By DAVID IGNELL
In early 2017, Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) accused the Alaska Attorney General’s Office of “hijacking” her requested grand jury investigation into the Office of Children Services.
Her press release came approximately three weeks after an Anchorage grand jury had referred her request to the State Ombudsman. Rep. Wilson was clearly not pleased a state agency would be investigating the OCS instead of an independent grand jury doing so; she laid the blame squarely on the AG’s office.
Wilson had requested the grand jury investigation in 2016 based on her four-page letter containing extremely alarming assertions, such as, “OCS has become a protected empire built on taking children and separating families.” “Poor parents are often targeted to lose their children because they do not have the means to hire lawyers and fight the system.”
Wilson called it “legal kidnapping”.
The representative asserted OCS has an anti-family policy: “Many parents are told if they want to see their children or grandchildren, they must divorce their spouse. Many, who are under privileged, feeling they have no opinion, will separate…. [P]arents will do anything to get their children back.”
Wilson identified money as the root of this evil: “Parents are victimized by the system that makes a profit for holding children and bonuses for not returning the children.” “The separation of families is growing as a business because local governments have grown accustomed to having federal dollars to balance their ever-expanding budgets.”
Wilson also pointed to deficiencies in the legal arena: “Case workers and social workers are oftentimes guilty of fraud. They withhold evidence. They fabricate evidence and seek to terminate parental rights. However, when charges are made against them, the charges are ignored.” Wilson certainly wasn’t giving the Department of Law (“DOL”) a nod of confidence; no wonder she was so upset with the AG.
Apologists for the OCS were in trouble. They couldn’t dismiss Wilson as unreputable – she had been an elected representative since 2009. Eight months later the Ombudsman published a 23-page report substantiating Wilson’s claims. However, their report was mysteriously quiet about the financial motivations of OCS and the prosecution of employees guilty of fraud and fabrication of evidence.
Thomas Garber, a sheet metal worker from Kenai, is one of the victims Wilson wrote about. Garber and his wife were busy raising three sons; their middle son was approaching 18 and experiencing some angst about becoming an adult. After an incident at home, the police allowed Garber and his wife to drive their son to the local hospital. However, at the hospital Garber was separated from his wife and their son was taken to North Star Behavioral Health in Anchorage.
Garber’s wife was told by OCS that if she wanted to visit her son at North Star, she would have to file a restraining order against her husband. She did that. OCS later said that unless she divorced Garber, they would take her 13-year-old child. She did that too, telling the judge the only reason she was divorcing Garber was because of OCS.
Six months later Garber’s’ son turned 18 and North Star released him. No longer a minor, their son was apparently of no value to OCS. Only now he was addicted to the drugs North Star had given him.
An Alaska family was destroyed by State officials for a fistful of dollars. To the best of Garber’s knowledge, no one at OCS was ever held accountable for breaking up his family. Rather they were likely rewarded.
Garber didn’t let this injustice go. He met Wilson during her statewide meetings. In 2022 over a 6-month period, Garber repeatedly approached Anchorage presiding Judge William Morse to request a grand jury investigation into the OCS. Garber gave Morse substantial evidence of OCS’s unlawful behavior. As the presiding judge, Morse had a clear duty to launch the grand jury investigation, but he repeatedly ducked his responsibility.
On Oct. 6, Morse finally relented to Garber’s persistence and issued an order setting a hearing for Oct. 14 in Case No. 3AN-22-00001GC. The order instructed Garber to “describe in detail what he seeks to have the grand jury do.” The order concluded, “the Court will likely present Garber’s request to the grand jury.”
Yet after hearing from Garber on Oct. 14, Morse, continued the matter to Dec. 14. In hindsight, it appears Morse was stalling for time. Garber recalls Morse mentioning some “court rules” about grand juries were being drafted up.
On Dec. 3, Garber received a letter containing an order from Morse. It cancelled the hearing on the 14th because of Court Order 1993 issued by the Alaska Supreme Court, effective Dec. 1. Order 1993 prevents citizens from requesting grand jury investigations without going through the Attorney General’s office. Garber has until Jan. 3 to appeal Morse’s order, but the State says it will cost him $1,000 in court fees.
