Troopers begin probe of Sitka police department

Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2002

SITKA (AP) -- Alaska State Troopers were set to begin an investigation Friday of possible criminal misconduct in the Sitka Police Department, according to city officials.

The move came a day after Sitka's police chief was put on administrative leave until his resignation becomes effective next month.

City Administrator Tony Zimmer told the Sitka Sentinel he put Police Chief Bill McLendon on paid administrative leave ''to facilitate an entirely independent investigation.''

McLendon's leave extends until the effective date of his resignation, Feb. 22. McLendon resigned Jan. 16, citing personal reasons for his departure.

His resignation came the same day that forensic scientist Brent Turvey, who had worked for the Sitka department as a consultant, accused the police of nearly a dozen violations of the law.

Turvey said in a letter that police ignored domestic violence claims involving officers, publicized confidential information regarding an unsolved murder case on an Internet message board, and tampered with public records by destroying photo IDs of Turvey and of Lt. John Baeza.

A few days before that, McLendon had fired Baeza, a retired New York City police officer who, like Turvey, came to Sitka to investigate the unsolved 1996 murder of 17-year-old Jessica Baggen. Baeza was hired last year by the department.

The chief said he let Baeza go because the lieutenant had a heated argument with a resident during an investigation, violating department policies. Baeza said he was dumped because he was about to tell Zimmer about other misdeeds in the department.

After the trooper investigation, expected to take three to four weeks, administrator Zimmer has hired Dick Burton, former state public safety commissioner, to analyze the department.

''We have questions about the operations and management of the police department,'' Zimmer said. ''Some of the allegations have to do with the way things are managed, the way things are run, discrepancies of operational procedures.''

Burton, who will get $100 an hour plus expenses, headed the state's law enforcement branch under Govs. Jay Hammond and Walter Hickel. He was a consultant for the Bethel department when it was in turmoil in 1996, and served as acting police chief there for a time.

While both the troopers and Burton are going to look into the department's operations, some members of the Sitka Assembly want their own inquiry.

''I get the impression people think so far we've been a bunch of weak-kneed weenies looking to bury our heads in the sand and hope it all goes away,'' Mayor Valorie Nelson said at a special meeting on Tuesday. The Assembly is scheduled to vote this coming Tuesday on whether to conduct a separate investigation.

Zimmer has appointed retired Alaska State Trooper Lt. Bob Gorder as interim chief. Gorder, who lives in Sitka, worked as a trooper for 22 years, retiring in 1999 as commander of the Public Safety Academy in Sitka.

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