Friday, September 05, 2014

Gov Finally Sacks Katkus After National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations (OCI) Report On Sexual And Other Abuse

From the Governor's website:
 "September 4, 2014, Anchorage, Alaska – Following the conclusion of a six-month independent review and assessment of open and closed investigations related to reports of sexual assault, rape and fraud among members of the Alaska National Guard, Governor Sean Parnell released the findings today, and took the resignation of the adjutant general, Major General Thomas H. Katkus. The governor originally requested the assessment from the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations (OCI) in February."

I first came across Tom Katkus at his confirmation hearings in 2010 at the State Affairs Committee in Juneau, but kept my personal reactions to myself.  As I look back at that post, it's ironic that after they approved Katkus, the next topic was sexual abuse in Alaska.  And my personal instincts were reinforced soon when I got an email after that post from a spouse of someone at the National Guard telling me how corrupt the Guard and Katkus were.  She wouldn't give me her name or fill in details, but she talked about intimidation of people in the guard who noticed all the things going wrong, of favoritism, and cronyism and did nothing.  It seemed serious and her anonymity seemed more fearful than a way to vent. And I had lots of other things to keep me busy.

More recently (January this year) someone put up this comment on that post:
"Funny that MG Katkus is leading the charge against rape and sexual assault, considering the fact that he's been the person in charge of covering up the numerous sexual assault cases that have been reported to the Governors office over the years."
Someone also had sent me a link to the 2012 twelve page list of allegations from retired Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth T. Blaylock that starts out:
KENNETH T. BLAYLOCK
LIEUTENANT COLONEL (RET) AKARNG
529-XXXX
Illegal Activities within the Alaska National Guard
Murder, Sexual Assault, Narcotic Trafficking, and other violations are reported. It’s not that any proper investigations are performed and the results produced. But rather they are not investigated. The only actual investigations conducted are against the whistleblowers themselves.
I mention all this because if I, as a blogger was getting this sort of stuff, no doubt people responsible - like the governor - were also getting it and probably more.  Clearly there was something seriously wrong at the Guard and whenever it came up, I felt a bit of guilt for not looking into it, but I mollified myself because there were official studies being done that would have more access than I could ever get.

Parnell is quoted in a Becky Bohrer article the Army Times:
“I’ve been extremely frustrated over the years because it seemed like we’ve been chasing a vapor,” said Parnell, who has been criticized for not doing enough in response to allegations of sexual assaults within the Guard. He said when his office heard concerns, it would go to Guard leaders and be assured the matter was being handled and be given a description of how it was handled. He said he had no evidence that he was misled.
I learned an organizational lesson long ago: Employees often look very different from above than they do from below.  I can understand that Katkus could probably act the perfect employee to the governor, so that the charges against the Guard would bring cognitive dissonance to the governor.  The stories he heard about Katkus didn't match his personal experience with the man.  But good leaders should see through those facades.

Given that this governor made fighting violence against women a high priority, including leading a Choose Respect march every year, his "no evidence that he was misled" sounds like total incompetence.  Instead of spending all that time marching, he should have been having conversations with guard members who were complaining.  Even I had evidence coming to me that made it clear things were bad.  Both our US Senators had enough evidence to call for investigations. 

So what does the report say?  You can see the whole 229 page report here.  [Anon left a comment asking if I could post this report somewhere other than at the governor's website.  So I've posted it at Scribd and you can get it here.]

Below is the Executive Summary which doesn't have the detailed findings that convey how bad things were, so I'll add some selected quotes to give you a sense.  But you should then go to the report and read them in context.  To find my excerpts in the report, you can copy five or six words from each passage and search the document.

Here's the synopsis and executive summary:

National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations
Report of Assessment: AK1401
Synopsis

The National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations conducted a statewide
assessment into the Alaska National Guard and made findings and recommendations in the areas of sexual assault, EEO/EO matters, coordination with local law enforcement,
Alaska National Guard member misconduct, command climate and the administration of
justice.

