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KNBA News - Fairbanks police chief apologizes for remarks about Fairbanks Four settlement

Chief retracts statement settlement was due to political pressure and vindicates police, prosecutors

By Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks city police chief has apologized for statements made last week about the legal settlement that vacated the long contested murder convictions of the Fairbanks Four, the Native men who served 18 years in prison for the 1997 beating death of John Hartman. Chief Randall Aragon also committed to further investigation of the case.

Aragon retracted comments made last week about the Fairbanks Four settlement, including that it resulted from political pressure, and is a vindication police and prosecutors handling of the John Hartman murder case.

“You know I could go on and on an on and apologize. Words are like bullets… once fired they’re almost impossible to recover.,.” said Aragon. “I’ll say that. But I want you to know this… My heart was there, my heart is with the Native community.”

Aragon also reversed his earlier assertion that the 1997 Hartman murder case is closed.

City Mayor John Eberhart emphasized instead that police will be following up on new information brought forward during a Fairbanks Four post-conviction relief hearing this fall. Eberhart says that includes alternate Hartman murder suspects William Holmes and Jason Wallace, men already in prison for 2002 drug killings, who are also be investigated for possible involvement in the 2002 unsolved stabbing death of Mahogany Davis.

“As part of the Mahogany Davis murder investigation, I’ve asked Chief Aragon to speak with William Holmes about Mahogany’s murder, and also the Hartman murder. William Holmes had a child with Mahogany Davis and you know, you hear little bits and pieces of information and the name ‘Holmes’ will always come up in a number of contexts in homicides, or unsolved homicides in our community.”

Mayor Eberhart additionally committed to pursuing an independent review of Fairbanks police handling of the Hartman case. The mayor’s statements and Chief Aragon’s apology were accepted by Fairbanks Native Association Director Steve Ginnis, but he emphasized questions remain about local and state handling of the Fairbanks Four case.

“And we will continue to work on those. We will continue to try to find some resolve to those questions. It doesn’t stop with the release of these men.”

Another Native community leader Dorothy Shockly emphasized after the press conference that Police Chief Aragon’s statements last week were damaging.

“I really believe, you know, that we did take a few steps back because of those statements.”

Shockley, who’s related to Fairbanks Four member Marvin Roberts, says the case points to the continuing issue of racism.

“And as the Native community, that’s what we’re telling people. There is racism. We are treated differently. And unfortunately, a lot of times, it’s not in a good way.”

Shockley says she’ll have to see action, not just words to really believe positive change is happening at the police department.

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Native dance groups, tribe raise $32,000 for Juneau homeless shelter, soup kitchen

By Lisa Phu, KTOO - Juneau

Monday, a fundraiser hosted by five Juneau Native dance groups raised about $32-thousand dollars for the capital city's shelter and soup kitchen. About 400 people attended, contributing money to the Glory Hole through donations, silent auction, fry bread sales, dancing, raffle and a $9,500 matching donation by the Rasmuson Foundation.

Nancy Barnes is head of the Yees Ku.oo dance group. She helped organize the event with Colleen James, who was inspired by a Juneau Empire story on the Glory Hole's financial deficit. Barnes was blown away by how much the event raised in two hours.

"I don't think anybody thought we were going to make that much money,” said Barnes. Somebody said, 'What's your goal?' And I was saying, 'If we raised $5,000 just to help them have a wonderful Christmas, that will be great."

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska donated its meeting hall for the event. President Richard Peterson says the Central Council was happy to help.

"Our culture's about holding each other up,” said Peterson. “And the Glory Hole is an entity that's always holding our people up, so it's time when they're hurting to give back and help them out."

Glory Hole Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk says the funds raised Monday night, plus other donations, will close the shelter’s $58,000 deficit largely created by a burst pipe and flooding last December. She says she can't say thank you enough to the all who contributed to Monday's fundraiser.

"This is beyond gratitude. This was a really amazing thing and it really ensures that we're going to be able to meet our mission of providing everyone in need of food, shelter and compassion,” said Lovishchuk. “It also means that we'll keep on working on the Juneau Housing First project and making it a reality."

Lovishchuk says it's an honor to be supported by the Alaska Native community and to start the New Year on a positive note.

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