Thane Campground caretaker’s contract not renewed

Posted: Monday, May 03, 2010

The city has decided not to renew the contract of the Thane campground caretaker, choosing instead to have a city employee oversee day-to-day duties and fee collection. A city official said other changes will include heightened security at the campsite.  

The decision came exactly one month after a shooting incident at the campground that left one man injured and another awaiting trial on attempted murder and assault charges. The caretaker released Friday allegedly played a part by drinking and distributing weapons the night of the shooting.

Gorden Valle was implicated by 51-year-old shooting victim Jon Gregory Lane as being the person who distributed firearms March 30 when he was shot twice in the face, he told the Empire on Thursday from Seattle, where he is recovering.

The person who allegedly shot Lane, 44-year-old Chris Barrios, was arrested April 8 and is being held in Lemon Creek Correctional Center. He pleaded not guilty recently to the charges. His court date is set for July 12.

Lane also said Valle was firing shots into the brush, and that he was the one who handed a gun to Barrios.

“He was the caretaker, that kind of thing was not supposed to be going on,” he said. “I saw him drink. I saw him shoot a gun. I saw him hand a gun to Chris (Barrios), who then shot me.” Valle admitted Friday to “having a couple beers” at the campground and bringing the firearms there, both of which are prohibited by the city, but denies distributing the guns to other campers or personally firing shots.  

“I was up at my cabin when the shots were fired,” he said. “I didn’t hear the shots.”

Valle said he left a bag with two handguns on a picnic table near an area where he was picking up debris, but forgot to grab the bag and guns when he later returned to his camp. Others tenants then gathered around a campfire and got ahold of the guns, he said.

“I had totally forgotten my handguns,” he said. “I was going to have my kid come pick them up but I forgot to phone him. It’s my own fault.”

Valle said the city didn’t tell him specifically why his contract wasn’t renewed.

City Lands & Resources Manager Heather Marlow, who oversaw Valle’s position, said she wanted more accountability from the person overseeing Thane campground.

“I want better oversight and management, and I am going to be using a CBJ employee in order to achieve that goal,” she said. “When I am using a CBJ employee, I have better mechanisms for accountability. The campground will be one of many responsibilities that they will attend to daily.”

Marlow said she couldn’t discuss why Valle’s contract wasn’t renewed because it was a personnel issue, but said she questioned Valle about his role in the March 30 shooting.

Marlow said the next person to oversee the campground will not live on-site, and she also would be “looking for security patrols in the evening and weekends.”

The campground will continue to serve the homeless, working poor and seasonal residents, she said.

On Wednesday, Valle still assumed he was campground caretaker, promising to be more vigilant with his work there and saying he’d been given more authority to enforce campground policies, such as searching through personal belongings of other campers.

Marlow said that wouldn’t be the case, and that no such authority had been given to Valle.

Officials with the Juneau Police Department declined to say if additional charges were pending in the shooting case, or provide details about two search warrants issued at the Thane campground days after the shooting. One was for a person and another a residence. Two revolvers were recovered, though it’s unclear if those weapons belonged to Valle.

Valle said he went before the grand jury and was questioned by a district attorney.

JPD has given contradicting information as to whether an investigation regarding the shooting is still ongoing. A spokesperson said police weren’t currently investigating, but an officer involved with the case said they were.

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