I. Executive Summary
On 28 February 2014, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell submitted a letter
to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Frank J. Grass, requesting that the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations (NGB-JA/OCI) investigate “open and closed investigations related to reports of sexual assault, rape, and fraud among members of the Alaska National Guard [(AKNG)].” The request highlighted concerns over reports of sexual assault and allegations of a hostile work environment within the AKNG. The Governor’s request also sought an overall assessment of the AKNG’s command structure and its responses in cases of sexual assault that were otherwise referred to civilian law enforcement for disposition.
    A. Findings
  • The AKNG’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program is well-organized, but victims do not trust the system due to an overall lack of confidence in the command;
  • The AKNG leadership has failed to provide the resources, emphasis, and oversight in the implementation of the AKNG EEO/EO program; • The AKNG does not have a formal mechanism to facilitate coordination with local law enforcement regarding cases of misconduct committed by members of the AKNG;
  • There were several instances of fraud committed by AKNG members and leadership at the facilities level, but that this fraudulent activity did not have an impact on the reporting of sexual assault. Examples of fraud included embezzlement of money from a NG family programs account and misuse of government equipment for personal gain. On 27 August 2014, Governor Parnell requested that the National Guard Bureau conduct a further assessment into the management of federal fiscal resources in the AKNG;
  • Actual and perceived favoritism, ethical misconduct, and fear of reprisal are eroding trust and confidence in AKNG leadership; and
  • The AKNG is not properly administering justice through either the investigation or adjudication of AKNG member misconduct.
    B. Recommendations
  • The NGB-JA/OCI Team provided seven separate recommendations to improve the management of sexual assault matters within the state;
  • The Team provided five separate recommendations to improve the State Equal Employment Opportunity program;
  • The Team recommends that allegations of misconduct under investigation by law enforcement be tracked by the AKNG Office of the Staff Judge Advocate or a law enforcement liaison, such as a Provost Marshall Officer;
  • The Team recommends that the National Guard Bureau conduct a separate assessment into the management of federal fiscal resources in the AKNG;
  • The Team recommends that all levels of command in the AKNG reevaluate their approach to leading soldiers in a positive manner and provided seven recommendations to address the concerns raised during the Team’s visit and through the climate survey; and
  • The Team identified nine areas that the AKNG and AK legislature may want to consider to improve the administration of justice within the state.

Some of the specific findings:
"The AKNG provided a matrix of all reported incidents of sexual assault  since the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program was initiated in 2006. There were 37 reports of sexual assault; of those, 17 were unrestricted and eight identified sexual assault perpetrators. Some of the allegations reported were investigated by the AKNG; however, most of the allegations involved civilian perpetrators and were referred to AK local law enforcement officials for investigation."
Thirty seven reports of sexual assault in eight years.  That's a little more than one every three months.  Surely that is a sign of serious problems in any organization.  And that's only the ones reported.  This report says that many people didn't report because they didn't trust the leadership and feared retaliation.  Note, Wikipedia says there were 1850 people in the Alaska National Guard in 2006.  Let's use that as an approximate figure and then consider how many of those were women . . .


"Prior to 2012
The Team learned that records regarding reports of sexual assault were not properly maintained or tracked, and in some cases were never completed. As a result, victims and leaders were not properly informed regarding the status of their cases, victims were not offered treatment services, and victim information was not adequately treated in a confidential manner as required by DoD Policy"


"Victim Confidentiality

Most of the individuals interviewed stated that they knew who their Victim Advocate was and understood the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program; nonetheless, most individuals also indicated that they would not report a sexual assault due to concerns over confidentiality. The Team noted that prior to 2012 there had been instances wherein commanders either obtained the names of victims who made restricted reports of sexual assault or distilled that same information from the “sanitized” reports that were made in contradiction to DoD policy.7 Additionally, victims reported that in some cases they were ostracized and even abused by fellow service members after making their restricted reports. Such conduct is in violation of DoD policy." [restricted reports were not supposed to be shared beyond the person taking the report.]
After 2012, a new officer, according to the report, seems to have turned this around, but the report also said that a lot of people didn't know that and still acted as though the pre-2012 situation was still in place.

 "The Team learned of several examples of inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature in its interviews with AKNG personnel, including a report of pictures of male genitalia drawn inside aircraft panels at an ANG Wing, flight instructors having sex with flight students, and senior leaders sending harassing and inappropriate text messages. Witnesses reported that AKNG internal inquiries into their complaints failed to substantiate the harassing behavior and as a result no action was taken. Indeed the information provided by the ANG Wings did not reflect that any administrative action occurred as a result of the complaints made."

"Team also learned that there were recent allegations of sexual harassment that had not been referred to EEO/EO; rather, the AKNG leadership was aware of these allegations, which were handled through internal investigation. Leaders should be directly involved in the EEO/EO program and they should collaborate with EEO/EO personnel to provide appropriate lawful recourse for both the complainant and the subject of the complaint. In several instances leaders attempted resolution without the assistance of EEO/EO personnel, this is not optimal. Service members interviewed by the Team perceived leadership efforts at internal resolution as an attempt to cover up sexual harassment allegations. This perception was reiterated in the OCI climate survey, which highlighted fear of reprisal and lack of support from the chain of command as the primary barriers to reporting discrimination."

"Disparate Treatment

A large number (50+) of Puerto Rican Army National Guard members moved from Puerto Rico to Alaska to supplement the AKNG Military Police unit at Ft. Greely, AK. Several members discussed disparate treatment towards the Spanish-speaking members of this unit. They related that their leadership told Puerto Rican soldiers that they were not allowed to speak Spanish in the “operational” area, which some consider the entire installation. Under Army Policy, commanders may not require the use of English for personal communications that are unrelated to military functions.
Command emphasis on the language issue has created a negative environment within the remote location, where members report that some military spouses are even posting derogatory comments about Spanish speaking spouses on social media sites."


