A former jailer in the Sitka Police Department claims that he was defamed and forced to resign his job, after he left a police training program due to an injury.
Noah Shepard filed a lawsuit in Sitka Superior court on February 25. It’s the third lawsuit brought by an employee of the Sitka Police Department in six months.
The case has some elements in common with lawsuits filed by former detectives Ryan Silva and Mary Ferguson, but is really a separate story.
Noah Shepard was hired as a jailer in the Sitka Police Department in 2013. Late last year, he entered the Anchorage Police Academy as a recruit, with the objective of returning to Sitka as a patrol officer.
Shepard claims he was near the top of his class academically at the academy when he suffered a broken elbow during physical training.
Although he hoped to continue at the academy, Shepard claims he was withdrawn on the advice of Sitka police lieutenant Lance Ewers, whom he argues was obstructionist toward his attending the academy from the first.
On returning to Sitka, Shepard claims he was branded as a “homesick quitter,” and as a result of this alleged slander and hostile work environment he resigned from the department in January.
He filed suit on February 25, and appeared before the Sitka Assembly the following evening, under persons to be heard.
“The entire purpose of my lawsuit is to instigate an investigation on behalf of whatever body is able to cause that to happen,” he said. “I don’t want the money from the city.”
Shepard names Lt. Ewers and the City of Sitka as co-defendants. Assembly members had not had a chance to see Shepard’s brief prior to the meeting. Municipal attorney Brian Hanson reminded members that the city had a formal grievance process. Shepard, however, said it had failed.
“I did try to go through proper avenues,” Shepard said. “Immediately upon being slandered I brought those issues to Chief Ankerfelt — you’ll read it in the lawsuit. Not only did he dismiss them without any regard, he threatened to retaliate against the employees who told me of the slander. So that’s the type of environment, that’s the type of hostile impact this administration has had on these employees.”
Shepard’s suit joins those brought in October, 2018, by former detective Mary Ferguson, and the previous August by former detective Ryan Silva. All three plaintiffs are represented by the Anchorage-based Northern Justice Project.
In his case, Silva argues that he was demoted and emotionally abused for blowing the whistle on the improper procurement of automatic weapons in the department. Ferguson’s is a sexual harassment and discrimination suit. Both name Sitka Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt and the City of Sitka as co-defendants.
Ferguson was in the audience when Shepard brought his case to the assembly. She also took a turn at the microphone.
“If nobody else comes up to speak, I don’t blame them,” she said. “Because I would be afraid, too. But since I’m already knee-deep in this, to make a change in the Police Department, I don’t feel like I need to hide behind anything.”
A trial in Ferguson’s suit has been set for March, 2020. Ryan Silva’s will go to trial in September, 2019. In both cases, the city has denied all allegations.
The city has 30 days to file a reply to Noah Shepard’s suit.