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Alaska judge denies gag order request in Bethel sex abuse case

  • Author: Suzanna Caldwell
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published August 20, 2013

A judge has rejected a gag order request against the Alaska Office of Children's Services in regards to a Bethel man accused of molesting children left in his care.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Blankenship denied a request from an attorney for Peter Tony asking that the agency be barred from releasing any additional documents or statements related to his time as foster parent from 1984 to 1998.

Special coverage: Child sexual abuse allegations rock Bethel

In the order denying the request, Blankenship wrote that the court cannot justify prior restraint on the First Amendment right of the press to obtain information under Alaska public disclosure laws. Tony had requested a blanket order for the agency from disclosing any documents and statements related to Tony, his late wife Marilyn and any children the couple may have supervised in their time as foster parents.

In early August, Tony's attorney, Mark Osterman, argued that OCS's release of the files infringed on Tony's right to a fair trial. The original filing notes that the "defendant believes that OCS knew or should have known that law enforcement action was underway" and should have prevented disclosure to the media.

The latest order disagrees, saying that while a defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial could in rare circumstances demand withholding of public records, "those circumstances are not present here."

Blankenship wrote that it appears the office understands its duty for disclosure and confidentiality, and that the agency, which oversees Alaska's foster care program, has not "breached its obligations."

Tony, 69, was charged in June with multiple charges of molesting a 4-year-old girl in his unlicensed day care. Weeks later, he was additionally charged with sexually abusing a foster child in his care in 1998.

In July, through a Freedom of Information Act request, Alaska Dispatch requested access to the Tonys' foster care file. In response, OCS released hundreds of pages of documents related to the couple's 15 years as foster parents. Some records were withheld and names redacted, citing confidentiality laws.

The files showed at least five allegations of abuse against Peter Tony, though only one in 1998 was substantiated. No charges in that case were filed until 2013.

Department of Health and Social Services Spokeswoman Susan Morgan had no direct comment on the ruling, but said OCS is still working with Bethel police to assist in the ongoing investigation against Tony.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com

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