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Alaska National Guard chief ousted in wake of scathing report

SEATTLE (MCT) — The Alaska National Guard’s commander was forced to resign after a six-month federal investigation found that some members of the Guard had been ostracized and abused after reporting sexual assaults and that Guard members lacked trust and confidence in their leaders.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell asked the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations to conduct the review.

After receiving the report, he requested the resignation of Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Katkus, who also served as commissioner of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The scathing 229-page report, released late Thursday, found that complaints by some sexual assault victims before 2012 were not properly documented, that the victims were not referred to victim advocates, that their confidentiality was breached and that “in some cases, the victims were ostracized by their leaders, peers and units.”

Investigators reviewed 37 reports of sexual assault. Of those, 20 were investigated by local law enforcement officials, who decided not to prosecute in 16 cases. In only one instance did the National Guard leadership decide to “pursue administrative action” against a suspect if local authorities refused.

Although Alaska National Guard officials “initiated numerous internal administrative investigations into reported sexual assaults” from 2009 to 2013, the report said, the Guard’s “administrative investigations were not adequately conducted in some cases.”

The Office of Complex Investigations also surveyed members of the Guard regarding how they felt about safety and sexual assault.

“A significant number of respondents perceived barriers to reporting sexual assault,” the report said, “citing social retaliation, lack of confidence in the leadership and military justice and lack of privacy which reflects a lack of trust within the command.”

The report also found what it called “a high level of misconduct” in the recruiting and retention command in 2008 and 2009, noting that members of the staff had been the target of investigations into drug trafficking, rape and weapons smuggling.

Because of jurisdictional problems and lack of evidence, no investigations resulted in prosecutions, although some of the misconduct “is now the subject of administrative action,” the report said.

Lt. Col. Robert L. Ditchey II, a National Guard spokesman, said in a statement Thursday night that the chief of the National Guard Bureau “is aware of the release of the OCI report and (of) Governor Parnell’s call for the Alaska State Adjutant General’s resignation.”

“The National Guard is committed to ensuring the trust and confidence in National Guard leaders’ ability to handle sexual assault cases and other misconduct,” the statement said.

Alaska elected officials expressed outrage at the findings; Parnell called them “deeply troubling.”

“The dedicated men and women who serve in the Alaska National Guard deserve better, and I am committed to restoring the trust they are entitled to,” Parnell said in a statement.

Noting that the report found more than 200 reports of discrimination and sexual harassment over the last year, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, called it “shocking in its documentation of widespread sexual assault, discrimination, retaliation and tolerance of wrongdoing, especially at the highest levels in the Guard.”

In a statement, Begich said that Alaska officials had been hearing reports of sexual assault and harassment since 2011 and that the current investigation was the third into misconduct in the ranks of the Alaska National Guard.

Begich requested one in 2012. His Republican counterpart, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, asked for one soon after. Neither produced “significant findings,” Begich said, because “they were conducted in an ad-hoc manner and often were conducted by the individuals or units accused of improprieties.”

Karina Petersen, a spokeswoman for Murkowski, said by email that the senator was in rural Alaska and hadn’t reviewed the lengthy report in full.

Murkowski “has long been a forceful voice for accountability and transparency in how the Alaska National Guard metes out justice on sexual assault among the ranks,” Petersen said. Guard officials “will be reporting to her office next week for a full debrief of the report — and the long path forward.”

©2014 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
 

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