Former Southwest Alaska VPSO, pastor arrested in Texas on child sexual assault charges

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Monte LaVelle Chitty, age 62, was arrested on April 5, 2024 in a small town in Texas by state police and U.S. Marshals, after attempting to flee child-abuse related charges in the Florida Keys. (From Monroe County Sheriff’s Office)

Content warning: this story includes discussion of sexual abuse.

A man who served for years as a village public safety officer and pastor in Southwest Alaska has been held on charges linked to child sexual abuse he allegedly committed as the head of a Baptist church in Florida.

Monte LaVelle Chitty, 62, was arrested April 5 in the small town of Woodville, Texas by state police and U.S. Marshals, after authorities say he was attempting to flee child-abuse related charges in the Florida Keys. He was arrested in March and charged with two felonies involving a 15-year-old girl from the church he was leading in Marathon, Fla. The charges include sexual battery and lewd and lascivious molestation, and a misdemeanor of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Chitty was a VPSO in the communities of False Pass and Akutan for several years, and a pastor in Cold Bay for a short period. He moved to Alaska and began leading the Cold Bay Chapel in 2010. Overall he spent about a decade in communities along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian chain, then left the state in 2021.

Stephanie DeVault is a former member of his Alaska congregation.

“We used to Google him every couple of years because we knew,” DeVault said.

DeVault said she was upset but wasn’t surprised when she heard that Chitty had been charged with molesting a teenager at his church in Florida.

“We have serious doubts that this is the only girl that he has ever violated,” she said. “And maybe if the truth reaches more people, more girls or women will come forward with what has happened.”

In Florida’s Monroe County, Chitty was also a registered volunteer with the sheriff’s office who offered his services as a pastor. But he hadn’t performed any services for the office to date, the office said.

According to a police report from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, a young female member of the church said she passed out on a couch in Chitty’s office after he gave her alcohol, which she believed was spiked with an unknown substance. She said she later awoke to the pastor sexually assaulting her.

Police say Chitty contacted them before they spoke with the victim, allegedly attempting to get ahead of the allegations and denying he assaulted her. Detectives later found text messages they said were from Chitty that corroborated the allegations made by the young girl. According to the report, Chitty admitted to sending the texts but denied sexual contact.

In Alaska, DeVault and her husband Tyran, who filled in as a pastor at the Cold Bay church before Chitty arrived, say a similar situation happened there. According to DeVault, a young woman showed them inappropriate messages from Chitty and told them she feared for her safety.

“He got ahead of it and went to (other parishioners) and said, ‘Oh, those messages aren’t what they seem like, she was making it up. She’s a wayward girl. That’s why she was staying with our family,’” DeVault said. “And he was able to convince them that what he had written was not what it appeared to be. And we have the messages, there’s no question what they are.”

DeVault said the young woman was an extended family member of Chitty’s and was living with him and his family at the time. She said she and some other parishioners helped the girl get to safety, get a plane ticket and get out of town. Nothing ever came of the incident, DeVault said, because the girl was in her 20s. Still, she said it wasn’t right.

“While technically not illegal, it was obviously immoral and disgusting and all manner of other things,” she said.

The DeVaults essentially gave up their church membership at that time. But Tyran said they weren’t the only ones who left the congregation.

“The Sunday before he came there, we had 50 people at services,” he said. “And that’s about a town of 60. And then a few months later, there was only three left.”

DeVault said there were reservations about Chitty when he arrived and sought out a position at the church, but the congregation wanted a full-time minister and he was willing to fill the role. According to DeVault, sometimes those positions are tough to fill in the remote community.

The same can be said for VPSOs. They generally work with Alaska State Troopers, and the program is managed under the state’s Department of Public Safety. But the officers work for the Alaska Native organizations or regional municipalities that hire them.

The public safety program has had trouble filling positions in the past. Micheal Nemeth is the public safety coordinator for the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, the regional tribal organization that hired Chitty. Nemeth said it can sometimes be difficult to find applicants who fit the program and the remote communities they serve.

“If you have someone who just wants to be a police officer, it’s really not a good fit for the program,” Nemeth said. “You have to be committed to that whole-ball-of-wax kind of thing where you’re the jack of all trades and you wear many hats.”

The VPSO program was founded in 1979 as a means to provide public safety to more remote areas in Alaska. Officers provide various services to communities, including community policing, emergency, medical and fire response, search and rescue operations, as well as public safety education.

Nemeth has worked in the program for more than two decades. He said when Chitty was hired, troopers were in charge of performing background checks. Now, the regional association runs the hiring process and does extensive background checks, as well as several interviews to get to know the applicants and their families to feel out whether they are a good fit for the communities they’ll be working in.

Chitty was hired as a VPSO by the association in 2014, after he left Cold Bay. He worked in False Pass for just one year and was later stationed in Akutan for about five years.

According to Nemeth, there were no serious complaints or allegations of sexual assault filed about Chitty while he served in the program. Someone once reported that he used language they weren’t comfortable with while he was in uniform, but officials spoke with Chitty and there were no further complaints. Nemeth said he left on good terms with plans to buy a boat and try to retire in Florida.

Nemeth said APIA, with the help of the Department of Public Safety, does its best to keep communities safe from people who might abuse their positions of power as public safety officers.

“In my 22 years in our region, there’s never been an accusation or indication or anyone fired due to something that happened related to any type of crime,” Nemeth said.

Still, he said, sometimes people can slip through the cracks.

“The sad thing is that there are people with bad intentions and they get through the web we’ve created to filter them out in society itself, not just in law enforcement,” Nemeth said.

Like in many small or remote communities, resources for victims of sexual and domestic abuse can be difficult to find in the region. But Nemeth said the regional association is working to bolster their services.

“We can provide advocacy, safety planning, assistance with protective orders, court accompaniment, promotion of healthy relationships,” he said. “(APIA does) domestic violence (and) sexual assault prevention programs, traditional healing events. They also sometimes will have to refer people to other entities to get the proper services that they need.”

He said people can contact APIA to learn more about these resources and request behavioral health services. Nemeth said he hopes there aren’t more victims, but if there are, that they get the help they need.

“The last thing we want is, God forbid, there (are) victims in the region … for them not being taken care of, and for investigations not being done, for possible charges to be filed,” he said.

Candace Nielsen grew up in Nelson Lagoon and is a former mayor and former resident of Cold Bay. She said this case needs exposure, and she hopes spreading the word about Chitty’s arrest can help any other possible victims come forward.

“It definitely is one of those things that we need to shed light on,” Nielsen said. “I feel like, in our communities, there’s just never enough opportunity to do that. And with the fact that he held such a position of power, I don’t know if anybody ever had an opportunity to say anything if they were a victim.”

Chitty was arrested in Texas after he reportedly approached a church group that was working with people experiencing homelessness. A church member there contacted law enforcement, who apprehended him.

He is being held on a $1.3 million bond.

The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association has several behavioral health clinics and offers telehealth to the communities across the region. It also operates a We All Really Matter/WARM crisis line that can be reached at 1-844-359-2743. APIA also works with Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence to provide services to communities without clinics. USAFV’s 24-hour crisis line can be reached at 907-581-1500.

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