In small Alaska city, Native women say police ignored rapes

NOME, Alaska (AP) — There's not much that scares Susie. As an Alaska Native woman, she thrives amid sub-zero winters in her village near the Arctic Circle, and camps with her family each summer at...

12.9.2019

Along Alaska’s western coast, the city of Nome’s police department fielded 372 calls about sexual assaults against adults from 2008 through 2017. It made 30 arrests on sex assault charges in that time -- an arrest rate of 8%. See AP’s story.

NOME, Alaska (AP) — There's not much that scares Susie. As an Alaska Native woman, she thrives amid sub-zero winters in her village near the Arctic Circle, and camps with her family each summer at...

John Earthman, district attorney for Nome and surrounding areas, said Nome police officers “are very hard-working people that live in this community. They want to make their community safer. Unfortunately out here a lot of times, it is a triage situation. It’s very hard. Just having a rural police department in rural Alaska is very hard.”

“You have every opportunity to raise up the Native community right now,” group member Darlene Trigg, who is Inupiaq, told City Council members in May 2018. “In the end we can come out of this in a good place — we all just have to be humble enough to recognize that there’s been mistakes. Please, please recognize that.”

On Aug. 11, 2003, Florence Habros and her sister watched 19-year old Sonya Ivanoff step into a Nome police car. It was the last time anyone saw the young Inupiaq woman alive.

Habros finally sent a video statement to the Alaska State Troopers. The troopers’ investigation of the case ultimately led to the murder conviction of Nome Police Officer Matthew Clay Owens.

Taylor could not be reached for comment for this story. Before he stepped down as chief at end of his contract in January 2004, he said he hadn’t been aware of concerns about Owens’ conduct and that the murder case had been turned over to state troopers as soon as he had information that a Nome police officer might be involved. “Nothing was dropped or hidden,” he said.

The civil settlement — and Owens’ 101-year prison sentence — closed the legal proceedings in Nome’s courthouse. But the memory of Ivanoff’s murder is still fresh for many Alaska Native people in Nome and across the state. Alaska Natives have long endured sexual abuse — by staffers at boarding schools that Native children in rural areas were required to attend for much of the 20th century, and by missionaries who came to claim the land for Christ.

While Native communities still suffer from the effects of sexual trauma, Nome’s physicians, nurses, therapists, teachers and police are almost exclusively non-Native. Many come from out of state for short rotations, ranging from a few weeks to a few years. Alaska Native organizations try to keep pace by offering cultural trainings to help outsiders better serve their communities — but not everyone participates.

On the night Susie says everything changed for her, she had come from her village farther north to visit a cousin in Nome. At a bar, she encountered a man she knew from another village who lived in Nome. According to the notes compiled by Barbara Cromwell, the lead forensic nurse at Nome’s Norton Sound Regional Hospital, Susie said the man bought her three shots of liquor — “I was just feeling a little bit ‘somewhere,’ but I wasn’t drunk.”

Susie says she waited three days in Nome to hear back from police about her case, but heard nothing. She flew back to her village and continued calling police and prosecutors in Nome. Still, she says, no one could tell her what had happened with her case.

The number of evidence kits Cromwell’s team collected more than tripled, from around 55 the first year, to over 180 by 2017. But as more and more people went to the hospital for rape exams, Nome police officers struggled to master investigative techniques, Cromwell told the AP.

“I had no idea that they were sometimes deciding in the field that it was not a legitimate report,” Cromwell said. “How can you substantiate (an assault) if you don’t bring them to a quiet place to interview them with support, with an advocate, and have a medical person evaluate them? Because it might sound like nothing, but that’s because it’s very difficult for the women to tell their story. You really have to give them the opportunity to do that.”

Paniaataq, who is Inupiaq, worked from 2016 to 2018 for the department as a community services officer, a civilian employee who assisted sworn officers.

As a supervisor, Stotts said he wrote numerous complaints, but the department did nothing about “blatant disregard for policing.”

Clarice “Bun” Hardy, a 911 dispatcher for Nome police from 2015 to 2018, had always thought of Harvey as a friend. Harvey was “the one cop I thought of as family, the one who I trusted with everything,” she said.

Meanwhile, during her shifts as dispatcher, she was answering repeated calls from two women who had reported being assaulted. Each time she told Harvey one of the women was on the line to ask about the status of her case, Hardy said, he said: “Just tell her I’m working on it.”

In March 2018, she said, she told the police chief at the time, John Papasodora, what had happened with her case, and he seemed surprised. He couldn’t locate a report or even a case number in the department’s computer system, she said, and asked her to rewrite her complaint, promising to deliver it to state troopers.

