Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell addresses a scathing report into allegations of sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard during a Sept. 4 news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. (Mark Thiessen / AP)
JUNEAU, ALASKA — A scathing report into allegations of sexual assault and fraud in the Alaska National Guard finds that victims do not trust the system because of a lack of confidence in the command.
The report, released Thursday, was requested by Gov. Sean Parnell, who said he was angry that it had taken several years to get to the bottom of concerns.
He told reporters from Anchorage that he had requested and received the resignation of Alaska National Guard Adjutant Gen. Thomas Katkus. Parnell said the buck stopped with Katkus.
“I’ve been extremely frustrated over the years because it seemed like we’ve been chasing a vapor,” said Parnell, who has been criticized for not doing enough in response to allegations of sexual assaults within the Guard. He said when his office heard concerns, it would go to Guard leaders and be assured the matter was being handled and be given a description of how it was handled. He said he had no evidence that he was misled.
Investigations requested by Alaska’s two U.S. senators found the same thing, he said, that it seemed the cases were being properly handled. He said it took this type of a “deep review” to get at the heart of the problem.
Parnell said when he obtained “concrete examples” of how the command structure was “failing Guard members,” in February, he took those to the National Guard Bureau. The bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations conducted the review.
It found that the Guard is “not properly administering justice” in investigating or adjudicating Guard member misconduct cases, that actual and perceived favoritism, ethical misconduct and fear of reprisal had eroded the trust and confidence in the Guard leadership, and the Guard does not have a formal means for coordinating with local law enforcement in cases involving Guard member misconduct.
The review also found what it called instances of fraud — such as embezzlement of funds from a program to help Guard families and misuse of government equipment for personal gain — but said those cases did not have an effect on the reporting of sexual assault.
It found that lack of confidence and trust in Guard leadership “is impeding the organization from reaching its full potential, and this persistent negative theme is contributing to the perception that the AKNG leadership is not addressing the concerns of sexual assault victims.” AKNG is Alaska National Guard.
Recommendations include improving the reporting process to ensure the information of victims of sexual assault is kept confidential and that the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate or a law enforcement liaison track allegations of conduct investigated by law enforcement.
Parnell committed to implementing the report’s recommendations and appointing a project team to oversee that, with the bureau’s help. He called it a starting point for change. He also said there would be further changes to the Guard’s command structure.
Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges will serve as acting commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs until a replacement for Katkus is appointed.
Parnell apologized to those who had been victimized.
“Our Alaska Guard members deserve better. The victims who have been hurt deserve better. And those who have brought complaints forward deserve better,” he said.
Release of the report did not quiet the criticism against Parnell, who is seeking re-election.
State Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said Parnell’s administration “let misconduct by the Alaska National Guard chain of command go on for far too long.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, called on Parnell “to hold accountable those individuals who have forced the AKNG to operate under a cloud of suspicion and mistrust for so many years.”
Begich’s office said the earlier reports did not include significant findings because they were conducted in an “ad-hoc manner,” often by individuals or units accused of improprieties.