On the campaign trail this fall, local and statewide politicians said one main topic was on Alaskans’ minds — crime. People from all around the state were sharing their stories about how drug use and crime had affected their lives. Public safety was a hot topic in Juneau all year long, and we’ve compiled some of 2018’s biggest crime stories.
Property crime spikes and declines
This February, there were more burglaries than there were days in the month, according to Juneau Police Department statistics. That encapsulated a trend of rising property crime in the city, as burglaries increased by more than 60 percent from 2014-2015 and by more than 83 percent from 2015-2016.
Statistics that came out in summer 2018 showed that the number of burglaries was starting to level out. Burglaries in Juneau increased by about 5 percent from 2016-2017, according to the state’s Uniform Crime Report released in August. In addition, early returns on crime in 2018 showed crimes such as burglary, aggravated assault and robbery were actually on the decline. JPD Chief Ed Mercer told the Chamber of Commerce this summer that the number of these crimes in the first quarter of 2018 were down by 18 percent compared to the first quarter of 2017.
Part of this, Mercer said, was because officers have gotten to know their neighborhoods and know who to look for. They’ve also gotten some help from community members who have installed cameras, called police quickly and formed tight relationships with neighbors.
De Simone found guilty of murder
Almost two years to the day after Duilio Antonio “Tony” Rosales was shot and killed on a hunting trip in Excursion Inlet, the man who pulled the trigger was convicted of his murder. On May 11, a Juneau jury found Mark De Simone guilty of first-degree murder.
Rosales, a 34-year-old jeweler and Juneau resident, was on a hunting trip with De Simone and others in May 2016. When the two men were alone, De Simone shot Rosales twice in the back of the head. De Simone’s defense attorney Deborah Macaulay didn’t dispute that, but tried to show that De Simone could have unintentionally pulled the trigger twice. The trial came down to back-and-forth testimonies between firearms experts, and the members of the jury agreed that they believed De Simone shot intentionally.
Both JPD and Capital City Fire/Rescue are dealing with low staffing levels, due to a number of factors. It’s been a topic of conversation for the past couple years, as JPD leaders say there’s a nationwide trend in people not being as interested in becoming police officers. CCFR employees have made it clear that the department doesn’t have enough resources to keep up with rapidly rising call volumes.
In 2017, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly took steps to address both departments’ concerns. The Assembly provided funding for additional JPD officers and to fund a new ambulance crew and a paramedic bonus for CCFR. Both agencies are making slow progress. As of mid-December, CCFR had three vacancies and JPD was short by nine officers. CCFR was able to hire six new employees in the final couple months of the year.
Downtown problem house vacated
A house that was the source of more than 400 calls to police in recent years was vacated this fall. The house, at 401 Harris Street, had become a symbol to many of the city’s increase in crime. Neighbors complained of traffic coming and going at all hours of the night, there were two shootings in the area of the house this year and there were multiple police raids on the home.
The house was vacated Oct. 1 after the city condemned it for multiple safety and code violations. Co-owner Kathleen Barrett had taken her son James Barrett (the other owner) to court over the property. The CBJ condemned the home Sept. 5 and gave James Barrett until the end of the month to leave.
The home has sat quietly since then, as Kathleen and her power-of-attorney Dave d’Amato get the house repaired and search for new owners.
Pretrial enforcement begins
As part of Senate Bill 91 — a criminal reform bill passed in 2016 — the new statewide Pretrial Enforcement Division went into effect Jan. 1 of this year. In this program, defendants are graded based on how likely they are to reoffend or not show up for their court hearings.
Based on that grade, judges can then release the defendants so they can await their court date at home and keep going to work. The main goals are getting more defendants to show up for their court dates, keeping the community more safe, setting more appropriate bail amounts for defendants and reducing recidivism in the long run.
There have been critics throughout the state upset that judges can release defendants back into society where they can commit more crimes, but proponents of the system point to statistics about how people are better off if they don’t have to go to prison for any amount of time.
Grussendorf pleads guilty
A highly publicized case — one that readers asked about fairly frequently — resulted in Juneau man Ty Grussendorf pleading guilty in October to two charges of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor for sexual relationships with two underage girls.
Grussendorf, 24, admitted in court to engaging in sexual acts with two girls who were 12 and 13 in 2013 when he was 18.
The case gained attention in 2016 when Grussendorf’s father Tim, a legislative staffer, was the focus of an investigation for potentially unethical attempts to lobby for amendments to sex crime provisions in Senate Bill 91, according to an October 2016 report by KTUU.
Strawn sentenced to 90 years
Christopher Strawn, who was convicted for the 2015 murder of Brandon Cook, was sentence in June 2018 to 90 years in prison. Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip M. Pallenberg handed down the sentence. Strawn, 34, was found guilty of shooting Cook in the back of the head on Oct. 20, 2015.
Strawn went to trial twice. The first ended in a mistrial and in the second, Strawn defended himself. Strawn never admitted to the crime, and Pallenberg said during sentencing that this apparent lack of remorse was part of the reason he imposed such a severe sentence.
In February, a Juneau grand jury indicted Laron Carlton Graham, 40, for two counts of first-degree murder for the Nov. 15, 2015 shooting deaths of 36-year-old Robert H. Meireis and 34-year-old Elizabeth K. Tonsmeire. Graham, currently incarcerated for an unrelated crime, is scheduled to be going to trial this coming February. It’s a complex case, attorneys on both sides said, and the trial could last more than six weeks.
In December, Juneau woman Jamie Diane Moy Singh, 35, was indicted on charges including second-degree murder. The charges stemmed from an assault in March that resulted in the death of Singh’s mother-in-law Mary Lou Singh. It’s early in the legal process in this case, but Public Defender Eric Hedland entered a not guilty plea on Singh’s behalf and said he didn’t think this was a typical murder case.
Progress begins fighting opioid crisis
Since former Gov. Bill Walker declared the opioid crisis a public health disaster in February 2017, state agencies have coordinated their efforts in fighting the spread of addiction throughout the state. The Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention (OSMAP) sent representatives around the state this year to get feedback from communities around the state and to spread information.
OSMAP Director Andy Jones said in August that heroin use among high school students continues to drop, which gives him optimism for the future.
There’s still quite a bit of work to be done. In Juneau alone from 2013 to 2017, there have been 25 opioid overdose deaths in Juneau, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Judge changes in Juneau
At the beginning of 2017, Juneau had two District Court judges and two Superior Court judges. To start this year, Juneau has three Superior Court judges and just one District Court judge. The Alaska Legislature approved the change in March, doing so in response to the rising number of felony cases in Juneau (Superior Court judges handle felonies, District Court judges handle misdemeanors).
The opportunity presented itself when Juneau District Court Judge Thomas Nave retired. Daniel Schally was appointed to replace Nave, and will sit on the Superior Court. Former Superior Court Judge Louis Mendendez also retired this year, and was replaced by former CBJ Municipal Attorney Amy Mead.
For Mendendez’ seat, Walker selected Mead over Juneau defense attorney Julie Willoughby after he took offenseto the way Willoughby wrote a brief when she defended Grussendorf, mentioned above.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.