Sitka Assembly takes no action on police investigation

Despite three pending harassment lawsuits, the Sitka Assembly continues to hold off on hiring an outside consultant to investigate the Sitka Police Department. (Photo by Karla James/KCAW)

Despite three pending harassment lawsuits, the Sitka Assembly continues to hold off on hiring an outside consultant to investigate the Sitka Police Department. After hearing an update from the interim police chief, the assembly took no action at their meeting Tuesday.

The assembly first considered an investigation in February, after a third member of the police department filed suit against the city. A subcommittee was created to choose potential investigators for hire, and it brought that list to the assembly table in March. $35,000 was earmarked for the position, but no one was chosen at that time, and he item was again postponed in April.

By August, assembly members still were hesitant to move forward. Mayor Gary Paxton voted against the item when it first came to the table, last spring, and he’s feeling even more confident now that the department has righted itself 

“With the arrival of Chief Baty we, at least I, felt that the police department was able to function properly,” he said.

Robert Baty was offered the full-time position in May, but his title and salary have not come before the assembly for approval. In April, Baty said he wasn’t opposed to the assembly hiring an investigator. But he now feels differently. 

“The progress with the police department has got a bright future,” Baty said. “My view now, if anybody cares to ask, is that I don’t think we need an independent third party to investigate the department. It’s running well within standards, and we’re constantly improving our procedures.”   

Assembly member Kevin Mosher asked if Baty has regularly scheduled training with officers. Baty said he meets with sergeants every Tuesday. And assembly member Richard Wein asked how many hires and fires Baty had made so far during his tenure. Baty said he dismissed one person, but could give no other information. 

During public comment at the end of the meeting, Jackie Ojala, who works at the department as a multi-service officer, said she was happy with the work Baty is doing to lead the department, but she hoped the investigation would still happen. 

“There’s still a feeling of disappointment that it’s been put off for so long and a feeling that things are being swept under the rug,” she said. “Chief Baty and Lieutenant Achee are doing amazing things. But I ask that you think hard about the people that still work at the police department that have not left that are still trying to move on but need closure.”   

Ultimately the assembly took no action regarding the investigation of the police department. Mediation with one of the plaintiffs, former detective Ryan Silva, has been scheduled for September 11. Another former detective suing the department, Mary Ferguson, is scheduled for trial in March of next year. The third plaintiff, former jailer and patrol recruit Noah Shepard, is scheduled for trial in April.

For more coverage of the 08/13 Sitka Assembly meeting, click here.