Sitka’s Tribal Council penned a letter to the FBI investigating the arrest of a Native Alaskan teenager last year. In it, they express concerns the conduct was influenced by race. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

On Tuesday (11-17-15), Sitka’s Tribal Council wrote a letter to the Anchorage Division of the FBI, regarding a tasing incident of a Native Alaska teenager in the Sitka jail last year. The letter alleges that prejudice exists within the Sitka Police Department and asks the FBI to consult the tribe during the investigation.

Downloadable audio.

To see a copy of the letter click here: STA Letter to FBI

The letter was written to the Special Agent in Charge at the FBI, the agency investigating the tasing of Franklin Hoogendorn last year. The letter asks for a couple of things. The first is to consider racial bias as a factor in the case.

The letter reads, “This incident is symptomatic of other actions by the Sitka Police Department which have alarmed citizens of this Tribe for many Years. Many of our citizens believe such prejudice does exist within the local police department.”

Tribal Chairman Mike Baines wrote the letter and said, “I’ve heard of a lot of Natives getting assaulted by the police and that kind of thing. That it’s pretty common. That’s one of our main concerns and it’s been coming out nationwide that it’s happening all over. It’s just a real concern for us and we want to do what we can to stop it growing locally.”

At present, Sitka Tribe of Alaska has 4000 enrolled tribal citizens. Hoogendorn is a citizen of the Native Village of Koyuk, outside of Nome. Baines would not go into further detail about the incidents described in the letter, nor the Tribe’s attorney. I asked Baines whether he felt the issue was department-wide or isolated to single officers.

Baines said, “I think there’s some that are pretty respectful and I’ve had pretty successful interactions with some of them. But the way that the police chief said that the incident didn’t break any department laws…I think that’ s a pretty big concern that the policies allowed for them to taser young man is a pretty big issue.”

Shortly after the arrest took place on September 6th, 2014, the Sitka Police Sheldon Schmitt reviewed the footage and determined that the actions of the three officers complied with arrest policies and that those policies have been changed since. KCAW’s public records request for those policies was denied.

In sending the letter, Baines also asks for inclusion. The letter cites the Clinton-era Executive Order 13175, which requires federal agencies to consult tribal governments when considering policies that would impact tribal communities. The letter says, “The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is ready, willing, and able to do government-to-government consultation.”

Meanwhile, the FBI investigation is pending and for this reason, the City Administrator Mark Gorman and Lieutenant Jeff Ankerfelt said the City and the Police Department had no comment at this time.

Gorman previously reported that the police department informed the city of this event shortly after it happened. Chief Schmidt also said the video does not depict Hoogendorn’s alleged level of resistance prior to custody.

The FBI also could not comment on any correspondence, but did say that, as with all investigations, the agency follows up on all leads.