Read last weeks breaking story on Governor Waits Years to Act on Sexual Assault Cases
Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
Oct. 27, 2013, was a very important date to several people.
One of them was Melissa Jones. Her name had been in the newspaper that morning. She had been identified as a victim of sexual assault while serving in the Alaska National Guard. Melissa thought surely someone in authority would call her to talk about what had happened to her.
The story was written by Sean Cockerham for the Daily News. In it, members of the Guard had publicly complained about sexual abuse in the Alaska National Guard and the lack of action by Guard leaders.
Melissa is still waiting for that phone call.
Rosa Ralls had also stepped forward.
“It isn’t easy to say you’ve been raped,” Rosa said. To have your name attached to that in a newspaper story feels “pretty specific.”
In Rosa’s case, she had already tried twice to get the governor’s office interested in her case. One time, in 2011, she had taken another rape victim with her to let Gov. Sean Parnell’s office know what was happening in the Guard. No one from the governor’s office ever followed up with either of them.
Ralls was raped in 2009. Her police report says the case is awaiting DNA evidence. The man she accused of raping her was former military but not in the Guard. He had a previous sexual assault charge, and there was video footage of him catching the door of her secured building. She picked him out of a lineup. Five years later, no charges have been filed.
Melissa is 34 years old. She reported that she was drugged, raped and then ridiculed by several Guardsmen. She went to the Guard’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, but there was never an investigation. Soon after that, she was deployed to Iraq for nine months. On her return, in 2008, she sought help from the mental health clinic on Fort Richardson. She was given a workbook. Her summary: “No one helped me.”
Melissa now has an approved “line of duty determination” of severe depression and post-traumatic stress — both the result of her rape — from the National Guard Bureau. A medical discharge from the military is pending.
I asked her why she had agreed last year to go public.
“I wanted light shed on the situation. No one contacted me.” She went on, “Hard to believe the governor wouldn’t know. Lack of interest, part of the good ol’ boy club. How do you not care for your own troops?”
The governor claims three Guard chaplains who told him about sexual assault in the Guard in 2010 didn’t give him enough information to prompt an investigation. That’s nonsense. He didn’t need details to call for an investigation, he just needed suspicion.
Here’s how that works, according to his own Guard commander, Adjutant Gen. Thomas Katkus: “The Governor, anytime he has a desire to have an independent assessment or look into an organization he’s responsible with, which would be the Air Guard or the Army Guard, he can contact the National Guard Bureau, advise them of the problem and they would propose the best solutions to step forward to look into it.”
Even with the names of two rape victims in the newspaper, the governor waited from October to February — almost five months — to ask for the federal investigation. Parnell’s recent defense of his actions is based on his “quick response” after Sen. Fred Dyson’s third plea for him to do something, anything about the chaplains’ request for help.
A governor worthy of the title could have done much more than Parnell did.
When Attorney General Gregg Renkes was accused of a financial conflict of interest, Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed former U.S. Attorney Robert Bundy to investigate — within three days.
I asked former Gov. Tony Knowles what he would have done in Parnell’s place. He said: “I wouldn’t have let those chaplains off the phone until my attorney general had heard their story.”
Former Egan administration Attorney General John Havelock said that if such serious charges, even with few details, had come to his attention, he would have launched an immediate investigation. “It’s a report of violation of state law, against someone working for the state — the National Guard — you would have to investigate.”
That’s what the people of Alaska — and especially the men and women for whom he is the commander in chief — should expect. It’s Parnell’s job and his responsibility.
When chaplains are summoned by a governor’s political appointee and asked to personally sign a directive that is simply emailed to other soldiers, that’s an attempt to intimidate whistleblowers into silence.
Maybe it’s not corrupt, maybe it’s just incompetence. When he read in the newspaper that his chief of staff, Mike Nizich, was using his personal email for state business, Parnell told columnist Amanda Coyne, “If those emails were about state business, they should be forwarded to Nizich’s state account and I will direct him to do so.”
Some of us remember that Parnell gave that same instruction to his staff years ago, after the hiding of state emails by the Palin administration was revealed. We had a Supreme Court ruling on it.
Am I the only one asking how we ended up with a governor who doesn’t seem to know what’s going on, even after it appears on the front page of the newspaper?
Shannyn More is a radio broadcaster. You can hear her show, The Last Word, Monday to Friday, from 4 to 6 p.m. on KOAN 95.5 FM, 1080 AM and 1480 We Act Radio in Washington, D.C., and Netroots Radio