 "C.  Analysis of Fraud

The Team reviewed reported incidents of fraud that had occurred over the past 10 years. Most of the incidents involved the improper use of the government travel or purchase card. One incident involved the embezzlement of money from a NG family programs account and another incident involved the misconduct of a senior officer who misused federal equipment and personnel for his own personal gain. In each instance the Team noted that there was a lack of oversight in the AKNG to prevent and detect fraud when it occurred.
"The Team noted a high level of misconduct occurring within the AKNG Recruiting and Retention Command. Several command directed investigations initiated in 2012 found that, during the time period of 2008-2009, several non- commissioned officers within this command were engaged in misuse of
government vehicles, fraud, adultery, inappropriate relationships and sexual
assault. Several of these cases are pending administrative action.
The Team’s interviews conducted with the FBI, CID and local law enforcement revealed that the Recruiting and Retention Command had been the target of multiple investigations for crimes such as weapons smuggling, rape,and drug trafficking; however, none of these investigations resulted in prosecution of the
crimes under investigation due to jurisdictional issues or lack of evidence.

Some Army and Air National Guard witnesses testified that when they approached the leadership regarding misconduct, they were specifically told to stand down."

I think this is enough to give you a sense of the findings.  This gets us only to page 19 of a 229 page document.

Surely the governor who has made Choose Respect (and ending sexual abuse and violence) the slogan of his administration knows the severe long-term impacts of sexual assaults on the victims and even their families.  If Katkus is responsible enough to fire (ok, the governor accepted his resignation - even here, Katkus got the option not to be fired), then surely he bears responsibility for the damage done not only to those assaulted, but also those upstanding members of the Guard who tried to point out such problems and were retaliated against with missed promotions and other such administrative punishments.

Will anyone be charged with any crimes?

If the governor didn't see any evidence of wrong doing in this area what else hasn't he seen in his administration?  I've learned that we are all guilty of seeing what we want to see and not seeing what we don't want to see.  But someone in a position of power should be able to see what he has to see to do his job well.  And what does this say about his ability to judge people?  And other issues?  He stood loyal to Katkus until today.  Four years.

The study will go to other agencies and presumably there will be charges.  But don't hold your breath.


According to the Bohrer article, the governor apologized.
"Parnell apologized to those who had been victimized.
“Our Alaska Guard members deserve better. The victims who have been hurt deserve better. And those who have brought complaints forward deserve better,” he said."
Is that it?  Sorry guys, but I was asleep at the wheel?  Or does he plan to help victims to regain their emotional health and repair the damage to their careers?

He's quoted in this morning's ADN:
“This culture of mistrust and failed leadership in the Guard ends now,” Parnell said.
No Governor, as the various surveys cited in the report show, there's still a lot of mistrust.  It doesn't go away because you declare it over.  It still lives in the hearts of the victims, in their nightmares, in their flashbacks, in the people still in the Guard who didn't believe them or help them.  It doesn't end now.  Changing it begins now.  And if the governor's actions to change the culture are as wishy-washy as his actions have been in response to all the complaints over the years, it will be a while before there is trust.  (I can imagine the governor reading this and sincerely saying, "I did everything I could."  And I think he believes that.  But someone with better skills at reading people (Katkus and the victims) and a bigger heart that could feel the pain of the victims, would have started repairing this long ago.)

I don't mean to suggest that the governor takes this lightly.  I believe he's sincere in his belief that domestic violence and sexual assault are terrible things.  But this report indicates that though these issues were called to his attention, his response was inadequate.   I do appreciate that the governor did call for this study  and published it. (Unlike other studies he held back for so long, like the one on Medicaid expansion.)  But the smoke has been here for years, even if the previous studies couldn't find the actual fires.   Had he just moved Katkus to another position while things were uncertain, things might have been better.  But his loyalty to his appointee was greater than his loyalty to the members of the guard who had been complaining for so long.  In the Catholic Church complaints piled up, but the leadership found ways to avoid dealing with it.  They didn't have 'proof.'

My normal constraints are obviously not working here.  I wrote most of this last night thinking I could review it more rationally in the morning, but that isn't working.  Instead I'm more upset by the incompetence in handling this.  And probably I'm upset at myself for not pursuing it here on the blog. 

 

3 comments:

  1. Is there a link for that report posted somewhere than at an alaska.gov url? I am sure I won't view it there where my IP will probably be logged for later use. Maybe you can repost it here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. http://www.newsminer.com/alaska-national-guard-sexual-assault-report/pdf_0d8611d8-3490-11e4-a32d-0017a43b2370.html

      Delete

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