Anchorage police to publicly disclose all officer arrests under new directive

APD headquarters
Anchorage Police Department headquarters on Fourth Avenue in downtown on Monday, Oct. 2, 2023. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The Anchorage Police Department plans to begin notifying the public about all officers who are criminally charged — a change that comes after an off-duty officer was charged with driving a patrol car while intoxicated on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson last month.

The department did not issue any kind of public notification about 24-year-old Ethan Copeland’s criminal charges in December. The situation first came to light in media reports early this month. The arrest was first reported by Alaska’s News Source.

A police spokeswoman confirmed last week in response to a request from the Anchorage Daily News that the department also did not notify the public when two other officers were charged separately with similar crimes in 2022 and 2023.

Police spokeswoman Sunny Guerin said in an email last week the officers were off duty. The department’s “internal communications were faulty” and the community relations unit that produces public statements, among other duties, was not notified about their criminal charges, she said.

Anchorage police have publicly released information in other cases involving an officer breaking the law, including in October when former officer Scott Boneta was arrested for sexual assault.

The department doesn’t have a formal policy in place about notifying the public when an officer is charged with a crime.

But a new directive issued by Chief Michael Kerle after multiple media outlets reported on Copeland’s arrest states that the department will begin notifying the public about such situations going forward, Guerin said. The directive was “an internal decision” by the chief that was communicated verbally to the command staff and community relations unit on Jan. 8, following several discussions and meetings on the topic, she said.

Michael Kerle
Anchorage Police Chief Michael Kerle. (Loren Holmes / ADN archives)

Because the directive isn’t a formal policy, it could change if leadership does, Guerin said.

“Sharing information going forward demonstrates transparency in our department and shows the community our department takes allegations seriously and are committed to holding our officers accountable for their actions,” she said in an email.

Copeland is no longer employed by the department, Guerin said this week. He is scheduled for his first court appearance later this month on charges of operating under the influence and for having a firearm with him while he was drunk.

Copeland was stopped Dec. 9 by Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson security at an aircraft hangar driving a patrol car with lights and a siren but not marked with clear APD logos on the side, authorities have said. He was attending a holiday event and arrived “visibly intoxicated,” a spokeswoman for the base has said. He also had a personal firearm with him, police said.

Copeland listed the base as his home address on a court document he signed the day of his arrest. He declined to comment when reached for this story.

Copeland remains a part-time member of the Alaska Army National Guard, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, spokesman Alan Brown said on Wednesday.

One of the other arrests involving off-duty Anchorage police officers occurred the month before Copeland’s.

Jamesson Major was arrested when an officer in front of APD headquarters saw Major’s Jeep Wrangler take off at a “recklessly high rate of speed” and fishtail while driving on Fourth Avenue on Nov. 12, according to a summary of police reports written by Chief Assistant Attorney General Jenna Gruenstein and included with the charges.

During a traffic stop, the officer noted Major smelled of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot, the summary said. Major’s blood alcohol level was measured at 1 1/2 times the legal limit for driving, the summary said.

He did not directly answer when the officer asked if Major had a firearm with him or in the Wrangler, the summary said. He had a personal firearm with him during the stop, according to Guerin.

Major is on leave from the department, Guerin said.

The other arrest of an off-duty Anchorage officer confirmed by police last week took place in Palmer in January 2022.

Former officer Patrick O’Connor was stopped by a Palmer Police Department officer when he was seen using his blinker incorrectly for turns and weaving back and forth between lanes near and on the Glenn Highway, according to a sworn affidavit written by Palmer officer Michael Lynch and filed in the case. He was charged after performing poorly on field sobriety tests and admitting to drinking, the affidavit. He also had a personal firearm with him during the stop, according to Guerin.

O’Connor is no longer employed with the department, Guerin said. He has since pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence. The weapons charge was dismissed.

The department is or has conducted internal investigations into all three officers’ conduct, Guerin said. The findings of such investigations are confidential.

Darrell Evans, president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, said the union takes criminal allegations against officers seriously, but noted that the accused officers are innocent until proven guilty.

This story has been republished with permission from the original at the Anchorage Daily News.

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