Dean Williams speaks to reporters after Gov. Bill Walker appointed him to be the new commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections on Thursday. Walker is shown behind Williams' shoulder.

Dean Williams speaks to reporters after Gov. Bill Walker appointed him to be the new commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections on Thursday. Walker is shown behind Williams' shoulder.

Corrections union unhappy with new commissioner

The members of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association say they’re unhappy with the governor’s choice of Dean Williams to run the state’s prisons, and that Williams manipulated information to blame corrections officers for problems within the prison system.

The ACOA held a press conference Friday in Anchorage to outline its opposition to Williams and over the weekend provided additional information to the Empire.

The union added that Williams “defamed” the officers and put their lives in danger because he did not obscure their faces in videos released to the public. The videos showed incidents where inmates died in DOC custody.

In an interview with the Empire before the ACOA claims, Williams said he intends to begin his work in corrections (his first day was Monday) by building an internal affairs team to investigate complaints and problems. He also said he will eliminate the double-track command structure in Alaska’s prisons whereby not all officers within a prison report to that prison’s superintendent.

In regard to officers’ reluctance to work with Williams after his investigation, he said, “telling the truth about what’s happening in a system is not condemning the people who work in the system.”

“I’m not approaching this with that sort of clean-the-house at the lowest level approach,” he said. “My goal is to fix the system so their (corrections officers’) job becomes better.”

Williams, along with former FBI agent Joe Hanlon, performed an in-depth investigation of the Department of Corrections last year after more than two dozen inmates – including some held in protective custody for drunkenness – died in prison.

The four-month investigation, which concluded in November, ended with the resignation of corrections commissioner Ronald Taylor and the appointment of Walt Monegan, Department of Public Safety commissioner under former Gov. Sarah Palin, as an interim chief.

Monegan was one of 14 people who applied to become the new permanent corrections commissioner. Walker instead went with Williams, something that shocked union members who had expected Monegan.

ACOA’s objection to Williams has focused on his handling of one particular case within the corrections report. That case involves the death of Larry Kobuk, an Anchorage man who died in the Anchorage Correctional Complex.

On Jan. 6, Williams released a video of Kobuk’s interactions with corrections officers within the ACC. That video documented how four officers restrained Kobuk even as he claimed he couldn’t breathe. The copy of the video initially released to the public was stripped of audio. Later released, the audio reveals Kobuk shouting at and threatening that he will shoot officers in the head.

According to the ACOA, the officers followed procedure in their strip-search of Kobuk and in their use of a “four-point restraint” procedure that has one officer grab every limb.

The ACOA provided copies of a memo from Assistant Attorney General Robert Henderson, who found in August that the incident did not warrant criminal charges against the four corrections officers involved.

“The officers were trained to continue to secure an uncooperative individual, even if that individual is stating that he ‘can’t breathe,’” Henderson concluded.

 

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Walt Monegan as a corrections commissioner under former Gov. Sarah Palin. He was commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

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