ACLU Hopes To Change State’s Record Expunging Policy
Alaska is one of only a handful of states that don’t allow residents to expunge their records following an unlawful arrest. The ACLU is hoping to change that, filing suit against the state on behalf on a married couple in the Mat-Su who were arrested and charged for growing marijuana. A judge threw out the case because the search warrant request was mishandled.
It’s a complicated case. But a few years ago, troopers showed up at Robin Kling and Samatha Clymer’s house in Willow. Kling’s brother, Jeffrey Laplant, had tipped troopers off that the couple was growing marijuana at their home. Laplant was mentally ill and also accused Kling of assaulting him, a claim that was quickly proven false. In fact, Laplant had been leaving threatening phone messages for Kling all day long. Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU in Alaska, picks up the story from there.
“So instead of doing what they should do and protecting the Clymers and Klings and their family, the cops says we need to search your property for marijuana. Robin and Samantha know their rights and they said no, we don’t want you searching. So they request a search warrant,” Mittman said.
But when the investigating officer asked a magistrate for a search warrant, he failed to mention that Laplant was mentally ill and had been threatening Kling and Clymer. The search warrant was granted later that night and Troopers found 26 marijuana plants on their property and a third of a pound of processed marijuana. But a judge dismissed the case late last year. In the opinion, he wrote the investigator was “more than negligent in his failure to disclose the additional information about the assault and Laplant.”
“And the court lays out step by step by step all of the misconduct of police. Why Kling and Clymer should not have been arrested and prosecuted. Why the state went awry. That’s good, the court did its job, the case was dismissed, they have no conviction. But the job is not done,” Mittman said.
The couple wants their property that was seized returned and their records expunged. Mittman says if that doesn’t happen, the arrests will haunt them the rest of their lives.
“When they go for jobs with the state, or tourist industry, you’ll see Robin Kling is an award winning safety instructor for boating. The state won’t hire him, they said, you’ve been arrested, you’ve been prosecuted,” Mittman said.
The couple isn’t answering any questions about the case, citing the fact that it is ongoing litigation, but Samatha Clymer did make a brief statement.
“If we don’t take action our friends in the Mat-Su and others all across Alaska would be vulnerable to government misconduct. We feel a responsibility to ensure our founding documents were more than just words,” Clymer said.
Clymer noted that she is a direct descendent of George Clymer, who is one of six people who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The federal government and at least 45 other states allow citizens to expunge their records following unlawful arrests. Josh Decker is trying the case for the ACLU. He says Alaska is one of the few states that is silent on the issue.
“We have tried to work with the courts before and they have taken the position that unless the courts specifically have this power, they are unable to go ahead and do it. So what we are asking in this litigation. We are asking the judges of Alaska to say this is a right the courts inherently have and we are going to exercise it to protect individuals who like Robin, like Samatha, have been victimized by police misconduct,” Decker said.
The ACLU was successful in getting the state to return a DNA sample they had taken from Robin Kling. Jeffrey Mittman says he’s hopeful the ACLU and the state can also expunge the couple’s records and return their property without trying the case in court. The Governor’s office says it has not yet reviewed the lawsuit and so it’s too soon to comment on the issue.