Local News

Unalaska settles lawsuit claiming hostile work environment for police

Unalaska settles lawsuit claiming hostile work environment for police
Headquarters of the City of Unalaska Department of Public Safety. (Berrett Wilbur / KUCB)

The city of Unalaska agreed to pay $765,000 to settle four separate lawsuits against its police department, all brought by former Unalaska Department of Public Safety employees who say they were either unfairly Was fired or was forced to leave because of harassment and bullying within the department.

The suits — brought by then-Sgt. John Merian, and officers Ann Motello, Anthony Recco, and Lisa Robinson — describe a dysfunctional department, “workplace hostility and retaliation, a tolerance for officer misconduct, and even that is fraught with physical confrontation,” according to one of the complaints filed in Unalaska Superior Court.

Northern Justice Project, LLC, an Anchorage-based law firm that focuses on civil rights cases, represented all four plaintiffs, although the cases were filed separately.

One case describes a young police officer who has become “the latest in a long line of officers who have been grossly abused” by the department, and whose complaints were ignored by then-Chief of Police Jay King Was. The four cases brought against the police department were filed between October 2020 and May 2022, all during King’s tenure as chief.

King resigned from the department in December, a month after settling cases in the city. King was named throughout the lawsuit, which accused him of ignoring complaints of harassment and condoning misconduct.

One complaint accused King of acting aggressively toward officers and threatening an officer when he learned that King was using office supplies for his personal business.

King did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The City of Unalaska denied the allegations against the department in its response to the complaint.

READ ALSO :   Brian Walshe Googled 'best state for divorce' before wife went missing: Prosecutor

Some of their complaints in the two lawsuits focus on Officer Theresa Ah-Siu, who has been with the department since 2014, and one on Sergeant Kevin Wood, who joined the department as an officer in 2009 and became a sergeant in 2017. Both are current. Department of Public Safety employees.

Reko alleges that Ah-Siu “subjected her to a sustained campaign of hostility … and verbal abuse.” Another called Wood “unchanged and violent”.

Wood denied all allegations in an interview, saying that the lawsuits were “frivolous” and made in “bad faith”. KUCB was unable to reach Ah-Siu for comment.

The Department of Public Safety has had high turnover in recent years, which is not unusual among Alaskan law enforcement agencies. Recruitment can be challenging, And the police department isn’t alone — the city is struggling to fill positions in several departments, and 26 city positions remain vacant as of Jan. 10, including a permanent city manager and a finance director.

Still marked by the city’s public safety department high turnover for years, Unalaska spent more than two years on a nationwide search for a chief before hiring Kingwho previously spent 25 years with the Montgomery, Alabama Police Department before taking the job in Unalaska in 2020.

King was active in the Unalaska community and served on the boards of several non-profits and community groups, including Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence.

The city of Unalaska says it has enlisted an outside investigator to conduct an independent review of the allegations. The investigator’s report will be presented to the Unalaska City Council in a closed session at an upcoming council meeting.

The Latest

To Top