Alaska State Troopers Drop Idea Of Using Chickaloon Tribal Police In Greater Sutton Area

THE COUNTRY JOURNAL  May 3rd, 2024  Chickaloon Policing Of Sutton Scrapped   Due To A Lack of Public Trust, Along With Local Opposition, Say...


May 3rd, 2024 

Chickaloon Policing Of Sutton Scrapped 

 Due To A Lack of Public Trust, Along With Local Opposition, Says Public Safety Commissioner 

Interactions Between Troopers & Tribal, City Police Elsewhere In Alaska Reveal Discord, Oversight Issues 

The State of Alaska is backing out of a plan to transfer basic policing authority over the community of Sutton from the Alaska State Troopers to Chickaloon's Tribal Police. The sudden change of plans was a major turnaround, and a response, said the Commissioner, to the fracturing of "public trust" in the Sutton area and overwhelming community kickback. James Cockrell, Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner, made the announcement of the change of direction on May 2nd, 2024. In a press release, the Troopers posted:

May 2, 2024 (Anchorage, AK) – Today Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell released the following statement regarding the issuance of State of Alaska Special Commissions to the Chickaloon Tribal Police Department. 

“After receiving hundreds of comments from across the Matanuska Susitna Valley, I have decided to not move forward with issuing special commissions to the Chickaloon Tribal Police Department. My team and I received a significant amount of feedback from community members which demonstrated continued community consultation and relationship building is needed before special commissions can be considered. Without public trust, policing in any community would be nearly impossible. DPS will continue to work with tribes across the state to improve public safety outcomes for Alaska’s first people.”

This decision does not impact any of the inherent criminal justice authority held by tribal governments or currently delegated to tribal governments by the federal government.

Last month, Troopers told the people of the greater Sutton area that their new police coverage would come from nearby Chickaloon's Tribal Police.  

The concept of turning over most police duties in the greater Sutton area to a tribe-appointed police force was broached at an April 9th, 2024 public meeting. Austin McDaniel, the Troopers' communications director and Captain Andrew Gorn, Trooper B Detachment commander, spoke of the concept to the people of Sutton. 

According to KTUU, 120 Sutton residents showed up, said they barely knew of the plan, and had heard about it on social media. 

Sutton Photo Lineup Of Residents At Alpine Museum On Glenn Highway, April 2010. (Photo by Copper River Country Journal) 

Chickaloon Policing 
The agreement would have allowed Chickaloon Tribal Police to enforce state criminal laws, including sex trafficking, drugs, misdemeanors and felonies, outside the village. This would include arresting non-Native offenders. Under the plan, Tribal Police would not enforce traffic stops out on the road as part of their new duties, KTUU reported.

KTUU said that the Troopers said it was "common practice" for this to happen in the Lower 48, and quoted the Troopers' Austin McDaniel as saying:

“From the perspective of the Department of Public Safety, more qualified, trained law enforcement officers that have oversight is a good thing and will help ensure public safety across the state... That’s the primary reason that DPS is looking to grant these special commissions.”

About Sutton 

Sutton Coal Mining Equipment at Alpine Historical Site On The Glenn. (Photo by Copper River Country Journal)

The area of Tribal Police expansion goes from Mile 66 to Mile 88 of the Glenn Highway. Sutton, which was originally a coal mining town, is on the Glenn Highway. It was founded in 1918, when a branch of the Alaska Railroad reached up the current Glenn Highway to transport coal. There is still a roadside historical complex in Sutton, with artifacts from that era, at Mile 61 of the Glenn Highway. Copper Valley residents drive by Alpine Historical Park on their way back and forth to Glennallen. 

Sutton Area Home Endangered By Encroaching Matanuska River, September 2017. (Photo by Copper River Country Journal) 

Sutton's population for the past ten years has remained relatively stable. As of 2022, it was listed by the census bureau as 1,323. It is listed as having a population that is 22% Native American and around 65% white. 

About Chickaloon 

Traditional Native Gravesites In Sutton Along The Glenn Highway (Photo by Copper River Country Journal)

Chickaloon's population is listed as 283 in 2022 by the Census Bureau. The village is in border country between the Ahtna and the Dena'ina historical cultural and linguistic territories near what is now Anchorage. yet has strong ties to the Ahtna Region in the Copper Valley. Chickaloon's school, Ya Ne Dah Ah School, teaches the Ahtna language in its curriculum. Ninety minutes from Anchorage, Chickaloon is not a member of Ahtna Inc., but of CIRI. 


What's It Like For Troopers To Overlap With Rural Police Departments In Alaska? 
Answer: There's A Lack Of Cooperation 

Tribal Police & Troopers 
Tribal police are Native village community-based police officers who are selected by their tribal officials. 

What happens when Troopers and Tribal Police are both at the same incident together? Here's some insight, as provided by the Troopers themselves. 

On October 28th, 2022, there was a dramatic and well-publicized news story showing Tribal Police openly clashing with Alaska State Troopers in a remote village of 640 people in Bush Alaska. 

In the official State Trooper Report that day, the longtime principal in the village of Kipnuk was reported by the Troopers as having been chased "for unknown reasons" around the school, the report said, and banished from the village. 

The principal – a woman – had worked at the school for nine years, since 2013. 

The official Trooper Report offered a frank and unvarnished look – from the Trooper perspective – of how Troopers and Tribal Police found themselves pitted against each other during that incident to which both responded.  

