Skagway’s police chief faces disciplinary action from the Alaska Police Standards Council.
Chief Ray Leggett allegedly intervened when his adult son was suspected of theft in Haines. Although most charges against his son were later dropped, the chief’s actions have put him at risk of losing his law enforcement certification. He’s challenging the process, and last week an administrative law judge sided with the chief. But the case is far from being resolved.
The Alaska Police Standards Council is in charge of monitoring training and issues certifications for police officers in the state. That council investigates police misconduct and has the power to revoke officers’ certification which is what the council’s executive director, Kelly Alzaharna, recommends for Chief Leggett’s certification.
Alzaharna begin investigating Leggett more than two years ago when she received a complaint from Haines police and the district attorney in Juneau.
Leggett, his attorney and Alzaharna did not want to comment for this story while the case is still pending. KHNS learned the details of this case through a public records request to the Office of Administrative Hearing.
Chief Leggett has worked as Skagway’s chief since 2004, and he was certified as a police office by the council the next year. This case begins in 2012, when the Haines Police Department was investigating Leggett’s adult son for theft of credit card information. Leggett’s son is on the autism spectrum, according to court documents.
Leggett called the officer on the case, Simon Ford, to inquire about it. Leggett and Ford characterize the conversation in different ways in the case file, but these details are the same: Leggett told Ford he was certified in conducting Computer Voice Stress Analysis – sort of like a lie detector test but with different equipment. The Skagway Police Department has one of the analyzers. Leggett gave his son the test and told Ford that in his analysis of it, his son did not commit the thefts he was being investigated for.
Ford spoke with the district attorney in Juneau, Amy Williams, and told her he was uncomfortable with Leggett calling him and conducting the test on his son. Ford said it was inappropriate and seemed like Leggett was trying to interfere in the case.
Williams and attorney general Michael Geraghty forwarded those concerns to the Police Standards Council. The attorneys accused Leggett of inappropriately using his influence and Skagway police department’s time and resources to interfere with the case. The council director, Alzaharna, decided an investigation was warranted. She interviewed Haines police officers, experts in the stress voice analysis and Leggett.
After a several month long investigation, Alzaharna recommended the council revoke Leggett’s police certification. She says the chief didn’t follow proper procedure in the using the stress analysis on his son and didn’t keep records of the test.
Alzaharna says in her accusation that Leggett violates one of the basic standards for police officers – namely that he quote “lacks good moral character.”
Leggett requested a hearing, and that’s when the case was moved to the Office of Administrative Hearing and into public record.
Leggett’s lawyer is Stephen Sorensen, who is also general counsel for the state’s Public Safety Employees Association. They argued Leggett did nothing wrong. He was expressing concern like any parent, especially a parent of a special needs child who is on the autism spectrum. He claimed he did not influence the investigation by Haines police, but offered information.
But then he shifted his argument and began questioning if the council has the authority to revoke the certification of police chiefs. Leggett and his attorney argue that state statute says police chiefs have to abide by the same standards as police officers, but that they are exempt from having certifications revoked because they are usually considered administrators, not strictly officers.
Assistant state attorney general John Novak represents the police standards council. He interprets the statute differently. He argues in his court filings that if the council can issue certifications, it has the authority to revoke them. Otherwise, how can the council oversee misconduct by police chiefs? He says the council has taken action against police chiefs in the past.
Even though Leggett’s certification is at stake, that doesn’t necessary mean his job as chief is at risk. Both sides agree that Leggett doesn’t need a certification to remain employed as Skagway’s police chief. It’s up to the municipality whether it cares or wants its chief to also be a state certified officer. Skagway Mayor Mark Schaefer knows about the ongoing case, but didn’t want to comment for this story, calling it a personnel issue.
An administrative law judge last week issued a proposed resolution, suggesting the case be dismissed. He agreed with Leggett’s interpretation of the statute that chiefs’ certification cannot be revoked. But that is not a binding decision. Novak says each side now files responses – either agreeing with the proposal, opposing it or somewhere in between. Novak wouldn’t say what stance he was going to take. But the ultimate decision on Leggett’s certification still lies with the standards council. It will take up the issue at its December meeting.
If, after the council’s decision, either side is still unhappy, the case could be appealed to superior court.
Most of the charges against Leggett’s son were dismissed late last year but he was convicted of two minor theft charges.
Right now, Leggett remains in his job, committed to fighting the case and retaining his certification. He believes he did nothing wrong in the first place.