Order 1993 is another blatant violation of the Alaska Constitution by our Supreme Court. Article I, Section 8 prevents grand jury investigations from being hindered or delayed. The Attorney General’s Office is clearly in on the fix; Garber’s and Wilson’s hijacked grand jury investigations have plenty of company.
Earlier this fall, my requested Juneau grand jury investigation into the OCS and concerns of systemic State corruption was hijacked by the combined efforts of presiding Judge Amy Mead and Attorney General Treg Taylor. They allowed DOL lawyers with severe conflicts of interest to advise the grand jury. Predictably, those lawyers didn’t tell the grand jurors of the duties inherent in their oath. Mead and Taylor saw no need to screen jurors for bias in favor of the State officials subject to the investigation; they blatantly ignored clear precedent set in the Sheffield investigation.
In 2020, John Lehe was the Lead Investigator for the Department of Administration, Oversight and Review Unit. Garber and other concerned citizens provided evidence of OCS misconduct to Lehe, and he launched an investigation. However, his investigation was quickly hijacked, and Lehe told one of the citizens Attorney General Kevin Clarkson was responsible for calling it off. Lehe reportedly continued investigating on his own personal time until his car was T-boned by a dark Suburban with no license plates, leaving him in an extended coma.
In 2018 Ray Southwell, a retired nurse from Nikiski, tried to launch a grand jury investigation into the OCS. Southwell was a juror on a Kenai grand jury and wanted to pick up where Wilson and the 2017 Ombudsman Report had stopped. He tried to present the other grand jurors with evidence of unlawful actions by OCS employees. State officials, including Judge Jennifer Wells and Criminal Director John Skidmore, hijacked his efforts. The following year under the Dunleavy administration, Skidmore was promoted to Deputy Attorney General. Throughout 2022 Skidmore has been involved in blocking my concerns, just as he did Southwell’s.
This makes at least five attempted investigations into the OCS over the past six years that have been hijacked by the efforts of Alaska judges and the Attorney General’s office. Now they’re trying to eliminate every citizen’s constitutionally protected right to approach the grand jury. They’ve literally enacted illegal legislation requiring us to approach the government to be saved from the government. We’re in serious trouble folks.
Contrast Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s attitude towards justice with that of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Two days ago, DeSantis requested a grand jury to investigate crimes and fraud committed against Floridians related to the Covid-19 vaccines. This investigative grand jury is to convene for a year, with the ability to extend another 6 months.
Gov. Dunleavy, how about following your Republican colleague’s lead? Terminate those in the Attorney General’s office who bear responsibility for hijacking 1) Garber’s requested investigation into OCS; 2) my requested investigation into systemic corruption involving OCS, DOL, the AJC, and the Supreme Court; and 3) David Haeg’s requested investigation into the Commission on Judicial Conduct and certain DOL and judicial officials. Restore these grand jury investigations and ensure they’re supplied with the independent prosecutors necessary to advise them how to best fulfill their oaths.
These investigations are clearly the best way for you and your administration to address the issues raised in the amended class action complaint against OCS filed in federal court on July 15, 2022. Just as Florida grand jurors will be looking at federal incentives behind the vaccines, Alaska grand jurors can look at the financial incentives in the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which have motivated the OCS to kidnap our children. Their recommendations will help restore justice not only in Alaska, but throughout our entire nation.
Alaskans, during our prayers of thankfulness and toasts of cheer over the next two weeks, let us devote a minute of silence to reflect on the many grieving Alaska families with empty chairs around their holiday tables. They were helpless to protect their children from the State bureaucracy that feeds on the innocent and the unwealthy. Resolve for 2023 to support justice in Alaska and help keep the chairs around your holiday table in the coming years filled with merriness.
David Ignell was born and raised in Juneau, where he currently resides. He holds a law degree from University of San Diego and formerly practiced as a licensed attorney in state and federal courts in California. He is a forensic journalist and author of a recent book on the Alaska Grand Jury.