April 4, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 13

Complaint: Incident is part of a history of abuse

Concerns about Haines Borough Police chief Gary Lowe include a Feb. 15 incident in which he allegedly screamed obscenities at an employee during a discussion about leave, and allegations that Lowe trained a Taser beam on officers’ chests on two separate occasions.

Further, a letter the employee sent to assembly members March 13 alleges Lowe has a five-year history of abusive behavior toward employees including verbal abuse of police officers and incidents of “intimidation, bullying, sarcasm and (use of) sexual innuendos” toward dispatchers.

“All of this, taken into consideration, has created a hostile work environment. This pattern of behavior is disturbing and I feel that it merits serious investigation,” according to the complainant.

Lowe said this week he received a copy of the complaint Wednesday and needed time to read and digest it.

The police employee who brought the complaint has declined to speak on the record about it, but four of the eight other police employees who work under Lowe this week told the Chilkat Valley News they believed the complaint and follow-up letter were generally true. A former department employee who lives in Haines and who worked under Lowe also said the allegations in the documents were true.

Two police employees declined to provide even an anonymous opinion on the matter and two others said they had not witnessed the alleged behaviors.

The Haines Borough Assembly has talked about Lowe at three recent meetings since the complaint was filed, but has addressed Lowe’s behavior only in general terms.

The initial complaint stems from an incident that occurred at the police station Feb. 15 and was reported to the borough by the complainant on the same day. The incident was witnessed by another police employee, according to the complainant.

“While attempting to reason with Chief Lowe to clarify the usage of sick leave, I pointed out to him the Haines Borough code (2.990.10) that defined immediate family and 2nd-degree kindred. At no point did I raise my voice or conduct myself insubordinately,” the complainant wrote to borough manager Mark Earnest in a letter dated Feb. 16 and received at the borough Feb. 19. “However, Chief Lowe suddenly yelled at me. Using obscenities and in a booming voice he screamed, ‘Are you f--king going to argue with me about this?... I don’t f--king want to debate you about this!’”

The complainant goes on to say, “As Lowe towers above me at over six feet tall, and his face, just inches from mine, was red and contorted while confronting me and knowing that he was armed, I was momentarily in fear of imminent physical injury.”

(The wording in the letter coincides with Alaska statute’s definition of assault in the fourth degree, which a person commits when “by words or other conduct that person recklessly places another person in fear of imminent physical injury.” Assault in the fourth degree is a Class A misdemeanor.)

In the Feb. 16 written account of the initial complaint, the employee said Lowe apologized on the day of the incident, by phone message and email. “I do not believe he is sincere. The outburst is not an isolated incident within the Haines Borough Police Department. Many officers have stated they have been ‘at the receiving end’ of this very same behavior and many of us have witnessed or been victim to his sarcasm and demeaning comments and sexual innuendos.”

The complainant said Lowe has belittled multiple dispatchers about their jobs and personalities. “One dispatcher quit due to ongoing attacks on her abilities as a dispatcher and on her personal characteristics, and specifically due to (Lowe’s) unwillingness to accept her concerns over a disturbed officer (Cassandra McEwen),” the complainant wrote.

The complainant claims to have witnessed Lowe joking about a prisoner “with sexual undertones” regarding an employee who was handling a prisoner at the time. “(The employee) asked (Lowe) to cease, but (Lowe) continued on,” the complainant wrote.

According to the letter, police staff members are concerned about their job security, “and have expressed trepidation at putting any of these incidents in writing. No one is confident that there will not be repercussions, even if promised there will not be, by those in authority or the union.”

By hiring Lowe as police chief, assembly members have given Lowe the power of lethal force over lives in the community, the complainant wrote. “This man should be held accountable and should be held to the highest standard of ethics and trust. I do not believe that these disturbing behaviors, which he has exhibited over the term of employment, have earned him such trust or proven such a high standard of ethics.”

Borough manager Mark Earnest in late February conducted an investigation into the original complaint by interviewing four police officers and two dispatchers, but did not release the results of his investigation to the assembly or the public. Earnest also has declined to provide a copy of a job evaluation of Lowe he recently conducted. Earnest first responded to the complainant March 19, a month after its initial filing.

Assembly members will convene in a quasi-judicial hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 4 to evaluate Lowe’s ability “to perform duties and supervise the police department.” The meeting is closed to the public.