Lawsuit challenges Alaska civil seizures, search warrants

PETERSBURG — A lawsuit filed against a drug task force in southeast Alaska challenges the seizure of personal property by law enforcement and seeks more transparency in the search warrant process.

Petersburg Borough residents Danny Thompson and Greg Richeson are suing the borough and Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs, a task force involving Alaska State Troopers and police departments across the region, KFSK-FM reported Monday.

The men allege authorities entered their homes during separate investigations in 2013 and seized computers, guns, electronics and other personal items. They claim the items were not returned for years, although the investigations did not result in any criminal charges.

The lawsuit seeks to change Alaska court rules that keep search warrants sealed for four years if no criminal case is filed to allow people who have had their property seized to view the records.

“The police take the stuff away and they keep it for years and so the target of the warrant is punished,” said Fred Triem, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “The target of the warrant suffers a punishment because of the fine that’s imposed by the police in the form of the deprivation of their property and the loss of the use of their property.”

Triem has also filed a motion seeking class-action status for the lawsuit to include additional plaintiffs and expand the number of defendants to include local, regional and state law enforcement agencies.

Thompson and Richeson claim Alaska’s court rules regarding search warrants violate the state’s constitution. They are seeking full disclosure of court files in all search warrants.

Police are required to give the owner of property seized a copy of the court-ordered search warrant, the supporting affidavit for obtaining the warrant and a receipt for the property taken. Officers are also required to make an inventory of property seized.

However, under state court rules, someone who has had their property seized must get a judge’s approval to obtain those documents, which are not part of the public record for several years if there are no charges filed in the case.

Borough Attorney Timothy Bowman said in an email that the lawsuit does not have merit.

“Property is seized and held as evidence all over the country every hour of every day in conjunction with legitimate criminal investigations like these,” Bowman wrote. “The plaintiffs’ actual grievance is simply that they do not like the well-established law governing the warrant process.”

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

Juneau State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, who stepped down last year due to term limits, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisian majority a key to meaningful action

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Hunter credits community members for Thanksgiving rescue

KENAI — On Thanksgiving, Alaska Wildlife Troopers released a dispatch about a… Continue reading

The snowy steps of the Alaska State Capitol are scheduled to see a Nativity scene during an hour-long gathering starting at 4 p.m. Friday which, in the words of a local organizer, is “for families to start their Gallery Walk in a prayerful manner.” But two Outside groups dedicated to placing Nativity scenes at as many state capitol buildings as possible are proclaiming it a victory against the so-called “war on Christmas.” The head of Alaska’s Legislative Affairs Agency, which has administrative oversight of the building, said the gathering is legal since a wide variety of events occur all the time, often with religious overtones, but the placement of a fixed or unattended display is illegal. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Scene and heard: Religious freedom groups say Nativity event makes statement

State officials say happening planned for Capitol relatively common and legal.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Thursday, Dec. 1

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Steve Lewis, foreground, and Stephen Sorensen from the Alaska State Review Board scan ballots from precincts where they were hand counted at the Division of Elections office Nov. 15. Board officials spent the period between the Nov. 8 election and its certification Wednesday performing about 20 different to verify the results. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Election certified, but challenges pending

Outcome of at least two state House races unknown, which may determine chamber’s leadership

Errol Culbreth and Scotlyn Beck (Polichinelles) rehearse ahead of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker.” The immensely popular ballet is coming to the Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé Friday through Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Juneau Dance Theatre is ready to get cracking

“The Nutcracker” is set to run Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In this photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB investigator Clint Crookshanks, left, and member Jennifer Homendy stand near the site of some of the wreckage of the DHC-2 Beaver, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, that was involved in a midair collision near Ketchikan. The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration should tighten rules about minimum visibility during flights and require more weather training for pilots who fly around Ketchikan.  (Peter Knudson/NTSB via AP)
Safety board recommends new measures for Alaska air tours

The board wants regulations for Ketchikan similar to requirements in Hawaii and the Grand Canyon.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, Nov.30

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read