Supreme Court rules Alaskans a little bit less safe - Must Read Alaska
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Friday, February 21, 2020
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Supreme Court rules Alaskans a little bit less safe

ALVIN WASSILLIE DECISION HAS SB 91 RAMIFICATIONS
The Supreme Court of Alaska Friday issued a decision that may undermine the safety and security  of Alaskans.
In the case of Wassillie vs. Alaska, an inmate at a halfway house in Anchorage was seen by another inmate to be throwing what turned out to be a bottle of vodka into the house through an open window.
Alvin Wassillie was serving out the remainder of a felony sentence at Anchorage’s Parkview Center halfway house in 2010. He left the facility to look for a job. About the time he returned, staff saw someone toss a bag through an open window into the upstairs room.
Staff went upstairs and searched and found the bag with a bottle of vodka in it. The security manager identified Wassillie as the one who had thrown the bag, which presumably contained the contraband alcohol.
Since bringing alcohol into the halfway house was a rule violation, the staff called the Department of Corrections and made Wassillie wait in the lobby, as he was going back to jail. But DOC took hours to get there, so Wassillie decided to walk away.
Police located him later that night about three miles away.
The Superior Court jury found Wassillie guilty of escaping the halfway house, and on appeal, the ruling was upheld. But the Alaska Supreme Court heard the case and ruled that because the halfway house staff member who filed the incident report on the escape didn’t testify before the grand jury, that the incident report was just hearsay.
The conviction was overturned.
A 2015 audit of Parkview Center shows the organization met or exceeded all standards for safety, training, and monitoring of both inmates and staff. Yet, the center’s incident report wasn’t good enough for the Supreme Court, although the State had argued that it fall under Alaska Evidence Rule 803(6). That rule creates a hearsay exception for “business records,” reports, memos, and official data.
The State had countered that the incident report fell under the business records exception to the hearsay rule, and that even if it was inadmissible hearsay, the conviction should not be reversed because any error in the grand jury proceeding was later made harmless by what was ruled an error-free trial.
Two of the Supreme Court judges dissented from the majority position that the incident report was hearsay.
This case is important to the safety of Alaskans because many criminals, under the State’s new relaxed criminal justice practices allowed through SB 91, will spend time in house arrest, in halfway houses, or with electronic monitors while they await their trial, and pre-trial release conditions will include limits on their behavior and movements.
If a corrections staff report is inadmissible at the Supreme Court, criminals will have an advantage if they challenge a charge of breaking the conditions of their release.
Today, the public is safe from Alvin Wassillie, who is behind bars at Goose Creek Correctional Institution, where he awaits trial on a subsequent charge: “penetration without consent” or rape, as it’s usually called. It’s just one in a long list of crimes he’s either committed or been arrested for in his 44 years.
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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Would it be wrong to pray that a multitude of crimes be committed against judges, prosecutors, and legislators who believe criminals just need a tiny slap on the wrist? I’ll be sleeping with a shotgun near.

  • That brings back a bad memory. Back in the early Eighties the State, not for the first time, got handed its head in contract arbitration with the Public Safety Employees’ Association, the Troopers’ union. They got an arbitrator to give them an Administrative Investigation (AI) process for Trooper discipline that was worthy of the Byzantine Empire. It took years for the State to adapt to it and develop a reliable ability to actually discipline Trooper misconduct. But, they got it right, and by the time I came along in the late Eighties, AIs were business as usual and as a general matter if the Trooper supervisor who conducted the AI concluded that the Trooper’s conduct warranted discipline, arbitrators would sustain the discipline, though they might tinker with it a bit.

    Then, I don’t remember the year, but early ’90s, I had an excessive force case against a Palmer Trooper. The allegation was that he’d thumped around some kids he caught partying on some dirt road outside Palmer. The AI Investigator concluded that the Trooper had indeed used excessive force in dealing with the kids. (I have to admit I kinda’ agreed with the Trooper; the little punks deserved a little “unkind” treatment.) But it was my job to sustain the State’s position and it was a pretty much lead pipe cinch case based on the AI.

    Back in those days PSEA was represented by their attorney, Bill Germain (RIP) and their business rep was Bob Piazza, one of the last of the old school union reps noted for his shiny shirts, half-unbuttoned, gold chains, big sunglasses; Bob had the whole act down, but he was damned good at what he did, and most PSEA arbitrations were the Bill and Bob show; Bill would testify with a leading question and Bob would agree with him. They’d both been around forever, the arbitrators all knew them, and the usual response to your “leading” objection was, “I’ll take it for what it’s worth.” Sometimes it was worth way too much.

    So, I got blindsided: AIs had been accepted into evidence by arbitrators for years. I move admission of the AI, and Bill objects to the AI as hearsay. The arbitrator, who I’d generally considered a pretty good arbitrator, ruled in Bill’s favor and won’t let me admit the AI. So here I am out in Palmer where I know nobody and have no friends in the Trooper Post or even the Department of Corrections to call on, plus I’m a suit from Juneau, and that is its own liability. And I have to find four teenaged punks and an off-duty Trooper who isn’t especially interested in supporting the State even though it was his AI finding I was trying to sustain. It was an interesting couple of days. Along the way the arbitrator kinda’ figured out that he might have gotten it wrong, but arbitrators are no better than judges at admitting they got something wrong. So, the best I could do was get the arbitrator to give me the Trooper having engaged in misconduct, but reducing the discipline, a suspension, to next to nothing and putting an expiration date on our keeping it in his record.

    I never used that arbitrator again, though he wasn’t a bad guy (another RIP), and it took us years to get back to being able to introduce the AI rather than spend the money and take the risk of calling in all the witnesses. I suspect that one day the AKSC will regret this decision, but they will never in a million years admit they were wrong.

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