Sitka settles police whistleblower lawsuit for $325,000

Sitka Police Department (Photo by Karla James/KCAW)

The City of Sitka has settled a lawsuit with a police department whistleblower for $325,000.

Former Sitka police detective Ryan Silva filed suit in August 2018, claiming he was harassed and demoted after calling out irregularities in the department’s procurement of automatic weapons.

Silva signed the settlement agreement following mediation on Oct. 28. The court dismissed his case on Nov. 4.

Silva’s complaint named both the City and Borough of Sitka and former Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt as defendants. The settlement releases the defendants from all future claims related to Silva’s employment with the city.

The settlement was conditional on Silva and his union, the Public Safety Employees Association, signing a Letter of Understanding. The letter allows Silva to remain employed with the Sitka Police Department — albeit without pay or benefits — until his military leave status with the Coast Guard expires on October 1, 2020. He agreed to turn in his gun, badge, and uniforms, and not perform any work as a police officer under the terms of the letter.

Sitka’s municipal attorney Brian Hanson says the city’s insurance carrier, APEI, paid the settlement and the legal fees. He says it was APEI’s decision to settle. As part of the agreement, the City of Sitka does not admit to any liability in the case.

The Anchorage-based Northern Justice Project represented Silva. The same firm also is representing two other Sitka Police Department employees, Mary Ferguson and Noah Shepard. Ferguson, a former detective, filed suit in October claiming she was sexually harassed in the workplace. A trial in her case has been scheduled for March, 2020. Shepard, a former jailer, filed suit in February claiming he was harassed and unfairly denied the opportunity to complete a patrol officer training program. His case has been scheduled for trial in April.