VPSO sexual assault on village woman; where's the media outrage? - Must Read Alaska
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Friday, October 22, 2021
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VPSO sexual assault on village woman; where’s the media outrage?

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This story should be national news, especially in these times of “Defund the Police” and “All Cops Are Bastards” coming loudly from the Left. But it won’t be national news.

On July 30, Bethel State Troopers received a call from Village Police Officer Brian Ilutsik from Eek, a small village of fewer than 300 in Western Alaska.

Ilutsik had just taken a complaint from a 24-year-old woman who said she was sexually assaulted by 22-year-old Village Public Safety Officer James Heakin in June, while Heakin was on duty investigating a domestic violence incident involving the young woman and her boyfriend.

The boyfriend was arrested for multiple counts, and the VPSO Heaken went back a couple of days later to take photos of the young woman’s injuries. That is when the alleged sexual assault occurred.

Here’s the State Troopers’ report on it:

On 7-30-20, Bethel AST received a report from a Village Police Officer (VPO) in Eek that an adult female alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) James Heakin, 22 of Eek, in June of 2020 while he was on duty investigating a domestic violence assault between the complainant and her boyfriend. The complainant stated that VPSO Heakin came back a couple days after the boyfriend’s arrest to reportedly take updated photos of her injuries. She reported the VPSO sexually assault her during that follow up investigation.  On 8-2-20 at approximately 1200 hours, VPSO Heakin was arrested in Eek and transported to YKCC. He is charged with one count of Sexual Assault I and two counts of Sexual Assault II. 

One of the challenges with the Village Public Safety Officer is that the State has no control over any allegations, behavior, or how the employer deals with them. These programs are run by tribal entities with little oversight, and they want it that way.

Imagine if the allegation was against an Alaska State Trooper; this would be a national story. Instead, no news outlet has touched it. No public comment has been made by Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, defender of the VPSO program.

In rural Alaska, Village Public Safety Officers can be hired even if they have felony convictions, and the nonprofit employers who manage them have no internal affairs investigation units to fairly review allegations. The employment pool is limited, and villages often don’t get the cream of the crop.

Rural legislators such as Reps. Bryce Edgmon and Tiffany Zulkosky fought against the governor’s legislation to prohibit the hiring of felons as VPSOs.

And yet here we are.

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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.

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