ANCHORAGE — Gov. Sean Parnell’s call for a federal investigation of sexual misconduct within the Alaska National Guard came nearly four years after allegations first arose, but he said Monday that he could not act before getting specific details of allegations.
Parnell on Sunday was criticized in a newspaper column for the timing of his call for an investigation and responded to reporters’ questions following a candidate debate in Anchorage, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Early in his tenure, Parnell said halting assaults on women would be a focus of his administration.
Parnell said he met with National Guard chaplains in 2010 regarding the lack of the service’s response to reports of sexual assault. However, he did not learn specifics until this year, he said.
“When the chaplains came to me in 2010, I listened to them, had a lengthy meeting with them, heard their concerns specifically on sexual assault, sexual misconduct, those charges that they were saying was occurring in the Guard,” Parnell said. “They could only give me general allegations.”
The chaplains were “under a duty of confidentiality,” Parnell said.
Parnell spoke to the National Guard commander, Maj. Gen. Tom Katkus, and learned some of the cases were years old and that allegations of criminal acts had been referred to police or Alaska State Troopers.
Parnell worked with Katkus to make sure a safe reporting mechanism was in place for sexual assault complaints, he said.
Parnell said he met with state Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, on Feb. 26, and was given the name of a person in the National Guard who could give specific details on how the system was not working for victims. Parnell said he called the guard member within 24 hours and was told of two instances where the system had not worked.
“Within 24 hours of learning those specific details, I was writing a letter to the Guard Bureau, contacting them, saying please send a special investigator to review all of the cases that the guard has whether they are related to sexual misconduct, whether they are related to fraud,” Parnell said. “Got right on it as soon as I had those specific details.”
The letter asked for a federal investigation of sexual assault and fraud in the Alaska National Guard and an examination of how commanders handled reports of rape. Parnell announced the federal review in March.
The bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations could complete a report by with recommendations by late summer or early fall, Parnell said.
“You can be sure if anything untoward is there or anything that raises concern relative to sexual assault victims or reporting or the command structure, that I will take action,” Parnell said.
Information from: Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.adn.com