ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - More than two dozen onlookers sat in the court’s gallery chairs on the day sparring partners former police officer Lt. Anthony Henry and the City of Anchorage faced off one last time in Henry’s wrongful termination case against the city.
Thursday morning, each side made its closing arguments to the civil jury in one of Anchorage’s federal courtrooms.
Henry sued the city after his termination in early 2015, which came months after a scathing internal report claimed Henry had blown the cover of an undercover informant within the Alaska National Guard, and that Henry’s Chief, Mark Mew, had not been bold enough in managing Henry’s perceived infractions.
This case is “simple, but complicated,” Meg Simonian, one of Henry’s attorney’s, told jurors at the beginning of her closing argument. Then, she offered them a call to duty.
It’s about doing what we hope our children will do -- “about standing up against bullies,” she said.
Throughout the trial, Simonian portrayed Henry’s command staff as a band of bullies, a retaliatory pod of supervisors who made life miserable for anyone who crossed them. Henry’s great offense, Simonian said, was standing up for a younger officer with multiple sclerosis who had become the object of a campaign to get him off the force.
“The jury is the anchor of Democracy,” she reminded them, alluding to a quote from Thomas Jefferson.
Just before launching into a review of the evidence in the case, she told them the power in the case is the power to “hold the most powerful in our community accountable, to right a wrong, to give Lt. Henry back his good name.”
Doug Parker, the employment attorney hired by the Municipality of Anchorage, started his closing statements by asking the jury, “Why can’t cops lie?”
“Our basic liberties are at stake if cops are allowed to lie,” and they just can’t do it, Parker said, setting the stage to explain why an outside investigator concluded Henry had been dishonest during internal inquiries.
That conclusion came from Lt. Col. Rick Brown, an outside investigator hired by the city to look into allegations that the Anchorage Police Department and the Alaska National Guard had mishandled sexual assault cases.
Many guard members are either former or current Anchorage police officers, so there is crossover not only with personnel, but also with some missions, as with drug task forces.
In Fall 2014, the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations released its own report, also critical and which pointed to several problem areas within the guard, notably within the guard’s recruiting unit.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, Adjutant General of the Alaska National Guard, resigned at the request of the state’s governor the next day.
In the wake of the OCI report, the city, feeling pressure to get to the bottom of alleged misconduct and cover-ups, launched its own investigation, headed by Brown and assisted by Capt. Kevin Vandegriff, now retired, of APD’s internal affairs department.
Parker asked the jury to see events the way that Brown had. That Henry lied about how many meetings he had with Gen. Katkus, that he denied knowing a drug investigation and sexual assaults were discussed with Katkus, and that over time Henry grew to be argumentative and evasive.
“Henry falsely testified when he talked to Rick Brown,” and “that right there is grounds for termination,” Parker said.
The OCI report “lit the fuse” that caused the media uproar, that created the need for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, and the City of Anchorage to get answers, Parker said.
Henry claims that Brown’s efforts were an orchestrated final act to get him off the force, the last of a long string of retaliatory experiences.
To the jury, Parker rejected the notion that the Brown report had Henry in its sights from the start.
“The Police Department itself was an object of this investigation from the outset,” Parker said. “If he (Brown) had found that Lt. Henry had been honest with him, we would not be here today.”
Henry is fighting to restore his reputation, and for financial compensation.
“In this courtroom, justice is about money,” Simonian told jurors, noting “that’s all we can do.