On Tuesday, a Haines Assemblyman used an unconventional strategy to put pressure on borough administration to scrutinize police practices. Tom Morphet publicized four critical accounts of individuals’ encounters with Haines Police. Morphet says the accounts raise serious questions about police behavior and accountability. The police chief called Morphet’s actions ‘disturbing.’
Morphet says the ‘intimidating tactics’ four different people described after interactions with police lead him to believe the behavior is not an aberration.
“I have a duty as a public representative to represent and protect the people of the Haines Borough,” Morphet said. “This behavior raises legitimate questions about how the police interact with residents here.”
Perhaps the most serious allegation is that a police officer outed a confidential informant. That claim comes from a letter a Haines resident wrote to Chief Heath Scott and Interim Manager Brad Ryan a couple months ago. The resident accuses police of harassing and bullying his adult son, who he says is mentally handicapped.
While the letter Morphet provided did give the residents’ names, KHNS is not, at the request of the person who wrote the letter. He says he is worried about a possible backlash if his son’s identity were publicized further.
His letter alleges that the police gained information from his son as a confidential informant but then outed him.
Chief Scott says the man was not a confidential informant.
“I’m not gonna get into the specifics of it,” Scott said. “I would just say that when we deal with a confidential informant, we have a policy and a procedure for dealing with that, we vet that through the DA’s office and there are certain things you do during the prosecution of a case involving a confidential informant. This person was not a confidential informant.”
As for the other accounts, two tell of being pulled over and questioned by multiple police officers at a time in an intimidating manner. One is from artist Criss Chaney, who asks why two officers in separate vehicles were needed to stop and question her.
The other says police acted aggressively and unprofessionally toward a man whose dog got in a fight with another animal.
Scott said he doesn’t have the full story on those incidents. Sgt. Josh Dryden added there are reasons why the officers might have been suspicious of the people they pulled over.
“I’m not going to get into them, but there are other factors involved on why that officer was making that legal contact with that person,” Dryden said.
KHNS is not using the names of two of the citizens whose accounts Morphet revealed because we have not yet been able to reach and independently confirm the information with those people.
“The reason I am releasing them to the public is that these are accounts from reputable individuals in our community,” Morphet said at Tuesday’s meeting. “And these accounts cannot be lightly dismissed.”
Morphet gave two other reasons for his unconventional move. One, he says his time on the assembly may be limited because he’s one of three assembly members under threat of recall. Two, interim manager Ryan is proposing an increase in the police department budget that would pay for a fifth officer.
Chief Scott says he is alarmed that Morphet discussed accusations against officers in a public forum.
“The fact that these came up in an assembly meeting are disturbingly inappropriate,” Scott said. “And I’m trying to use measured language. They are disturbingly inappropriate from leaders of our community.”
Scott says Morphet’s actions circumvent the confidential process to handle personnel matters. Sgt. Dryden says he thinks publishing the complaints was a violation of his employee rights. He and Scott have reached out to the officers’ union.
“We’re constantly trying to seek the public’s trust,” Scott said. “Things like this that are one-sided that are judged in the media erode at our ability to work with the community.”
Some of the assembly members were also uncomfortable with the situation. Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer said she felt Morphet was not following the proper channels.
But Assembly member Heather Lende said even though they might not agree with Morphet’s methods, they owe it to the public to get an explanation.
The assembly voted 5-1 to direct interim manager Ryan to look into the allegations and report back. Mike Case was opposed. Ryan said Wednesday he was still figuring out how to handle the situation, since the allegations were given to him second-hand and aren’t all formal complaints.