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Agency leader changed ruling in trooper case

Union head says Wooten probe was the first in which findings were revised by a top official

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2008

A former top official of the Alaska State Troopers reversed a finding in a 2005 investigation of the conduct of trooper Mike Wooten, the former brother-in-law of Gov. Sarah Palin, a step that's unprecedented, according to the head of the trooper's union.

John Cyr, executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association, said former Alaska State Trooper Col. Julia Grimes punished Wooten, who has a rocky relationship with the Palin family, for drinking beer before and while operating a marked patrol car even though there was no "just cause" to do so.

An earlier internal investigation done in 2005 by Sgt. Ronald Wall, who is now a lieutenant, found that those claims were unsubstantiated.

Cyr said it was the first and only time he'd seen the findings of an internal investigation in a trooper's conduct revised by a top agency official.

"It's totally outside the expected norm," Cyr said.

Cyr said when he asked Grimes why she had reversed the agency's own findings, she said: "Are you going to call Sarah Palin a liar?"

Wooten has become a key figure in a political imbroglio for Palin that began when she fired former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan on July 11.

Monegan said he was pressured by members of Palin's family and administration to fire Wooten after Palin took office.

Palin has denied those claims and said Monegan's dismissal was the result of her seeking a new direction for the department.

Palin was not governor when Wooten was investigated and suspended, but was known statewide for her ethical stances.

Palin was questioned twice by Wall regarding Wooten. She also wrote a letter to Grimes accusing Wooten of a multitude of sins, including driving a patrol car with a beer in his hand.

In her letter, Palin said Adrian and Marilyn Lane, who are friends of Palin's family and who lived in the same subdivision as Wooten, had seen him drink a beer at their house and then drive off in a patrol car "waving with beer in hand."

In their interview with the investigator, Wall, the Lanes said they had seen Wooten come by their house and drink a beer before driving his patrol car during the summer of 2004.

Marilyn Lane said she had seen Wooten drive off in his patrol car with another beer in hand.

Wooten denied the Lanes' allegations, and Wall's investigation ruled that the claims made by the Lanes were unsubstantiated.

In an internal memo, Grimes wrote she "could not reconcile why the statements of the Lanes were not found to be credible" to Wall. She re-interviewed the Lanes and found "their recollection to be completely truthful and credible" and their friendship with Palin's family did not have "any influence" on their statements.

Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Elizabeth Ipsen said she could not comment on the Wooten matter directly. But she added that top agency officials typically do not alter findings of internal investigations into trooper conduct.

"They just use the information," Ipsen said.

Grimes has retired from the Alaska State Troopers and moved out of state, according to staff at the Department of Public Safety. She could not be reached for comment.

Grimes suspended Wooten for 10 days. He also was punished for illegally shooting a moose and using a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson. The trooper admitted to using the Taser on his stepson in a "training capacity" and said he shot a moose on his wife's tag, but didn't think the act was illegal.

Cyr said the Public Safety Employees Association filed a grievance regarding the 10-day suspension and the punishment was later reduced to five days.

Several other allegations were made by Palin and her family but were denied by Wooten and found to be unsubstantiated, including that Wooten has used illegal steroids, driven drunk on a number of occasions and tried to bully his way out of paying a $5 fee at the local dump.

Wall's investigation did find that Wooten threatened Palin's sister, Molly McCann, with shooting her father if he hired a lawyer to represent her. Wooten denied making the statement, but Palin, McCann and Palin's son all confirmed that he did.

Wall said the act wasn't a crime because Palin's father was not present when Wooten made the statement.

Reached by phone last week, Adrian Lane said he had no comment about whether he saw Wooten drive a patrol car after drinking a beer. He added that it was easy to find something unsubstantiated if one wanted to.

"It depends on which side of the fence you're standing on," Lane said.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.



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