OPINION: Jury says APD owes detectives who claimed prejudice
Two former detectives said the Anchorage Police Department pushed corruption allegations against them because they had complained of racial discrimination. After hearing their story, a jury on Tuesday awarded each almost $1 million.
"I wanted my name back, and, to be honest, I haven't sat down and thought about the money aspect," said Al Kennedy, who retired from APD in 2011 because, he said, he felt in constant danger of having false charges made against him.
"They tried to put me in jail, they tried to sully my name and call me a corrupt and dirty cop, and for me, vindication was primarily the jury coming back, finding what they found, finding we were wronged by our employer," Kennedy said.
The municipality continues to maintain that investigations against Kennedy and his partner, Eli Feliciano, were appropriate. City Attorney Bill Falsey has not said if the city will appeal. It has already spent more than $1 million on legal fees.
After leaving the department, the detectives got jobs as investigators for Alaska state agencies.
The story begins in 2009. Kennedy and Feliciano were reassigned from high-level drug investigations in APD's Metro Unit to work cases such as thefts, robberies and burglaries. They had been with the force since 1990. Kennedy had been detective of the year twice.
They believed the reassignments reflected a pattern of racist practices at APD and filed a complaint with the Office of Equal Opportunity, followed by a lawsuit in 2010. In 2014, a jury dismissed the discrimination claims.
But before that trial, in 2010, APD launched a series of reviews and audits into the work of Kennedy, Feliciano and their old unit. The detectives said Thursday they felt they were under constant watch and suspicion.
"You almost think like you're going crazy. Not in a diagnosable sense, but you think this can't be going on," Feliciano said.
That spring, the department referred one of Kennedy's old cases to the state's Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, or OSPA, for potential charges against him.
Kennedy was accused of improperly moving evidence between two case files to keep a drug defendant from knowing the name of an informant.
The municipality said Kennedy made the move on his own. Kennedy said he had permission. The move ultimately didn't harm the case, because the defendant accepted a plea bargain before the process of evidence discovery was complete.
OSPA took no action against Kennedy.
Later in 2010, officers saw Kennedy in a Kinko's copy store when they were expecting a suspect to receive a package of cocaine there. The recipient didn't show up to get the package and APD officials suspected Kennedy might have tipped him off.
Kennedy said he was at Kinko's to send a fax to his mother's doctor. He went there to avoid using an APD fax machine for a personal matter, knowing he was under a microscope.
An APD sergeant conducted a series of interviews about the incident and other suspicions about Kennedy. The dossier he produced contains many opinions not backed by evidence. Mark Mew, then chief of police, sent that file to the FBI.
Kennedy said he was visiting friends at the U.S. attorney's office, where he had often worked on cases, and saw a file with his name on it. He opened it and learned about the investigation for the first time. The FBI didn't plan to pursue the case.
But when the FBI office got a new special agent in charge a few months later, Mew sent the file again. The FBI investigated but again took no action.
Although the investigations fizzled, they had an impact, said the detectives' attorney, Ken Legacki. The case files, although dormant, were not officially closed, so the allegations still hung over the detectives' heads and the details could not be released.
And another official action at APD affected that first trial. Kennedy and Feliciano had been investigated by APD Lt. Tony Henry, who himself was implicated in serious misconduct.
Henry was accused of revealing confidential informants in an investigation of the Alaska National Guard in 2010. But Chief Mew held off on investigating Henry because he would be his "star witness" in the discrimination case.
"This lawsuit is a public image nightmare for the police department, and losing it will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in damages," Mew wrote in a 2015 letter. "Risking all that so we could investigate Tony right now for something so old did not seem prudent to me."
Mew declined to comment through a city lawyer.
Henry was investigated in 2015 and fired. The municipality said he compromised the Guard case and lied about it. He then sued the city.
Kennedy and Feliciano lost their discrimination case in 2014 but the jury deadlocked on their claims of retaliation. Legacki then sued the state to open the OSPA files, showing in the new trial the true nature of the APD investigations against the detectives.
Those files had remained inactive since 2011 — one contained nothing but Henry's business card, Legacki said — but they remained officially open long after the statute of limitations had passed on any of the alleged crimes.
In court pleadings, Legacki alleged the state was "intentionally keeping the referrals regarding Kennedy and Feliciano open in order to assist the (Municipality) in retaliating against Kennedy and Feliciano."
That allegation was directed against John Skidmore, director of the state's Criminal Division.
Skidmore admitted in a deposition that when Legacki requested the files for use in the first trial early in 2014, he called the private attorney representing the municipality, Linda Johnson, not the investigating officer. Johnson says she only told him the status of the civil case and had no improper influence.
When this case first went to trial, years ago, Dennis Wheeler, the municipal attorney at the time, said the city would never settle.
He said, "We're really tired of dealing with these baseless allegations, and that's why we decided to fight them to the death, so to speak."
First, the municipality should pay the detectives and stop fighting this case. Once the jury was able to hear all the evidence, it believed them.
Second, the mayor should apologize on the city's behalf to Kennedy and Feliciano. They served us well and I'm glad they and their lawyer didn't give up.
Jerzy Shedlock and Laurel Andrews contributed reporting to this column.
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