Fairbanks city police chief has apologized for statements made last week about the legal settlement that vacated the long contested murder convictions of the Fairbanks Four, the Native men who served 18 years in jail for the 1997 beating death of John Hartman. Chief Randall Aragon also committed to further investigation of the case.
Fairbanks City Police Chief Randall Aragon retracted comments made last week about the Fairbanks Four settlement, including that it resulted from political pressure, and is a vindication police and prosecutors handling of the John Hartman murder case.
“You know I could go on and on an on and apologize. Words are like bullets… once fired they’re almost impossible to recover. I’ll say that. But I want you to know this… My heart was there, my heart is with the Native community.”
Aragon also reversed his earlier assertion that the 1997 Hartman murder case is closed.
City Mayor John Eberhart emphasized instead that police will be following up on new information brought forward during a Fairbanks Four post conviction relief hearing this fall. Eberhart says that includes alternate Hartman murder suspects William Holmes and Jason Wallace, men already in prison for 2002 drug killings, who are also be investigated for possible involvement in the 2002 unsolved stabbing death of Mahogany Davis.
“As part of the Mahogany Davis murder investigation, I’ve asked Chief Aragon to speak with William Holmes about Mahogany’s murder, and also the Hartman murder. William Holmes had a child with Mahogany Davis and you know, you hear little bits and pieces of information and the name ‘Holmes’ will always come up in a number of contexts in homicides, or unsolved homicides in our community.”
Mayor Eberhart additionally committed to pursuing an independent review of Fairbanks police handling of the Hartman case. The mayor’s statements and Chief Aragon’s apology were accepted by Fairbanks Native Association Director Steve Ginnis, but he emphasized questions remain about local and state handling of the Fairbanks Four case.
“And we will continue to work on those. We will continue to try to find some resolve to those questions. It doesn’t stop with the release of these men.”
Another Native community leader Dorothy Shockly emphasized after the press conference that Police Chief Aragon’s statements last week were damaging.
“I really believe, you know, that we did take a few steps back because of those statements.”
Shockley, who’s related to Fairbanks Four member Marvin Roberts, says the case points to the continuing issue of racism.
“And as the Native community, that’s what we’re telling people. There is racism. We are treated differently. And unfortunately, a lot of times, it’s not in a good way.”
Shockley says she’ll have to see action, not just words to really believe positive change is happening at the police department.