- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Emails released by the state of Alaska on Friday shed little new light into how allegations of sexual assault and misconduct in the Alaska National Guard were handled by state or guard officials.

A judge ordered the release of nearly 600 pages after the Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Public Media sued. Many emails were partially or totally redacted for deliberative process or personnel reasons and didn’t detail how investigations were conducted.

Media organizations, including The Associated Press, sought the documents following the release of a scathing federal report of sexual misconduct and fraud within the guard. Gov. Sean Parnell demanded and received the resignation of his adjutant general, Thomas Katkus, the day the federal report was released. But Parnell has faced questions of whether he dithered after being told of such allegations four years ago - an issue that has dogged him as he seeks re-election Tuesday.

Parnell has said Katkus had assured him reports of sexual assault and fraud were being properly handled.

Parnell said he received concrete examples of how guard leadership was failing members, and in February asked the federal National Guard Bureau to investigate. The bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations released a report in September that found victims didn’t trust the system because of a lack of confidence in the Guard’s senior leadership.

“Our concern has been and remains that the documents released do not re-victimize victims and do not jeopardize prosecutions,” Parnell’s spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said in an email to the AP.

The emails released were those that touched the mailbox of Mike Nizich, Parnell’s chief of staff. They covered emails sent or received by him, or those that were copied to him. They range from 2011 to 2014, with the first emails showing up after Alaska National Guard chaplains privately voiced concerns over the Guard’s command structure.

“It is not the crash of the C-17 that has broken the professional and upbeat mood of my Guardsmen it is the looming change of command and how the upper levels of leadership once again cut hope and spirit by manipulation and passive aggressive behavior,” Lt. Col. Rick Cavens, a chaplain for the guard’s 176th Wing, wrote in a Jan. 6, 2011, letter to Parnell.

Cavens complained that Clear Air Force Station “was used as a place to store officers of sexual infidelity” and he implored Parnell to “please use your office as Governor to bring health back to the Alaska National Guard.”

Nizich and others began investigating, but there were complaints sent to Nizich that senior guard leaders were responding to the questioning with further retaliation.

One email to the governor’s office on Feb. 14, 2011, asked which of the correspondences from whistleblowers had been made available to senior leadership.

“Nothing has been turned over to Gen Katkus by me or the Governor,” Nizich responded.

Morale didn’t improve in the succeeding months. By January 2012, the National Guard Bureau agreed to conduct an investigation into the Alaska unit at the request of U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

“Looks like they will be investigating. Call me,” Nizich said in an April 18, 2012, email to Katkus. Neither this review nor another requested by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski found wrongdoing.

“Here we go again,” Nizich said in an Oct. 17, 2013, email to Katkus and others after a reporter began asking questions.

When the story appeared in the Anchorage Daily News 10 days later, Nizich wrote Katkus: “We probably need to confer on this and soon.”

On April 28, 2014, Nizich sent an email to Parnell indicating that an aide for Katkus had attempted to have the chaplains sign “an acknowledgment that they do not speak for the department or represent the department, they refused to sign.” This was in a chain of emails that had the subject line, “Internal sexual assault memo for Stand Down.” The memo was redacted.

Another redacted email circulated May 21 between Nizich, Katkus and McHugh Pierre, the military department’s former deputy commissioner, had the subject line: “DA’s Declination for Sexual Assault Prosecution” with an attachment, also redacted.

In a June 8 memo from Parnell to Nizich, the governor gives a list of thoughts on various subjects before he went off the grid for a week.

“Pls have Gen Katkus give direction that McCugh (sic) should have absolutely nothing to do with cases where Guard members are under investigation or subject to review - especially as they relate to two people he is personally connected to. No viewing of files, no conversations, etc.”

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