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Sidelined Fairbanks police detective says he’s a victim of workplace retaliation

Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 6:45 PM AKDT|Updated: Mar. 16, 2021 at 1:17 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A longtime detective in the Fairbanks Police Department claims the department has targeted him for investigation because he spoke up in support of a female detective who complained about gender discrimination and harassment.

Detective Avery Thompson and the woman are in a relationship. He is not alone in claiming something is amiss within the department.

Former Fairbanks Police Chief Nancy Reeder has also newly stated her resignation in August 2020 was not what it seemed. She’d said at the time that it was for personal reasons, but in an exclusive interview with Alaska’s News Source said she “was forced out.”

Thompson told Alaska’s News Source he believes the mayor’s office is coming after him because the female detective has an open case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“I got a letter from the mayor saying that he was putting me under investigation for untruthfulness. And so, of course, that’s super concerning to me. Because in my career I have never had any disciplinary action at all. I’ve never had a substantiated complaint. I’ve I’ve never got in trouble at work,” Thompson said.

Thompson said it feels like the city has suspended him, which the city denies.

“Considering they were taking my badge, my gun, my vehicle, revoking my network access, preventing me from accessing the building, and I had to find a ride home. It sure felt like a suspension,” Thompson said of events that took place March 8.

Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly declined to participate in an interview, and did not directly answer our questions about whether former chief Reeder was forced out. However, his office did provide a written response related to Thompson’s employment status.

“Detective Thompson is on paid administrative leave, not a suspension. He has been told this multiple times by the City Chief of Staff and his own union representation. This is an important distinction as suspension according to the union contract that FPD is under is an unpaid disciplinary action. Paid administrative leave, on the other hand, is a provision in the investigative process and is not disciplinary. It is not uncommon for officers to be placed on administrative leave while an investigation takes place,” said Teal Soden, communications manager for the office of the mayor, in response via email.

Thompson, who works major crimes, said at first he was ostracized by not being included in investigations and being taken off other work place tasks. It wasn’t until earlier this year when he disputed a denied leave request that he was placed on administrative leave.

“I’m super worried. The highest ranking person in the city is now claiming the one thing that ends a law enforcement officer’s career. And that’s untruthfulness. You can you can wreck cars. You can unintentionally violate someone’s constitutional rights. But if you lie, that’s the end of your career,” Thompson said.

Attorney Jim Davis, who successfully sued the City of Sitka and won large settlements for officers who claimed discrimination and harassment within the police department, is representing Thompson in the effort to resolve the situation in Fairbanks.

“The City of Sitka had a dysfunctional police department that countenanced sexism, racism and retaliation against whistleblowers. The upshot of that is that the City of Sitka was sued repeatedly by this law firm and paid almost one million dollars to the officers we represented. The City of Fairbanks can now look forward to something similar. Your suspension of Detective Thompson is illegal and your wrongful suspension is now going to subject the City of Fairbanks to a large lawsuit, which you will lose,” Davis wrote in a March 10 letter to Matherly, demanding Thompson’s reinstatement.

Reeder told Alaska’s News Source that when the position of chief of police was offered to her in April 2019, the city’s chief of staff and the HR director told her “that there was a deeply entrenched ‘good ol’ boy culture’ within the police department.”

“They told me I was hired because they needed someone from outside the police department to address and dismantle that culture, as it would not be done if someone from within the department had been selected,” Reeder said.

The city did not comment for this story in response to Reeder’s statement.

Thompson said he and his partner had gone to Reeder about ongoing harassment issues. Reeder, who did not identify by name any officers who’d come to her for guidance, said “several members of command staff demanded an internal investigation be opened” on two employees who’d gone to human resources with their complaints instead of following the “chain of command.”

Soden, the city’s communications manager, told Alaska’s News Source that the city and the police department “strives to diversify its workforce.”

Soden also said anti-discrimination training has and will continue to take place.

“The City absolutely takes any allegations of discrimination and harassment seriously and the administration consistently works with the leadership of various employee unions to educate city employees and hold them accountable,” Soden said.

Seven months after putting in her resignation notice, Reeder offers a different view.

“The culture remains entrenched from the mayor’s office down into the top levels of FPD. When city and FPD leadership condones behavior and refuses to address issues that are the result of a systemic culture that involves harassment and/or retaliation, change and healthy growth will never occur,” Reeder said.

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