Police chief apologizes for comments doubting Fairbanks Fours’ innocence

The City of Fairbanks’ police chief apologized Wednesday for comments he made about the state’s legal settlement with the Fairbanks Four. Chief Randall Aragon also committed to further investigation of the case.

KTVA reported last week that Aragon said the settlement vindicates the police department and prosecutors. He also said that the state didn’t agree to the settlement because the men were innocent, but instead because of political pressure.

Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease, George Freese and Eugene Vent were convicted of the murder of John Hartman 18 years ago. The men maintain their innocence.

Aragon retracted the comments he made

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

Aragon also walked back his assertion that the 1997 murder case is closed.

City Mayor John Eberhart said police will be following up on new information brought forward during a Fairbanks Four post-conviction relief hearing this fall. Eberhart said that would include alternate Hartman murder suspects William Holmes and Jason Wallace, men already in prison for drug killings in 2002. They’re also being investigated regarding the unsolved stabbing death of Mahogany Davis that same year.

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

“We will continue to work on those,” said. “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 Shockley, said after the press conference that Aragon’s statements last week were damaging.

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

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

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

Shockley said she’ll have to see action, not just hear words, to really believe positive change is happening at the Fairbanks Police Department.

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