The Anchorage FBI office will be leading the investigation of the 2014 tasing of a teenager in a Sitka jail cell. Franklin Hoogendorn, age 18, was a student at Mt. Edgecumbe High School when he was arrested and tased by three officers, while in custody of the Sitka Police Department.
The FBI has 56 field offices throughout the country, and one of them is in Anchorage. Part of the bureau’s mandate is to investigate alleged color of law abuses. Color of law describes someone given authority by a local, state or federal agency.
“And excessive force, which is something we would term ‘color of law,’ falls under that civil rights violation, so that’s how the FBI gets involved,” said Staci Feger-Pellessier, the public affairs specialist for the Anchorage office.
As of Friday, their office took the lead in reviewing the use of force in Franklin Hoogendorn’s arrest, along with the Alaska State Troopers. Feger-Pellessier says this type of review is what the Bureau is designed to do.
“People always think, ‘Oh, FBI is involved’ — people always think that makes it more serious or kind of takes it to a different level. It’s just that this falls within our jurisdiction.”
In 2012, 42 percent of the FBI’s civil rights caseload involved color of law issues — 380 cases. Last year, it was 307 cases. Feger-Pellessier could not discuss the details of this particular investigation, but said that when the case concludes, standard procedure is to submit the findings to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We do not make the final decision on whether or not the case is going to move forward. We investigate. We gather the facts and we hand that information over to the U.S. Attorney’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s office makes the final decision.”
Sitka Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt reviewed a videotape of the arrest last fall and said that while it, “didn’t look good,” it did not violate Sitka’s policies at the time, and that Hoogendorn’s resistance to arrest was not captured in the video. KCAW-Sitka filed a Public Records Request to obtain the department’s policies regarding the use of force . The request is pending.
When a local teacher posted a video of the arrest on YouTube in late October, it generated concern from the community and over 36,000 views. Chief Schmitt then requested the Alaska State Troopers conduct an independent review. Col. James Cockrell, who oversees the Troopers, said the FBI’s involvement brings more objectivity to the investigation.
“The FBI has a federal nexus. They’re not as intimately involved with the Sitka Police Department as the Alaska State Troopers were. We thought having another agency involved with it, and taking leads, seemed like the most proper and most reasonable and I think defendable approach we could take.”
Col. Cockrell could not say how long the investigation would take, but that it would likely stretch for months.
“Tracking down witnesses for a case that’s well over a year old now…this will take some time. This isn’t going to be resolved overnight.”
Officials with the city of Sitka could not be reached for comment.