Haines Borough Police Chief Gary Lowe this week said Chilkat Valley News editor Tom Morphet threatened him personally after a discussion about the newspaper’s access to police call logs.
Lowe said he met Feb. 14 with Morphet, reporter Karen Garcia and manager Mark Earnest to discuss newspaper access to logs.
Before Lowe was hired as chief, reporters had access to the logs for compilation of the weekly “blotter,” which describes police activity around town. Lowe terminated that arrangement upon his arrival, citing confidential information issues. Morphet wanted a return to the old system, citing loss of time, money, and accuracy and the public’s right to information.
“The editor threatened me that if I did not submit to his wishes, that he would be attacking me in the newspaper,” Lowe told the assembly during its March 5 meeting. “I believe last week’s paper was the first in what’s going to be a series of attacks against me and the police department in an attempt to discredit the police department in the eyes of the public,” Lowe continued.
The CVN reported last week Earnest was conducting an investigation into complaints made by police department employees against Lowe. It also reported the Alaska Police Standards Council is moving forward with the process of revoking former Haines officer John Havard’s police certification.
Morphet said he didn’t threaten Lowe, but told Lowe at the end of the meeting that if the blotter issue was not resolved, he would need to write an article in the newspaper explaining the dispute to readers. Garcia, who was present during the meeting, confirmed this version of events.
When asked by assembly member Debra Schnabel to clarify whether the threat was personal or if Morphet had said he was going to print a story about the blotter issue, Lowe said Morphet threatened, “If I don’t get what I want, then I’m going to let you have it in the paper.”
Schnabel asked if Lowe thought the threat was personal, to which he responded, “Absolutely.”
Mayor Stephanie Scott said she spoke with Earnest following the meeting and Earnest told her he “didn’t recall a sense of threat” at the Feb. 14 meeting. “He said he knew (Morphet) said he would have to do a story about it, but that’s it.”
“There seems to be evidence from the reports of the people that were in the room when that occurred that the chief made an overstatement. And one has trouble taking back one’s words when they’re uttered in public,” Scott said.
Scott said she “felt guilty” that she offered Lowe the opportunity to make a statement, but that she “had no expectation that he was going to say what he said.”
“I cannot take responsibility for the words that came out of his mouth. He is an adult. He is a professional. And he did what he did. And we’re going to have to see what happens next,” Scott said.
Earnest said Wednesday he will be listening to the tape from the assembly meeting to identify “precisely every word” that was said and that he will be “following up on this” through discussions with Lowe and Morphet.