ACLU prepared to sue Nome over its handling of a reported rape

A Nome Police Department vehicle. NPD has been named, along with the City of Nome, in the ACLU’s recently announced claims on behalf of Clarice “Bun” Hardy. (Photo courtesy Matthew F. Smith/KNOM)
A Nome Police Department vehicle. NPD has been named, along with the City of Nome, in the ACLU’s recently announced claims on behalf of Clarice “Bun” Hardy. (Photo courtesy Matthew F. Smith/KNOM)

This morning, the American Civil Liberties Union submitted an offer of settlement to the City of Nome, but is prepared to sue if the city does not accept.  In a letter to city officials, the ACLU alleges that the Nome police failed to properly handle the reported rape of former Nome Police dispatcher Clarice “Bun” Hardy in 2017.

The ACLU says Hardy is willing to settle her claims against the city for half a million dollars in order to avoid ongoing litigation.

The news was released to Nome city officials at 9 a.m. today in an e-mail and letter, stating that the ACLU is prepared to file a civil action against NPD and the City of Nome for Hardy’s losses and potentially other Alaska Native women.  According to the letter, Hardy has limited job prospects due to medication she takes for trauma and her inability to feel safe after the reported assault was mishandled.

Hardy has been public about being sexually assaulted in March of 2017. Part of that encounter was allegedly recorded on Snapchat and viewed by Hardy and several friends. She says she immediately made a written report to her then-colleague, Lt. Nick Harvey.

“I followed up and every time I got the same answer: ‘I’m still working on it, Bun,’” Hardy said, speaking with KNOM about the incident earlier this year.

She said that after a year of hearing nothing from Harvey she went to former Nome police Chief John Papasadora, who Hardy says didn’t know about the case. After she re-filed her report, Papasadora allegedly told her that he would send her case to the Alaska State Troopers. Hardy said months later when she called to ask about her report’s status, AST had nothing on file.

According to the ACLU’s letter, by the time the Troopers conducted an investigation, they were unable to get the Snapchat evidence. The ACLU claims that Harvey’s failure to do a thorough investigation has resulted in “the loss of corroborative, objective evidence of Ms. Hardy’s allegations.”

“That’s the reason I left Nome,” she said. “It’s because I really didn’t feel safe.”

Papasadora left the department at the expiration of his contract in October 2018 and Harvey resigned earlier this year after being put on administrative leave. Harvey did not give a public reason for his resignation and did not respond to KNOM’s requests for interview earlier this year.

Current Nome Police Chief Bob Estes does not answer questions about Hardy’s case but told KNOM via e-mail in May that Hardy’s report and questions were being handled by the District Attorney and the Alaska State Troopers.

The Nome Police Department has been doing an audit of old sexual assault cases. Last night, Estes updated the Nome city council on some of the things the department has discovered.

“We made that assessment. There is a problem in case-management. There is a problem in follow-up,” he said. “A problem in lack of personnel, a problem in training, it is a multi-faceted area that we’re having with the NPD.”

Estes says the department has reviewed 460 sexual assault cases as of this month. Seventy of those were sent to the District Attorney for further review and approximately 20 of those were returned to the Nome Police for further investigation. Those numbers refer to historical “cold cases” and do not include any active sexual cases from 2019.

The ACLU did not release the letter to the city until 9 a.m. City officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The ACLU has given the City until Oct. 11 to accept the offer of settlement with Clarice Hardy.