A new inquiry into the Alaska National Guard reaches many of the same conclusions as last year’s federal investigation into the force. It finds that sexual assault and harassment claims were mishandled, and calls for increased accountability and transparency to prevent future abuses.
At a Monday morning press conference, the current Adjutant General Laurie Hummel said what happened under her predecessor was unacceptable.
”On behalf of the Guard, let me apologize to a number of individuals and Alaskans more broadly for this organization’s mishandling of complaints about serious offenses and for betraying the confidence of people who only sought help and justice,” Hummel said.
A new 92-page report confirms the Guard did have problems with its sexual assault reporting mechanisms, and that leadership was not trusted to properly handle complaints. Patricia Collins, a retired Juneau judge who conducted the special investigation, told reporters that some of the causes were as mundane as not keeping proper paperwork.
“When you don’t maintain adequate records of what’s being said to whom and when, you facilitate a culture that sort of feeds upon itself, where those persons that feel like they can bully or take advantage of others do, because there’s no reporting of it.”
Collins said that allowed a few members of the Guard to get away with particularly bad behavior. It also discouraged future victims from coming forward, meaning the number of sexual assaults is likely higher than documented.
The report also looked at how law enforcement and the executive branch handled Guard complaints, going beyond the scope of the federal inquiry.
Of the reports that were filed and ultimately sent to police, Collins’ investigation found that law enforcement operated appropriately. She also concluded the previous administration was aware of at least some of the problems with the Guard and could have addressed them in a more systematic manner. However, she says the response from the office of then-Gov. Sean Parnell was characterized more by mismanagement than malice.
“I did not find an overt cover-up. I did find a very unfortunate lack of information sharing between the National Guard and the governor’s office — a lack of protocols that, at least in my view, should be in place to ensure better communications between those offices.”
Going forward, Collins recommends that the National Guard be regularly surveyed on its command climate, and that those results be made available to the governor, the Legislature, and — when appropriate — the public. She has also advised that two sexual assault cases be reopened, as well as a suspicious death.