Two legal cases highlighted the month of August at ALO. Jeff King’s moose hunting case was the only trial which the office conducted, and it was a busy one. It only lasted two days in Fairbanks but there was significant preparation time involved. The case consisted of a ton of pictures, maps and documents, all of which had to be selected and then prepared for use in court. Jeff and his office staff did much of the work on that project, leaving ALO to plan how the case would be presented. The case went well, with a large amount of evidence favorable to the defense presented for the court’s consideration. There was no jury because the federal rules do not allow a jury in such cases. Thus the decision was left to the magistrate, and his ruling is not expected for a couple of months because he asked for final arguments to be in writing. Because the case is still pending, a full discussion of the interesting evidence is not yet possible. One fact didn’t make it into the record but is most interesting. During the trial much was made of the lack of actual boundary markers in the area of the hunt. The government attempted to show there were enough markers, and also argued lack of ability to place markers because of the terrain and remoteness. ALO has now learned that within days after the trial, trail markers were placed about 500 feet apart for many miles in the area of the hunt on the north boundary of Denali. The case was followed closely by the Alaska newspapers, and the comment sections after the stories were typically divided on the issue. One comment was worth reporting here. An anonymous writer noted that King had hired the worst lawyer in the state.
The other court action worth reporting is a summary judgment in a case involving the use of a taser by the Hooper Bay police. Tasers have been the subject of several cases filed in Bethel in recent years. One such case produced a million dollar plus verdict for what can be described as minor injuries. One other case resulted in a defense verdict, when the jury decided that the use of a taser by a Bethel policeman, our client, was reasonable. Meanwhile, the Alaska Supreme Court weighed in on the subject. It ruled recently that in police excessive force cases, the officers have immunity, as long as they act in a manner that they reasonably believe to be lawful, even if they are mistaken in their belief. With that background, ALO appeared in court during August to defend officers from the city of Hooper Bay sued for using a taser several times against a person they were arresting. The facts were somewhat disputed but it seemed the officers were called by the mother of young children who were in a home with intoxicated adults. The court threw out the suit, agreeing with the officers that their use of tasers fell under the recent Supreme Court ruling.
Protecting village officers from suit is a policy decision that has far reaching implications. One result will be that injured parties will be left with no recourse in some cases when police use excessive force. The other side of that argument is that villages will be able to maintain a police force. Million dollar suits against village policemen have the very real potential to end police activity in the cash strapped villages of rural Alaska. Already many villages have no police force, and some have no insurance for their officers.
Labor Day is traditionally a hunting trip for the Angstman family, but this year a wedding at the Fairbanks Family homestead was the top billing. Grant Fairbanks started his homestead in the early 1970’s on the Holitna river. His tales from that era, some true, are a feature at many Bethel gatherings. He actually met his wife Debbie on a medevac trip to Anchorage when an accidental gunshot at the homestead injured one of Grant’s friends who was helping build the cabin. Debbie worked at an Anchorage hospital at the time. They were married at the homestead. Six kids and quite a few adventures later, their oldest daughter Francheska married Tim Robinson at the homestead. The highlight of the wedding was the involvement of three dogs in the ceremony. ALO office dog Henry led the bride and her parents up the path through the woods to the alter, where all three dogs walked around sniffing the participants, including the priest, during the ceremony. At one point a young lady sang Ave Maria, only to be joined by the barking of all three dogs who responded to a boat passing below on the river. One dog laid on the bride’s train. The entire ceremony was conducted at a wooden altar on the bank, not far from the outhouse.
Most Fairbanks’ gatherings feature some form of rescue. This time, Drake and some friends decided to go upriver fishing during the wedding party. They ran out of gas and Grant had to rescue them with another boat after dark. There were numerous colorful stories told, all blessed or at least excused by the priest. There were 49 people in attendance, remarkable for a location 12 hours by boat from Bethel, with no road access or airstrip. The homestead is 150 miles northeast of Bethel, and about 15 miles south of Sleetmute, a village on the Kuskokwim River. Best wishes to the newlyweds.