Sitka city officials investigate police

Former employees claim police department has violated laws

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Some Sitka city officials are demanding allegations of wrongdoing by the Sitka Police Department and a city employee be investigated by the city as well as by Alaska State Troopers.

Last week, forensic scientist Brent Turvey, who formerly worked for the Sitka department as a consultant in a murder case, accused the agency of nearly a dozen law violations.

Lt. John Baeza also alleged his recently firing occurred because he was about to tell City Administrator Tony Zimmer about other misdeeds of the department. Baeza's allegations have not been made public.

Zimmer told the Sitka Assembly in a special meeting Tuesday night that he would request a state trooper investigation of the allegations.

Mayor Valorie Nelson said that was not enough. She proposed the Assembly conduct its own investigation of the police department.

"I get the impression people think so far we've been a bunch of weak-kneed weenies looking to bury our heads in the sand and hope it all goes away," said Nelson. "I also get the feeling that, like mushrooms, there are some people who want to keep us in the dark about what's going on and feed us a bunch of crap. I think it's time we do this investigation, and do it in a proper way."

Assembly member Marko Dapcevich said by conducting its own investigation, the Assembly could uncover elements of the allegations a trooper investigation would not, such as personnel violations by city employees and police department code violations.

The Assembly is scheduled to vote Jan. 29 on the separate investigation.

Meanwhile, Zimmer has been in charge of gathering allegations from Turvey and others whose names have not been disclosed. Turvey came to the department in 2000 to reinvestigate the unsolved 1996 Sitka murder of Jessica Baggens.

In a letter written Jan. 16, Turvey alleges nearly a dozen criminal violations against the Sitka Police Department and a city employee. These allegations include occasions of police ignoring domestic violence claims when they involved other officers, publicizing confidential information regarding the Baggens murder on an Internet message board, and tampering with public records by destroying photo IDs of Turvey and Baeza.

Retiring Police Chief Bill McLendon and officers named in the allegations were unavailable for comment by the Empire's midday deadline today.

Dapcevich and Nelson said today they object to the seeming secrecy surrounding discussions of these allegations between officers accused of wrongdoing, Zimmer and City Attorney Cliff Groh.

Nelson said the police department, as any public entity, should be investigated publicly and any findings made public.

Groh said people have come to the city administrator with grievances, but that the issues will not be made public.

"It's no secret. People have been lined up outside his door since the allegations came out to us last Tuesday," Groh said. "There are no transcripts (of these meetings). That would be highly inappropriate. It's not a secret. But any allegations of criminal behavior aren't conducted in public and for good reason."

Dapcevich said the Assembly has received no information from these meetings but believes the panel is entitled to know what is being said. Further, he said the Assembly was told there were transcripts to the meetings.

Dapcevich said he wants the accused officers put on a paid leave of absence from the department until the matter is resolved.

"Who on that force is going to want to come forward and testify against someone or say anything if they know they'll have to see those people at work the next day?" he said. "Usually it's procedure to give someone leave when there is an investigation, and I'm not sure why the administrator hasn't done that yet."

The administrator was unavailable by the Empire's deadline.

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