ACLU: Alaska police agency failed to protect Native women

NOME, Alaska (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday accused police in this small Alaska city of "a systemic and disastrous failure" to keep Native women safe from sexual assault.

ACLU's Alaska branch made that charge in a letter demanding the city pay $500,000 to a former 911 dispatcher who says her colleagues at the police department failed to investigate her report that a man raped her in her home. The letter said Clarice Hardy, who is of Inupiaq heritage, was unable to continue working there, and suffered nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks.

The ACLU's action comes 12 days after an AP investigation into complaints by Alaska Native women from Nome and surrounding villages that their reports of sexual assault were not investigated aggressively by the city's police. Nome police data show that from 2008 through 2017, 8% of calls about sexual assaults against adults resulted in arrests with charges filed.

In a written statement, Nome's interim city manager, John Handeland, declined to respond to questions about the ACLU's letter.

"The city's efforts to improve community policing, and sexual assault investigations in particular, have been well publicized," he wrote.

After a group of Alaska Native women began publicly raising complaints about Nome's police last year, the city of fewer than 4,000 residents hired a new police chief, launched an audit of hundreds of old sexual assault cases and created a civilian police oversight committee.

While the ACLU said it was writing the letter on behalf of Hardy, it said it is "prepared to seek justice" for other women who had similar experiences with the police department.

"Dozens of other Alaska Native women have complained of sexual assaults to the Nome police, only to have their concerns dismissed or allowed to languish without investigation," the ACLU's letter charges. "It has become evident in recent months that a systemic, decades-long indifference to the safety of Alaska Native women in Nome has led to the deprivation of their rights to equal protection under the Constitutions of the United States and Alaska."

Stephen Koteff, the ACLU's legal director in Alaska, told the AP he couldn't comment on whether other women have contacted the organization with potential claims involving Nome police.