Sealaska, UAS official sentenced in DUI case

A Sealaska board member and University of Alaska Southeast official who was arrested for driving while under the influence has been ordered to serve three-days in jail.

Joseph Galen Nelson, 42, changed his plea in Juneau District Court on Tuesday after reaching an agreement with prosecutors.

“To the charge of driving under the influence, how do you plead?” asked Judge Keith Levy.

“Guilty,” answered Nelson by telephone. His attorney said Nelson was in Yakutat on Tuesday.

Nelson was ordered to report to Lemon Creek Correctional Center by 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 8th to begin serving his sentence. (An on-line database of offenders currently incarcerated by the Alaska Department of Corrections indicate that Nelson’s release is scheduled for Saturday, May 11th.)

Nelson’s drivers license is revoked for 90-days and he must have an ignition interlock device installed on his vehicle for six months after he starts driving again. He must pay a $1500 dollar fine before he completes probation in eighteen months. He must also enroll in the Juneau Alcohol Safety Action Program (JASAP) and follow through with the program’s assessment, treatment, and aftercare.

For a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence, Nelson faced a maximum of a year in jail and $10,000 fine. But, as a first-time offender, he was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 33-days in jail with 30-days suspended, and a $3000 fine with $1500 suspended.

Before the plea agreement, the case had been scheduled for trial on May 21st.

Nelson was pulled over near 12th Street and Glacier Highway in downtown Juneau at about 2 o’clock in the morning of February 9th. The officer said he witnessed Nelson’s black Toyota FJ Cruiser swerving, accelerating quickly, and speeding. Nelson allegedly had watery eyes and said he had three drinks. The officer said that Nelson failed field sobriety tests and that he registered a .091 blood alcohol content. That’s over the legal limit of .08 for intoxication.

Defense attorney Kevin Higgins said his client has already contacted JASAP and just wants to put the incident behind him.

Mr. Nelson was down at the Viking bar that night after the vigil for the young woman from Kake. He was drinking at the Viking. On his way out, a fight broke out (and) he went back to his vehicle. His vehicle was about 200-yards from his house when he got pulled over. From the beginning, he hasn’t really wanted to challenge this.”

Higgins said he noted some discrepancies between the police report and video footage of the field sobriety test. But he said Nelson has no desire to prolong the case.

Prosecutors did not make any comments and Nelson did not say anything aside from answering routine questions asked by Judge Levy.

Nelson has been a member of the board of directors of Sealaska Native corporation since 2003. He also serves as a trustee for the Sealaska Heritage Institute and as chairperson of the Yak-tatKwaan village corporation. Nelson is currently employed as Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at UAS in Juneau.

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