Neither a statewide police oversight agency nor the Haines Borough Police Department will provide information about complaints that led to the decertification of former Haines Police Sgt. Jason Joel last week.
The Alaska Police Standards Council formally accepted forfeiture of Joel’s police certificate Dec. 4, an action that disqualifies Joel from working as a police or corrections officer in the state.
The council started a revocation process in May by sending Joel an accusation packet outlining complaints against him and evidence collected during its investigation.
Joel opted to surrender his certificate rather than plead his case before the group, which oversees police and correction officer standards statewide.
Details of the council’s investigation and discussion are confidential and borough police chief Gary Lowe this week said he made a deal with Joel to withhold the nature of the complaints from the public and from prospective employers in exchange for Joel’s resignation.
When Joel resigned in April 2011, Lowe filled out a mandatory form for the council, including that the department conducted an investigation into Joel’s conduct. Lowe indicated on the form he would recommend revocation of Joel’s certification and would not rehire him.
“There was an agreement where he was allowed to resign and there were stipulations on that about non-disclosure to prospective employers. Because of that agreement, I can’t go into details,” Lowe said.
Lowe said he made the agreement – facilitated by a union representative – because it removed Joel from the department and also minimized borough liability. “In my mind, it’s a protection for the borough because it eliminates the possibility that the borough is going to be involved in a lawsuit,” Lowe said.
Also, Joel’s victims wanted anonymity and closure on the matter, Lowe said.
“Some of the victims involved, it’s something they don’t want to discuss. It’s a chapter which is very hard for them and they don’t want to be involved in any type of a lawsuit either,” Lowe said.
Joel notified the council July 26 he would surrender his certificate. Joel worked in Haines five years and was demoted before leaving the job. Lowe said he received “multiple” complaints about Joel’s conduct from both citizens and employees at the police station.
Lowe said he didn’t know how many complaints were filed against Joel.
He said that a police agency considering hiring Joel contacted him, but under the agreement he made with Joel, Lowe could disclose only the starting and ending dates of Joel’s employment. The prospective employer did not end up hiring Joel, Lowe said.
“If any employer is looking to employ someone and you call up a prior employer and they say, ‘We have a contractual agreement that all we can tell you is his hiring date and his last day of work,’ that certainly ought to be a red flag to a prospective employer,” Lowe said.
However, the City of Galena and City of St. Paul Island both hired Joel after his tenure in Haines, but neither contacted Lowe requesting information. Joel took a police job on St. Paul Island for a short time after leaving Haines, then became chief and sole police officer in Galena in July 2011.
Standards council executive director Kelly Alzaharna, who led the council’s investigation, said the accusation packet containing complaints is a confidential document and is not releasable under public records law. The council conducted its Dec. 4 discussion of Joel’s certification forfeiture in executive session, a standard practice.
“It’s confidential; we can’t release it. I couldn’t release it if I wanted to,” Alzaharna said.
The standards council paperwork Lowe filled out concerning Joel’s departure is a required, standard procedure when an officer leaves a department, Alzaharna said. Department heads must indicate whether the officer resigned in lieu of termination, if an officer was under investigation for wrongdoing, and whether the department head would rehire or recommend certificate revocation.
Alzaharna said she contacted three of Joel’s previous employers to investigate whether the departments were conducting their own investigations of Joel. She would not say what the requests revealed.
Joel can apply to have his certification reinstated one year after the Dec. 4 meeting. The council can rescind its decision for reasons including if new evidence is discovered, if fraudulent evidence was used initially, or if “conditions or circumstances have changed so that the basis for the revocation no longer exists.”
Alzaharna said in her four years on the job, no officer has applied to rescind revocation. She said lack of an Alaska certificate doesn’t bar Joel from working as an officer in the Lower 48, but makes it more difficult.
“There is no national law that says you can’t. But all of the states are pretty consistent. If another state knows about it, they will not hire them,” Alzaharna said.
Joel’s case was under review by the council more than a year.