Papasodora, who stepped down as Nome police chief in September 2018, did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment for this story.

Around 30 people assembled, and they went around in a circle introducing themselves, Hardy recalled. “I said, ‘Hi, my name is Clarice Hardy. I go by ‘Bun.’ I’m a dispatcher for the Nome Police Department and I’m here because I reported that I was drugged and raped, and my case didn’t go anywhere.”

At the same time, revelations about her case came in the wake of the news that the department had rehired Carl Putman, a former Nome community service officer who months before had pleaded guilty to punching Florence Habros — the eyewitness in the Sonya Ivanoff murder case a decade and a half before.

Harvey interviewed her at the hospital. Friends who stayed with her during the interview repeatedly asked the officer what the next steps were.

“I went to Harvey and asked him what’s going on, and he said: ‘It’s just accusations right now,’” Washington recalled. “I asked if I could give him information, witnesses, anything. I asked: ‘Why isn’t he arrested yet with all that she went through?’”

It was soon after that the Anchorage Daily News story about Hardy went live. Levi read the story with a shock of recognition. She wasn’t alone.

“We’ve seen that our sisters in Nome reported their sexual abuse, and were ignored,” Starbard, who is of Tlingit and Dena’ina Athabascan heritage, said. “We’ve heard it said over and over on social media, in the news, in the comments — that we aren’t to be believed, or it was our fault anyways, or that we deserve what we get. . . . It’s crushing us. It’s killing us.”

In Nome, as Hardy and Levi’s stories drew statewide publicity and stoked community anger, signs of change emerged. The city hired a new police chief, Robert Estes, who announced that his department was performing an internal audit of over 460 old sexual assault cases. The City Council approved the hiring of the police department’s first victims advocate and passed an ordinance to create a civilian oversight committee to monitor police conduct.

Susie, meanwhile, was inspired by Hardy and Levi’s stories to try to find out what had happened with her own case.

“They’re just pushing me away. They know I’ll give up like I did before. It’s stressful.”

“I’m still waiting for the phone call,” she said in mid-July. “I’m at camp working on fish.” But they wouldn’t have any problem reaching her. “We have a generator to charge our phones.”

Read more: The Associated Press

Wondering how long it'll be before Nome head of police gets installed by Trump to be in charge of women's rights and handling of sex-crimes in the US. Fits the 'get the least qualified person to head a department' MO of this administration. Probably because they are the most prevalent predators in Alaska , or shouldn’t be there doing fuck all . Shows how much they enjoy their job! obviously not.

This country doesn't give a damn about human suffering if you are, a POC, a woman or LGBTQ. What else is there to do in Nome? mr_jettlife i heard about these stories...these sick ppl get away with anything

In small Alaska city, Native women say police ignored rapesIn western Alaska, rape survivors and their supporters say that Nome police have often failed to investigate sexual assaults or keep survivors informed about what, if anything, is happening with their cases. cc: ACLU Shame on Nome police dept!!!!!🤬 To much open line communication sounds to me

In small Alaska city, Native women say police ignored rapesLittle more than 100 miles from the Arctic Circle -- and far from the celebrity-driven scandals that have often defined the MeToo movement -- an American hometown is wrestling with issues of sexual violence and law enforcement. Alcohol is the cause of much of the sexual violence. Billy Barr promised millions to Alaska villages for law enforcement

Decision to disqualify Alaska swimmer over bathing suit is overturnedThe decision to disqualify a winning high school swimmer because the Alaska athlete's swimsuit showed too much of her backside has been reversed. There should be a review of the outrageous disqualification in the first instance.

Johnny Depp defends Sauvage ad considered offensive to Native AmericansWeeks after Dior ran and pulled a Sauvage teaser deemed offensive, Johnny Depp is speaking out in defense of it. Johnny Depp: domestic abuser, tone deaf actor, jerk. I'm not sure what he 'thinks' matters. The Ad is at best cultural appropriation. he's so physically repulsive

In small Alaska city, Native women say police ignored rapesIn western Alaska, rape survivors and their supporters say that Nome police have often failed to investigate sexual assaults or keep survivors informed about what, if anything, is happening with their cases. cc: ACLU Shame on Nome police dept!!!!!🤬 To much open line communication sounds to me

In small Alaska city, Native women say police ignored rapesLittle more than 100 miles from the Arctic Circle -- and far from the celebrity-driven scandals that have often defined the MeToo movement -- an American hometown is wrestling with issues of sexual violence and law enforcement. Alcohol is the cause of much of the sexual violence. Billy Barr promised millions to Alaska villages for law enforcement

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