NOME, Alaska — An official in a small Alaska town said Wednesday that an attorney hired by the city's insurance company is handling a claim by a former 911 dispatcher who says her colleagues at the police department failed to investigate her report that a man raped her in her home.
Nome's interim City Manager John Handeland said in a statement Wednesday that the city will not be commenting on communications with attorneys for the former dispatcher, Clarice Hardy.
"The outcome of claims are determined by facts and the law, not the contents of letters between lawyers advocating for their clients," Handeland wrote.
The statement comes three weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union accused Nome police of "a systemic and disastrous failure" to keep Native women safe from sexual assault.
ACLU's Alaska branch made that charge in a letter demanding the city pay $500,000 to the former dispatcher. The letter said Hardy, who is of Inupiaq heritage, was unable to continue working at the police department, and suffered nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks.
The ACLU's action last month came 12 days after an Associated Press investigation of complaints by Alaska Native women that their reports of sexual assault were not investigated aggressively by Nome police. From 2008 through 2017, 8% of calls about sexual assaults against adults resulted in arrests with charges filed, Nome police data shows.
The ACLU said Monday it received an "extremely callous deflection" Friday from the city in response to its September letter.
"Because of the city's blatant disregard for sexual assault victims, like Ms. Hardy, the ACLU of Alaska is forced to prepare a civil suit. The decades-long, systemic indifference to the safety of Alaska Native women in Nome must end," the organization said in a news release.
After a group of Alaska Native women began publicly raising complaints about Nome's police last year, the city of fewer than 4,000 residents hired a new police chief, launched an audit of hundreds of old sexual assault cases and created a civilian police oversight committee.
Last week, however, Police Chief Bob Estes said he is quitting, with plans to end his contract within 90 days. Estes said the department has made improvements but noted the loss of personnel in the last year "continues to be a challenge on the backlog of cases."
In his Wednesday statement, Handeland said the City Council is committed to working with the newly formed Public Safety Commission to review the Nome police department's procedures and policies on reports of sexual assaults.
"That review may identify changes intended to increase confidence of those reporting assaults that their attacker will be brought to justice, and increase the likelihood of successful prosecutions of those who in or while in our community commit illegal attacks on residents and visitors," he wrote. "Whether a specific person is entitled to receive compensation based on the facts and circumstances of a single incident is a completely different issue from whether the City of Nome is committed to improvement in delivery of public safety services."