ACLU Files Suit to Help End Racial Bias in Sexual Assault Investigations in Nome, Alaska

February 20, 2020 3:30 pm

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ANCHORAGE — A lawsuit was filed today against the City of Nome, Alaska and the former law enforcement officials that have displayed a systemic bias against Alaska Native women by failing to investigate hundreds of sexual assaults reported to the Nome Police Department. The litigation was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, the ACLU National Racial Justice Program, and Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller & Monkman, LLP on behalf of Clarice “Bun” Hardy. She was a victim of rape and later realized a case was never opened on her behalf.

The complaint filed details a history of neglect and indifference toward Alaska Native women.

“Law enforcement should work to combat sexual assault and harassment — not further perpetuate the issue by blatantly failing to investigate claims and oppressing survivors,” said Stephen Pevar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “We need to address the epidemic of sexual assault, especially for Native women who are victimized at the highest rate of any group, and shine a light on these racially biased practices to get them changed.”

Alaska has a sexual assault rate four times the national average, and that figure is six times higher in Nome. Alaska Native people are disproportionately victims of sexual assault, making up nearly half (46 percent) of the victims in reported felony-level sex offense crimes across the state. This statistic is reflected in the crisis in Nome, where more than half of the population is Alaska Native but powerful positions are held by white and non-Native individuals.

“Equality is a founding, cherished principal of our nation, but this country has never been equal. We have made progress, but we’re reminded often that we have a long way to go,” said Joshua Decker, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska. “Clarice Hardy chose to be a voice for herself, and for the countless other Alaska Native women whose suffering at the hands of racism, went ignored. This case is bigger than Bun; should the court rule in her favor, it will be ruling in favor of a more equal nation.”

Clarice Hardy was living in Nome in 2017, where she proudly served her community as a police dispatcher. In March of that year, Lt. Nicholas Harvey of the Nome Police Department instructed Clarice to submit a written report of the sexual assault, which was provided and included the names of those who had seen video of her attack on Snapchat. For months, Lt. Harvey lied to Clarice and told her that her case was under investigation.

It wasn’t until an encounter with her attacker a year later that Clarice learned that the Nome Police Department never gave her report a case number, nor had they initiated an investigation. Then-Police Chief John Papasodora asked Clarice to relive the assault and rewrite a new detailed report. He told Clarice the case would be investigated by Alaska State Troopers (AST).

In May of 2018, Clarice asked for a case update from AST. They informed her they never received the report from Nome.

“It is glaringly apparent that the court must rule decisively to create change that provides justice to Clarice, and to reduce future victimization of Alaska Native women at the hands of the law,” said Stephen Pevar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.

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