By Margaret Friedenauer
Governor Sean Parnell wants the hiring process for state employees examined after it was revealed a former police officer hired with the ferry system has a checkered past.
Several people who talked about Jason Joel’s job performance for a previous story did not want to share their identity, including a former Haines Police Dispatcher who alleges Joel harassed her on the job. Now she is speaking out.
Forty-six-year-old Angie Goodwin started at the Haines Police Department as a dispatcher in 2009. By then, Jason Joel had been on the job for three years. Goodwin says at first, she considered him a friendly coworker. But slowly, she says Joel’s comments and actions toward her turned from friendly and joking to crude and harassing.
“It was so gradual, that by the time it got bad, I didn’t realize that I was in trouble,” Goodwin said. “I mean at first he joked around and stuff, but it was just joking. But he gradually pushes his way in, and you let him come in because you feel safe. He’s a police officer.”
Goodwin says the alleged verbal harassment was sometimes sexual. Occasionally it included physical contact. Once, Joel picked Goodwin up over his shoulder, she says. Another time he grabbed her wrist. And, she says, the harassment became constant.
“There was some form or other of harassment – verbal, physical, sexual – almost every time we worked together,” she said.
Goodwin says there were witnesses to the harassment, but none who could be reached for comment. Several other women in Haines and Skagway say they either witnessed or experienced harassment by Joel, but have not wanted their names used publicly.
As the harassment increased, Goodwin says she became more stressed. She began seeing a counselor. She mentioned some of the incidents to her doctor when she complained of not being able to sleep. In March 2011 she decided to finally make an official complaint to Chief of Police Gary Lowe.
“I was on edge and I just got really upset and I called him and he was almost home when he answered his phone and I started crying,” Goodwin said. “I said ‘I need you to come in here, I have something really important you need to know.’”
About two weeks later, she says the chief told her Joel had resigned. The borough confirms that Joel was allowed to resign in a deal signed by Joel, the borough manager and a public employee’s union representative.
Goodwin resigned a few weeks after Joel. She says she wanted out of the department.
“I was sick of it. I was so burned out at that point I couldn’t stand it,” she said. “I just wanted out at that point.”
Shortly before she resigned, Goodwin began documenting incidents of harassment from Joel. She also has a letter she wrote to an attorney asking for guidance. But after Joel surrendered his state police certification, she quit pursuing legal action.
When Goodwin heard Joel had been hired as a security officer with the state, she was upset and decided to finally speak out.
“He’s dealing with 5,000 times more people now than he was at the police department. I mean, this isn’t just small town Haines now that he’s dealing with. Now he’s got the whole state under him,” Goodwin said. “What were they thinking? But there’s no way for them to dig it up because the borough, everyplace he’s worked for has hidden it one way or another.”
Joel has not responded to email requests for comment. The Haines borough – along with other police departments he’s worked for – say his personnel file is confidential and won’t confirm any complaints that were leveled against him.
But the allegations and documented work history were enough to get some lawmakers, and now the governor’s attention.
“The governor has asked Commissioner Kemp to look into the hiring process and we’re following through with that request,” Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow said.
Exactly how DOT Commissioner Pat Kemp will examine the process is not yet clear, Woodrow says.
“It’s important to point out that Mr. Joel is a state employee so anything the state does regarding his employment has to be done under the strict guidelines that follow state procedures,” Woodrow said.
Some state hiring policies are developed by the Department of Administration and could be changed by staff. Others are outlined in state statute and would require the legislature to take action. But, right now, Woodrow says details of the hiring process are confidential.
State Representative for Haines, Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins says he hopes Kemp will share the results of his examination of the hiring process with the public.
“I think Gov. Parnell directing Commissioner Kemp to look into this is a needed and positive step and I hope they come full circle and let us know what happened,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.
Sen. Dennis Egan, also a Democrat and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee has also sent a letter to Commissioner Kemp asking him to look into the hiring of Joel, according to Egan’s staff.