Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

 
 

Editorial

 


Recent revelations about the behavior of former Haines Borough Police Sgt. Jason Joel should lead the municipality to create new policies to follow when employees go bad.

According to allegations brought to light this week by KHNS News, Joel had a history of inappropriate behavior toward women that cost him his job here. Accusations made against him before the Alaska Police Standards Council later led Joel to surrender his right to work as a policeman in the state.

The Haines Borough agreed to stay quiet about Joel while showing him out the door, presumably because it was afraid of being sued by the people that Joel had victimized, or by Joel himself. As serious as those fears might have seemed, the borough should not have judged them as greater than the potential for harm to others that continued due to its silence.

Joel recently was awarded a plum state job, again working with the public in a position of power.

Joel’s checkered employment history could have been gleaned through a Google check, but the specific nature of the complaints against him have been secret partly because of the deal with the Haines Borough and because his victims until now were reluctant to talk publicly.

In making its deal with Joel, the borough sheltered a thug, and that’s unconscionable. The borough offered an even sweeter deal – including a $53,000 payout – to former police chief Gary Lowe following witnessed incidents in which Lowe was abusive toward staff. Were it not for determined reporting by the CVN, Lowe also would have left town with an unblemished record, free to exercise his wrath on others.

The borough’s response to those who brought credible, confirmable complaints against Joel and Lowe should have been this: “We are sorry. A thorough, criminal investigation will be pursued. We will take action aimed at bringing justice to this situation.”

The information about Joel that came out this week, as well as what is known about the Lowe case, suggest strongly that both Lowe and Joel should have been fired. Citizens rightly expect police behavior to be above reproach and the rules of society can only stand when they’re applied equally to all. Leaders also should have sought criminal investigations by the Alaska State Troopers, as Lowe did in the case of former police officer Cassandra McEwen.

(It’s cruel irony that McEwen was the only one of these three bad cops to be prosecuted, as her abuse was of horses, not people.)

After the complaints against Joel and Lowe, the borough clammed up, a move some may have considered legally savvy, but one that was morally indefensible.

People who are victims of borough mistakes might sue the municipality. That’s their right. But victims are first and foremost fellow human beings, owed our compassion and concern when wronged.

When elected or appointed leaders surrender their judgment of what is right to their idea of what is legally advisable, they forfeit the moral authority that comes with their positions.Government that turns a blind eye to abuse by its own employees – for any reason – erodes the public’s trust, and by extension, its belief in the government’s legitimacy.

- Tom Morphet