sexual assault, created a hostile work environment and failed to properly address misconduct. The office reported embezzlement, misuse of equipment for personal gain, favoritism, ethical misconduct and fear of reprisal at the Alaska Guard.

Newspaper readers later learned of a debauched Recruiting and Retention Battalion pushing alcohol on high school girls and grooming them for sex. Facing concern from parents, the Anchorage School District barred recruiters from campuses.

Bill Walker defeated Parnell in that fall's election and ordered reforms. A report by retired Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins looked into sexual harassment and abuse at the Guard.

Collins produced two versions of her report in 2015, one confidential and the other public. Among her findings, she said three cases of sexual assault and one death had not been adequately investigated by law enforcement.

The death was that of Staff Sgt. Michelle Clark, who collapsed in 2011 while seven months pregnant. Her family suspected murder. Not long before Clark died, she told a lieutenant colonel about drugs and sexual assault in her unit, saying she feared being killed if she reported it.

The Alaska Public Radio Network reported in 2016 that an autopsy was inconclusive and other evidence of a crime was lacking.

The government's investigation ended last summer, according to John Skidmore, director of the criminal division of the Alaska Department of Law.

In an email, Skidmore wrote last week that Collins' four cases were investigated and the department "concluded in each matter that the evidence was insufficient to prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus no criminal charges have been filed in those four matters."

An FBI statement said, "FBI did not investigate the original complaints of sexual assault, drug trafficking, harassment or conspiracy to conceal criminal acts. FBI investigated allegations of obstruction of justice and found no reliable evidence of violations of federal law."

A spokesman would provide no further details.

The Alaska State Troopers and Anchorage Police Department were even less helpful.

A trooper spokesperson said the agency could only give information on particular victim names or case numbers — impossible, since that information was always secret.

APD provided me with this empty statement: "Any possible crimes related to the National Guard that were brought to APD's attention and were within APD's jurisdiction have been or are being investigated."

Chief Justin Doll referred me to the municipal attorney, saying he couldn't comment because of litigation. APD is being sued for firing a detective, Lt. Tony Henry.

The municipality claims that it fired Henry in 2015 because in 2010 he spoiled an investigation into drug and sex crimes at the National Guard by revealing the identity of confidential informants. His attorneys deny that ever happened. They say there was no investigation.


The story gets more complicated. Chief Mark Mew wrote a confidential letter I obtained admitting he ignored Henry's misconduct in 2010 to get his help defending an unrelated discrimination and retaliation suit brought by two minority officers.

Those officers ultimately won their retaliation case last year. That's when we learned that Mayor Dan Sullivan had secretly suspended Chief Mew in 2015 for improperly protecting Henry.

But the report that allegedly implicates Henry and Mew remains secret. It was written by Lt. Col. Rick Brown, a retired Pennsylvania police officer, who compiled more than a thousand pages of evidence.

The lost retaliation suit cost city taxpayers more than $2 million. But despite Henry's role in that, we don't get to know what he supposedly did, including in the National Guard case.

Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner ordered attorneys not to talk to reporters during the trial, making it difficult to cover, and last month he denied a request by the Anchorage Daily News and KTUU for a copy of the Brown report, which was key evidence.

Municipal Attorney Becky Windt Pearson said the municipality wants to keep the report secret permanently. She said APD is still investigating National Guard cases, but wouldn't say what those investigations are about.

Ironically, the Guard itself has been more open. In January 2016, Maj. Gen. Laurie Hummel released a list of 13 disciplinary actions against senior enlisted personnel and four officers, including five "other than honorable" discharges. No names were included.

The Guard's provost marshal said in written responses to questions that no investigations are ongoing and no money was recovered from instances of fraud.


So what happened? Was the misconduct grossly exaggerated in the first place? Unlikely, given two official reports and extensive documentation.

Or were the investigations themselves incompetent or even corrupted, as a secret city report apparently alleges?

Or perhaps, as most often happens, the truth is complicated and we could understand it only with all the facts on the table.

We may never know. And without transparency, those who benefit can say it was all just smoke.

In the arrogance of power, officials forget that their legitimacy derives from the public's confidence. Government secrecy is a big reason Americans have lost faith in the institutions that hold our democracy together.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Charles Wohlforth

Charles Wohlforth was an Anchorage Daily News reporter from 1988 to 1992 and wrote a regular opinion column from 2015 until 2019. He served two terms on the Anchorage Assembly. He is the author of a dozen books about Alaska, science, history and the environment. More at wohlforth.com.