By Margaret Friedenauer
A former Haines Police officer with a questionable work history was recently hired by the state for a high level security position, but the state is not releasing much information about the hiring process or what it knew about his past.
Jason Joel was hired in May as the security officer for the Alaska Marine Highway System. He is the incident commander for the state ferry system in the case of a major security event. He has supervision over vessel and facility security officers. He works with the Coast Guard, Custom and Immigration and national, state and local law enforcement agencies.
In the last 26 years, Joel worked as a police officer in several departments in Florida and Alaska. He held many of those jobs less than a year. In at least three cases he agreed to resign in exchange for the departments keeping any details of his work and conduct confidential from the public and future employers.
Troubles at his first job, with the Bradenton Beach, Fla., department are well documented in local newspapers at the time. Joel was disciplined at one point for what his supervisor called “conduct unbecoming an officer” involving his personal firearm. Joel appealed that disciplinary action and an appeals board ruled in Joel’s favor. The next year, the same chief fired Joel citing incidents of Joel not following procedure. Joel again appealed, but before a ruling, Joel and his supervisor struck a deal for Joel to resign in what the newspaper article called an attempt to salvage his career.
He went on to work for another Florida police department for 11 months, then as a private investigator for four years before moving to Skagway to work as a police officer for eight months. Skagway police Chief Ray Leggett says he can’t divulge much about Joel’s employment there – just that he was given the choice to resign.
Then came his longest stint as a police officer, in Haines. The circumstances surrounding his employment here are perhaps the most questionable.
Joel started at the Haines Police Department in 2006 and was promoted to sergeant after three years. A few months later he was demoted. Police Chief at the time, Gary Lowe, wouldn’t give a reason for the demotion.
Joel’s personnel file with the Haines Borough is confidential. The borough will only confirm it struck a deal with Joel in exchange for his resignation.
Several Haines residents confirmed to KHNS News they witnessed or experienced instances of Joel verbally harassing women, although none wanted their name used in this report. A former police dispatcher documented several instances of harassment from Joel while on the job. She said she reported the incident to the chief.
Joel resigned in 2011, saying he was seeking employment on the North Slope. Instead, he worked as a St. Paul police officer for two months, and then was hired as police chief and sole officer in Galena. He served on that job only a few months before going on disability for an unknown reason. His employment ended there in 2012.
A few months after Joel left Haines, the Alaska Police Standards Council confirmed it was investigating him. In 2012 the council said it was moving ahead with a process to revoke his police certification. At that point, Joel voluntarily surrendered his certification, meaning he cannot work as a police officer anywhere in the state.
It’s not clear if the state asked about Joel’s certification during a background check.
“Those items don’t necessarily apply to the position,” Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, said. “He doesn’t need an APSC certification to perform the duties of a security officer for the marine highway system.”
Woodrow will only say Joel met the requirements of the job.
“For the most part we really can’t get into the hiring process – that stuff is kept confidential. Really what we can comment on is that he met qualifications for the position and that he’s accepted it and started working for the marine highway system.”
Woodrow also says the state can’t reveal how many applicants it had for the security officer job.
Aside from his work history, public records also show Joel filed for bankruptcy twice in 15 years. The first bankruptcy was in Florida in 1999 and few details are available. But his 2012 bankruptcy case details nearly $80,000 in debt, not including a mortgage. Joel owes one Haines business, Lutak Lumber, more than $8,000. Owner Chip Lende says he doesn’t extend that line of credit to just anyone, but Joel held a prominent position in the community.
“When an individual when I think has been bestowed public trust because of the position they’ve been hired for we don’t expect them to abuse that when they come into the store looking for credit because we thinking they’re an honorable, trustworthy person because they’ve been hired under that pretense. So when that trust is abused I think it’s a double slap in the face not just to the vendor but to the community because we’ve extended that credit based on that perceived relationship with the community for that person.”
After leaving his job in Galena, Joel went to work for Home Depot in Seattle, according to his Facebook page profile.
Because the state’s hiring process is confidential, the public has no way of knowing exactly what the state knew about Joel before he became a state employee.
Joel did not respond to requests for comment.