Two Hoonah police officers testified Wednesday that another officer, ambushed and killed in the city nearly five years ago, may have lacked the usual training for new officers before he was allowed to patrol by himself. The testimony came after attorneys made their opening statements in a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the 2010 shooting deaths of Hoonah officers Tony Wallace and Matthew Tokuoka.
Tokuoka’s widow, Haley, filed the lawsuit against the City of Hoonah two years after John N. Marvin Jr. was arrested for the shooting. He was later convicted by a jury and sentenced to two consecutive 99-year prison terms. Tokuoka’s attorneys are suggesting that inadequate academy and field training for Officer Wallace partially contributed to the incident.
Attorney Mark Choate says they’re seeking a judgment of as much as $3.75 million for potential lost earnings and household services. In addition, Choate says there’s an undetermined amount for pain and suffering, and subsequent emotional distress endured by the Tokuoka family.
Choate alleges Tokuoka’s best friend and co-worker, Wallace, broke basic safety rules, and he says a police officer is never allowed to needlessly endanger others.
“You can’t make a mistake. You have to be on it. And you have to be aware,” Chaote says. “When you have knowledge that someone is mentally ill and or violent, you can’t unnecessarily provoke them. You can’t play games. You can’t play a joke. You can’t be lighthearted. You can’t be unprofessional.”
Choate dimmed the lights in the courtroom and shined a flashlight at the wall to demonstrate how Wallace pointed his own flashlight at Marvin’s house across the street just before the shooting. Wallace, with his mother Deb Greene as a passenger during a ride-along, had earlier pulled up behind the Tokuoka’s vehicle while using the police vehicle’s public address system and red-and-blue warning lights in a pretend traffic stop.
Frank Koziol, representing the City of Hoonah, says it’s true that Wallace shined his flashlight at the Marvin home after Haley Tokuoka told him about a disturbance there. But he characterized it as part of standard investigative routine rather than negligence or an intentionally provocative act.
“Plaintiffs are arguing that two seconds or less of the shining of the light is what caused John Marvin to shoot these officers,” Koziol says. “The City (of Hoonah) asserts that John Marvin is 100 percent at fault for this tragedy, and that there should be no blame shifting to the city or, more particularly, Officer Wallace.”
After opening statements, initial testimony focused on officer training at various police academies and the mentoring and guidance received from Field Training Officers. FTOs are veteran officers who accompany recruits on patrol for an extended period until they get a handle on police routine and interacting with the public.
Hoonah Police Lt. Bill Mills went through training to become a certified FTO and learn what to teach green officers.
“The big ones for me is officer safety, how to approach people, how to talk to people, and then, of course, following the Alaska statutes,” Mills says.
Mills says Wallace abruptly quit the police department during his field training with him. But Mills didn’t think that former Hoonah Police Chief Jeff Hankla had any experience as an FTO when Wallace was later rehired and taken under Hankla’s wing.
Greg Russell of the Alaska Police Standards Council was another potential plaintiff’s witness. But he was not allowed to testify since he couldn’t offer any relevant or substantive testimony on former Chief Hankla’s experience and his supervision and training of other officers. Hankla also left nearly a year before the shooting.
Former Alaska State Trooper and Hoonah reserve officer Arlen Skaflestad described the differences between the paramilitary Sitka Police Academy that he attended and the more collegial University of Alaska Fairbanks academy that Wallace attended. Skaflestad also described the critical four-month working relationship that he had with an FTO early in his career as providing “phenomenal information.”
“You learn so much more by having somebody there doing constructive criticism, and being able to take that constructive criticism and learn from it so that you don’t repeat the mistakes, and that you’re able to function essentially on your own,” Skaflestad says.
Skaflestad says Wallace continuously asked him questions about issues usually covered at the Sitka academy or while assigned to an FTO.
Skaflestad also used the phrase “You look like bait, you’re going to get eaten” while implying that Wallace’s appearance, demeanor, and even the cleanliness of his police vehicle may have had an impact on how he was perceived by others in the community.
The pain and unbelievable horror that everyone heard about during Marvin’s trial over two years ago was partially repeated Wednesday when Skaflestad testified how he went to the scene and found both wounded officers lying in the street.
Skaflestad broke down on the stand when he described lifting both dying officers into the back of his pick up truck and seeing how Tokuoka was in so much pain. The jury was sent out as the judge called for a break. Skaflestad hugged Haley Tokuoka, composed himself, and then resumed testifying after the jury was called back into the courtroom.
Haley Tokuoka may take the stand later while Deb Greene, who moved to Hoonah after the shooting, is expected to defend her son’s actions in testimony on behalf of the city. The two women, who were united in grief and the pursuit of justice during Marvin’s criminal trial, are now on opposite sides of the civil case.
A 13-person jury was seated on Tuesday in the case in Juneau Superior Court. The civil trial is expected to last about two weeks.
Most of the testimony is expected to focus on events leading up to the shooting. That’s in contrast to the criminal trial which also delved into Marvin’s background, the shooting incident, the subsequent standoff, and his eventual arrest.