Hoonah police chief Hankla resigns after tumultuous tenure

Posted: Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Embroiled Hoonah Police Chief Jefferson Hankla resigned earlier this month in the latest round of a months-long maelstrom between the city and its police department that has resulted in mudslinging, reprimands and lawsuits.

The Juneau Empire confirmed that Hankla resigned on Sept. 11, although the reasoning remains unclear because the parties involved at the middle of the ongoing controversy were either unwilling to speak on the record or did not return repeated phone calls. The former contact number for Hankla has been disconnected and he did not reply before press time to an e-mail requesting an interview.

Hankla resigned only days before a scheduled disciplinary suspension that was to take place on Monday, the Empire has confirmed.

Hankla filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Hoonah in July that called for a temporary restraining order against mayor Alf "Windy" Skaflestad and his wife, city council member Joyce Skaflestad. Both the mayor and his wife also were named as defendants in the lawsuit. It is unclear if the lawsuit resulted in the planned suspension or the ultimate resignation of Hankla.

Hoonah city administrator Dave Richards said he could not talk with the Juneau Empire about the situation. Mayor Skaflestad would not talk on the record either. The village of about 850 people on Chichagof Island is known as being an interconnected and interrelated community that has a fair amount of infighting.

The lawsuit alleges the mayor "thwarted the chain of command" by directing Hankla to use his son, Arlen Skaflestad, as a firearms trainer for the Hoonah Police Department, according to court records. Hankla said he was the person responsible for the operational control of the department and that the mayor usurped the police chief's duties as they are defined by city ordinances. Hankla's attorney, Bruce Weyhrauch, did not return calls Tuesday regarding the case.

The lawsuit says Hankla's grievance asserted that Arlen Skaflestad was not qualified for the position the mayor instructed the police chief to hire him for. He argued that the mayor had a conflict of interest in hearing the grievance, according to court documents.

The lawsuit alleges the mayor's actions "were unfair, hostile, subjected Mr. Hankla to humiliation and disrepute, constituted harassment, were discriminatory, unlawful, demonstrated an absence of respect for Mr. Hankla's rights as a City employee" and for his duties as police chief, according to court documents.

The city of Hoonah hired Hankla in mid-January 2008, even though he did not posses the required qualifications under city ordinance. The city ordinance required an advanced certificate from the Alaska Police Standards Council and five years of experience as a police officer. At the time, Hankla possessed a basic certificate and had served less than two years as a Hoonah patrol officer. He also served for a short time as a police officer in the small village of Roberts, Ill., where he created some controversy over an alleged battery charge. He was ultimately terminated from that position.

The Hoonah city council resolved the qualification dispute by reassigning him as the acting chief before it changed the city ordinance to lower the qualifications. The council then rehired Hankla as police chief.

Hankla's duties as police chief also came under fire in February and were the subject of several heated public hearings. The city council voted 4-2 to keep Hankla as police chief after he had been suspended by the mayor due to a management audit by an outside consultant. Greg Russell, a retired Alaska police chief serving as a police practices consultant for the Alaska Municipal League, had found the Hoonah Police Department to be "abysmally inefficient" and said Hankla was involved in harassment, intimidation and sexual harassment. The audit found that Hankla had distributed sexually explicit material to employees, smoked in the police building despite a city ordinance against it, and failed to keep the evidence locker and building secure.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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