Sitka Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt gives a tour of the police station on May 17, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | James Poulson, Sitka Sentinel)

Sitka Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt gives a tour of the police station on May 17, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | James Poulson, Sitka Sentinel)

Sitka police deny allegations of retaliation against employee

Officer says department limited his responsibilities after whistleblowing

The Sitka Police Department is denying allegations that it retaliated against one of its employees for whistleblowing, according to court records filed earlier this month.

In August, SPD Officer Ryan Silva filed a lawsuit against the department, making a variety of claims including secretly purchasing automatic weapons, covering up a sexual assault and retaliating against him for supporting a co-worker who alleges sexual harassment. The defendants are the City of Sitka, SPD and SPD Chief Jeff Ankerfelt.

In a response filed Sept. 13 through lawyers Michael Gatti and Megan N. Sandone of Jermain Dunnagan & Owens, PC, the defendants claim they did not punish Silva unfairly.

“Answering defendants deny they have retaliated against Plaintiff for any reason,” the attorneys state in the response.

In a legal complaint filed Aug. 20, Northern Justice Project, LLC, attorney James J. Davis stated that the department violated Alaska Statute 39.90.100-39.90.150, known as the Alaska Whistleblower Act. This statute states that public employers can’t punish an employee for reporting an issue of public concern. In this situation, Davis wrote, Silva was punished for reporting the secret purchase of five automatic weapons and for aiding in the investigation of sexual harassment allegations against the department from Silva’s significant other, Mary Ferguson (another officer in the department).

The complaint alleges that Silva reported to city administrator that the department was buying automatic weapons without the department having a policy or training associated with automatic weapons. After that, according to the complaint, Ankerfelt and SPD Lt. Lance Ewers carefully examined Silva’s timesheets to look for violations and reduced Silva’s overtime despite Silva’s timesheets being accurate. Silva was then reassigned to patrol instead of investigating violent crime cases, the complaint alleges. Silva is still employed by the department, but is on administrative leave.

Silva’s complaint was wide-ranging and made a variety of claims, and the defendants’ response addressed many of them. For many of the complaints, the defendants claimed that they didn’t know enough about them to claim that they’re true or false, according to the response.

This Monday, Davis filed a response to the city’s answer, claiming that it “failed to properly admit or deny a huge number of plaintiff’s allegations.” Some allegations, Davis wrote, were totally ignored in the defense’s response. Among these, as pointed out in an email from Davis to the defense attorneys, is Silva’s assertion that he came to Ankerfelt when he learned about the automatic weapons and that Ankerfelt ignored the concerns.

Davis’ motion Monday was to ask the court to deny the defense’s answer on the grounds that it didn’t do a good enough job responding to Silva’s complaints.

A hearing is set for Nov. 1 in Sitka, according to electronic court records, and Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens is assigned to the case.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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