Lawsuits Allege Hostile Work Environment at Unalaska Police Department, Prompt Independent Investigation

The City of Unalaska has 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 wrongfully terminated or forced to resign due to harassment and intimidation within the department. .

The lawsuits, filed by then-Sergeant John Merrion and officers Ann Sotelo, Anthony Recco and Lisa Robinson, describe a dysfunctional department, filled with “hostility and retaliation in the workplace, tolerance for officer misconduct and even confrontation.” physical”, according to one. of complaints filed in the Unalaska Superior Court.

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

One case describes a young police officer who became “the latest in a long line of officers who have been significantly mistreated” by the department, and whose complaints were ignored by then-Police Chief Jay King. 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 the city settled the cases. King was named throughout the lawsuits, which accused him of ignoring allegations of harassment and overlooking misconduct.

A complaint accuses King of acting aggressively toward officers and threatening an officer when he discovered King was using office supplies for his personal business.

King did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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

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

Recco alleges that Ah-Siu “subjected him to a sustained campaign of hostility… and verbal abuse.” Another called Wood “unhinged and violent.”

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

The public safety department has had high turnover in recent years, common in Alaska law enforcement agencies where recruiting can be challenging. And the police department isn’t alone: ​​The city is struggling to fill positions in many departments, and 26 city positions remained open as of January 10, including a permanent city manager and a director of finance.

Even so, the city’s public security department has been characterized by high turnover for years. Unalaska spent more than two years on a national search for a boss 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 board of directors for several non-profit and community groups, including Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence.

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