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Attorney: Hoonah slow to release information about slain officers

Hoonah attorney says city has already provided relevant information, witnesses

Posted: October 10, 2013 - 12:08am
Attorney Mark Choate, left, supplies papers to Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez during oral arguements in the civil lawsuit that followed the 2010 shooting deaths of two Hoonah police officers. Choate is representing Haley Tokuoka, widow of Officer Matthew Tokuoka, against the City of Hoonah.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Attorney Mark Choate, left, supplies papers to Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez during oral arguements in the civil lawsuit that followed the 2010 shooting deaths of two Hoonah police officers. Choate is representing Haley Tokuoka, widow of Officer Matthew Tokuoka, against the City of Hoonah.

A Juneau attorney representing the widow of a slain Hoonah police officer in a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Hoonah says the city has failed to provide adequate discovery, a claim that the city’s attorney ardently contests.

During arguments held in Juneau Superior Court Wednesday, Juneau attorney Mark Choate urged Judge Louis Menendez to order the city of Hoonah to produce a witness who can answer questions pertinent to the case before it goes to trial a month from now.

Choate said he previously requested the city provide a representative for the police department who could be deposed upon oral examination and answer 21 specific, fact-based questions he prepared, which is allowed for under Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure.

The questions relate to the policies and training requirements the Hoonah Police Department had in place at the time that Officer Matthew Tokuoka and Sgt. Anthony Wallace were gunned down in the street in 2010 by defendant John N. Marvin Jr. Marvin was convicted by a Juneau jury last year and sentenced to serve two consecutive 99-year prison sentences.

“We had very specific requests because one of our issues in this case, your Honor, is that the two officers who were killed — Mr. Matthew Tokuoka and Anthony Wallace — that none of them were trained by individuals in the department who were certified field training officers, who were highly experienced,” Choate said. “Instead, their training occurred with Chief (Jeff) Hankla who had a couple years experience after a, basically, a career of selling insurance.”

Tokuoka’s widow, Haley Tokuoka, filed the lawsuit against the city in 2012 saying that the city was negligent in training its officers on how to deal with individuals with a history of violence and mental health problems. The lawsuit also alleges that Wallace, while employed as a police officer for the city, acted illegally by conducting a “sham traffic stop” and negligently flashing a light inside Marvin’s house, which testimony at trial showed immediately preceded the shootings. Haley Tokuoka is seeking more than $100,000 in damages.

Frank S. Koziol Jr., an attorney for the city of Hoonah, told the judge on Wednesday that they have already provided relevant documents to Choate, which should be sufficient to answer the 21 questions.

“All relevant, non-privileged facts have been disclosed to the plaintiff,” Koziol said, adding, “There is no hiding of the ball.”

He added that they believed the questions were opinion-based, not fact-based, and an attempt to elicit expert testimony through deposition. Judge Menendez seemed to disagree with that characterization.

Koziol argued that there was not a current employee at the police department who could answer Choate’s questions due to the turnover in the department. Upon being told the court rules do not require the representative be a current employee, Koziol argued that the police chief at the time of the shootings, John Milan, has already been deposed and answered similar questions. Choate in turn argued that Milan had not been designated as the representative at the time he was deposed.

In the end, Koziol argued that Hankla, who was the police chief before Milan, should be the designated representative to answer the questions at his future deposition. He pointed out that Hankla was scheduled to be deposed earlier, but that Choate had canceled the meeting.

Menendez chided the two attorneys for not being able to work this out on their own. He requested both submit a written proposed order of what they think the court should do before he rules on the matter.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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