FBI to investigate controversial Sitka arrest, tasing event

The Anchorage FBI office will be taking a leadership role in 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.

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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 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 within the Bureau’s job description.

“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. We have the authority to investigate violations or potential violations of civil rights.”

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 the investigation, but said that when the case concludes, standard procedure is to submit the findings to the U.S. Department of Justice for further action.

“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 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,” he concluded 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 has filed a Freedom of Information Act to obtain the arrest policies of the Sitka Police Department. The request has been denied.

When a local teacher posted a video of the arrest on YouTube in late October, generating over 36,000 views and concern from the community, Chief Schmitt 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 and we think having another agency involved with it seems like the most reasonable and defendable approach we could take.”

Col. Cockrell could not say how long the investigation would take, but that it would likely stretch for months.

“Because I know there are some witnesses out of state now, so it will probably take several months. Tracking down witnesses for a case that’s over a year old will take some time. This isn’t going to be resolved overnight.”

Officials with the city of Sitka could not be reached for comment.

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