Alaska will not prosecute state senator who slapped a reporter

In letter, Office of Special Prosecutions says evidence is unlikely to convict Sen. David Wilson

The state of Alaska will not prosecute Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, for slapping an Anchorage Daily News reporter in May.

 

In a Tuesday letter to the Juneau Police Department, Chief Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson wrote: “Based on my review of the investigation, it is unlikely that the state will be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Senator Wilson acted with the specific intent to harass or annoy Mr. Herz when he slapped Mr. Herz on May 2, 2017.”

Nat Herz, the Anchorage Daily News reporter in question, had stopped Wilson in the Capitol stairwell to follow up on a story published two days before. When Herz asked whether Wilson thought the story was reasonable and fair, Wilson responded by slapping Herz.

The encounter was captured by Herz in an audio recording. In the recording, Herz responds to the slap with incredulity, asking if Wilson was serious or trying to be playful.

Wilson subsequently said he intended the slap to be playful, but Herz subsequently filed a report with the Juneau Police Department.

“I still think that reporting it was the right thing to do,” Herz said by phone on Tuesday.

Not long after the slap, Wilson was involved in a separate incident involving a House staffer and a cellphone. An internal Legislative investigation, whose results were released Tuesday, concluded Wilson did not sexually harass the staffer.

The slapping case was forwarded to the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions at the end of May. City prosecutors normally handle misdemeanors in Juneau, but the Office of Special Prosecutions asked to take it on. That office handles particularly challenging or sensitive cases at the Department of Law. Investigations into police-involved shootings, for example, are the domain of that office.

When the case arrived at prosecutors’ desks, the Juneau Police Department said it was examining it as a matter of harassment. Under state law, second-degree harassment requires an action and “a showing that the offender acted with the specific intent to harass or annoy.”

Seven months after the case was sent to the Office of Special Prosecutions, Peterson concluded that the available evidence was unlikely to prove that intent.

“This in no (way) implies that Senator Wilson’s conduct is not of concern, but rather that the resources necessary for this prosecution (are) disproportionate to the conduct, especially since the Legislature has the authority to address this conduct through other means,” Peterson wrote.

Peterson did not respond by press time when asked why the decision took seven months.

When asked for comment Tuesday, Wilson told the Empire he’s glad things are settled.

“I don’t think the encounter was a malicious encounter that we had,” Wilson said by phone.

“I hope that he would agree that wasn’t my intent,” Wilson said of Herz. “I hope that this will allow him to do his reporting uninhibited.”

Herz said he still doesn’t know what the intent was behind the slap, but he sees the matter as settled regardless.

“I don’t have any issues anymore,” he said. “I don’t have any issues working with him.”

Wilson said he’d like the put the matter behind him. The next legislative session starts Jan. 16.

“I’m just glad that the matter is hopefully to a rest so we can get on to the important issues of the state,” he said.

At the time of the incident, Anchorage Daily News Editor David Hulen said in an article published by the paper, “We support our reporter. It’s not OK for a legislator to strike anyone.”


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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