The Alaska Department of Law has revealed that police and prosecutors conducted three wiretaps in 2015 as part of a murder investigation in Fairbanks.
Under state law, the department should report annually on the number of wiretaps it conducts each year. In an article published last month, the Empire revealed the state has not published those reports since the state’s current wiretap law was enacted in 1993.
The summaries were dated Jan. 30 — nine days after the Empire’s report — and were signed by Robert Henderson, head of the criminal division of the Department of Law.
By email, he said he expects a 2017 report to be filed “in the coming days.”
“At this point, the Department of Law does not anticipate filing any older reports, as the department is unaware of any wiretaps prior to 2015. Should that information change, we will file updated reports,” he wrote.
In a followup email, the Empire asked why the reports were being filed now and how certain the department is that there are no older wiretaps. There was no reply.
According to the 2015 report, the three wiretaps performed that year were needed to pursue a charges of first-degree and second-degree murder, and hindering prosecution.
The only case that matches the details mentioned in the report is the 2015 death of John D. Kavairlook Jr. According to reports from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Kavairlook was shot to death in May 2015 outside Fairbanks’ Rock N Rodeo bar. Police began a nationwide manhunt after the four leading suspects in the case fled the state shortly after the shooting. The final arrest didn’t take place for more than a year.
Fairbanks Police Department Detective Avery Thompson requested the wiretaps, according to the Department of Law report. Reached by phone Friday, he said a trial is set to begin Monday in the case, so he was unwilling to discuss the effectiveness of the wiretaps in the case. He did confirm that wiretaps were used and said the 2015 taps were the first authorized by the state under the 1993 law.
Under Alaska law, a wiretap occurs only when the government monitors a phone call or computer connection without the knowledge of the people on either end of the line. Cases where police have an informant wear a recording device or listen to a phone call with the consent of one of the participants are not considered wiretapping.
In both cases, police are required to obtain warrants, but the standards for a wiretap are much more stringent, and the 1993 law intended that regular reporting be part of the process to protect the public.
Alaska is one of 10 states with constitutional privacy protections, and the issue of privacy continues to be a contentious topic in both the Legislature and the judiciary.
The federal government has long had the power to conduct wiretaps in Alaska, and it does so on an infrequent basis, but the 1993 law and the reporting guidelines apply only to crimes prosecuted in state court rather than federal court.
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