The report turned out to be a blow-by-blow description of dysfunction and lack of communication between the Alaska State Troopers and the Kipnuk Village Tribal Police.

The Trooper Report described how the Tribal Police had tried to take the principal into custody. It said the Lower Kuskokwim School District offices in Bethel, 100 miles away, reported the incident to the Troopers. Meanwhile, Tribal Police, assisted by "local community members," went into the school and teacher housing, searching for the principal.

When Troopers tried to phone the tribe's leaders and the Tribal Police for more information about what was going on, their calls were not answered. Tribal Police did not see the need to involve Troopers. Ever.  Noted  the Trooper Report: "The Kipnuk Tribal Police Department did not contact (Troopers) at any point."

Troopers said they weren't able to get to Kipnuk because there were no planes, but they did keep tabs on the principal when she managed to get back to her quarters, where she stayed the night.

The next day, Troopers arrived at Kipnuk early in the afternoon, and found that tribal representatives and the Tribal Police had blocked the boardwalk into the village and refused to let the Troopers pass. According to the Troopers' own account, "Troopers were advised the Tribe was not allowing access to the village."

Nevertheless, the report continues, Troopers managed to "deescalate the situation" and get to the school, where they "were able to determine that no crimes had been committed." The Troopers helped teachers evacuate Kipnuk. The principal and other staff were flown out of the village on two chartered planes.

In its official report, the Troopers noted: "No threats were made towards Troopers." The Troopers seemed relieved.

Troopers also said all questions about the incident should go to the Tribal Police, and not to them. The official report follows:

Location: Kipnuk
Type: Trooper Response
Dispatch Text:
On October 28, 2022, at 4:00 pm, Alaska State Troopers were contacted by the Lower Kuskokwim School District reporting that the school principal had locked herself in her office at the school after Kipnuk Tribal Police attempted to take her into custody by serving a banishment order for unknown reasons. It was reported that local community members and Kipnuk Tribal Police Officers were inside the school as well as LKSD teacher housing searching for the school principal. Alaska State Troopers attempted to contact Kipnuk Tribal Police and Tribal leadership by telephone without success. The Kipnuk Tribal Police Department did not contact AST at any point. Troopers were unable to respond due to the lack of availability of aircraft. Troopers and the school district were in contact with the school principal who was able to return to her residence, where she remained for the night.

On October 29, 2022, at 1:15 pm, Alaska State Troopers arrived in Kipnuk. Upon arrival Kipnuk Tribal representatives and Tribal Police Officers had blocked the boardwalk from the airport to the village. Troopers were advised the Tribe was not allowing access to the village. Alaska State Troopers were able to deescalate the situation and travel to the school. Troopers met with the principal and school staff to determine what was happening. Troopers were able to determine that no crimes had been committed and worked with the school district to facilitate assisting those that wanted to leave the village in doing so. The principal along with other school staff chose to leave and were flown out of the village on two aircraft chartered by the school district. No threats were made towards Troopers or school district staff. The District Attorney’s Office has been notified of the events; no criminal charges have been filed at this time.

Questions about the status of the school should be directed to the Lower Kuskokwim School District at 907-543-4800.
Questions about the actions of the Tribe or TPOs should be directed to the Kipnuk Tribe or Tribal Police Department.
Posted on 10/31/2022 3:37:46 PM by DPS\tjdespain

No Trooper Oversight
When multiple media reports about the Troopers' plans to expand police coverage in Sutton came out this spring, the Copper River Country Journal wrote to the Alaska State Troopers asking:

"When there are simultaneously Troopers and Tribal Police serving a certain area, who is in charge, and what is the role of the State Troopers?"

The Journal included the Trooper Report about the Kipnuk incident as reference, and asked if the unruly interaction between Troopers and Tribal Police in the Kipnuk incident with the principal was typical.

Austin McDaniel at the Troopers answered by email that Troopers did not have oversight power over tribal police. He wrote the Journal on April 29th, 2024:

Congress enacted Public Law 83-280 (67 Stat. 588) in 1953. PL 280 gives local and/or state police concurrent criminal justice authority with tribal authorities.

The State of Alaska does not have any oversight authority over tribal police or tribal governments exercising the authority that Congress has afforded them. DPS would only have criminal justice oversight if a tribal police department were to be issued a special commission by DPS – at this time there are no tribal police agencies that have active special commissions.


North Slope Police Also Operate Independently Of Troopers 

A lack of cooperation between the Alaska State Troopers and other types of local police is shown in another incident, this one at Point Hope. A man and a woman were shot there and two other men severely wounded on Tuesday, February 27th, 2024. 

A 16-year old suspect was taken to the North Slope Borough Police by his father several minutes later. Trooper statements about that incident showed that City Police brushed off Trooper involvement then, too – even in this double homicide. 

Like the Kipnuk Tribal Police, North Slope Borough Police refused to bring Alaska State Troopers into the response.  

During the Point Hope shootings, the North Slope Police didn't  release the names of the victims, a possible motivation for the shooting or other basic information. 

John Dougherty, information officer for Alaska Public Safety confirmed at the time to the Country Journal that the Troopers were not involved in the Point Hope case... and Troopers wouldn't get involved unless formally asked. 

The Trooper information officer added:  "The Alaska State Troopers have not been asked to assist at this point." 


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