Fairbanks, AK – A decorated Fairbanks police detective has been on paid administrative leave since March 8 but the department has refused to tell him what he allegedly did wrong, who complained, or when it happened.
Fairbanks Police Detective Avery Thompson told The Police Tribune that his supervisors and fellow officers started giving him the cold shoulder shortly after he backed up a fellow detective who filed a sexual harassment complaint with the city’s human resources director.
Det. Thompson said the other detective took her complaint to human resources in June of 2019 at the direction of then-Fairbanks Police Chief Nancy Reeder.
He said that he and the other detective had started dating after the sexual harassment incident occurred but before she took her complaint outside the department.
And it wasn’t a secret because they’d gone to the city’s human resources director to get clearance to date since both detectives were veteran members of the police force and neither wanted any problems.
Det. Thompson said he was a witness for the other detective’s complaint to the city, and after multiple meetings, “the city said they were going to do the right thing.”
“And what that really meant to us was they were going to do the investigation and then the trainings to fix things that are done when this happens,” he told The Police Tribune.
But a year passed and none of that happened.
And the problems at the Fairbanks Police Department didn’t go away, either.
Det. Thompson said things got really bad as soon as Chief Reeder abruptly resigned from the department in August of 2020 citing personal reasons.
“I think Chief Reeder had kept her command staff from going after us,” he explained to The Police Tribune.
“Once the former chief left, the case assignments were reduced to almost nothing for either one of us,” Det. Thompson said. “Communication with the department became almost non-existent.”
He said the other detective was getting the same treatment.
Det. Thompson said nobody in the department would speak to either one of them for going outside the chain of command to human resources, despite the fact that the move was made at then-Chief Reeder’s direction.
He told The Police Tribune trying to accomplish anything was “super difficult” because even their supervisors refused to talk to them.
Adding insult to injury, the supervisor whom the other detective had accused of sexual harassment got promoted after Chief Reeder left.
In September of 2020, before she’d seen justice – or even an investigation – for her sexual harassment complaint, the other detective was the victim of a sexual discrimination incident.
“After a year or so and we had seen zero activity from the city, there was a gender discrimination issue that came up,” Det. Thompson told The Police Tribune.
“And since the city hadn’t done anything when she filed her complaint with human resources, this time she filed a gender discrimination complaint with the federal EEOC,” he said, referring to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
And Det. Thompson supported her efforts once again.
Because both cases are ongoing, he said he couldn’t share any details with The Police Tribune.
In January, Det. Thompson said a leave request he’d made was denied and he grieved it.
The detective is president of the union that represents the department’s officers.
Due process under their collective bargaining agreement gave Det. Thompson three steps in the grievance process – his supervisor, the police chief, and finally, the mayor.
The mayor is required to sit down with the complainant to discuss the grievance in accordance with due process.
But right before Det. Thompson would have taken his grievance to the mayor, his police powers were suspended.
On March 8, the detective received a notice that he had been placed on administrative leave because he was the subject of “a criminal or administrative investigation.”
The form said “see attached complaint” but Det. Thompson told The Police Tribune that there was nothing attached and he’s never been given the complaint despite multiple requests.
A memo signed by the Fairbanks mayor’s chief of staff informed him that a complaint of “untruthfulness” had been lodged against him.
“I’m the sixth most senior member of this department and I have never had a disciplinary action in my entire career,” Det. Thompson said. “Now all of a sudden the mayor says I’m ‘untruthful’ but they won’t tell me why.”
“This seems super retaliatory,” he said. “I’m the union president and I filed a grievance and I get suspended.”
Det. Thompson told The Police Tribune that as of March 22, he was still waiting to get a copy of the allegations “so I’ll have any idea in the world what they’re talking about.”
The memo from the mayor’s office also instructed the detective not to talk to anyone except his union representative about the investigation, but Det. Thompson said that wasn’t a problem because he doesn’t even know why they’re investigating him.
“They haven’t told me anything about the investigation – I am talking in such a generic way because I don’t know what’s happening,” he explained.
He said the instruction was ambiguous.
“Does this mean I can’t talk to my mom or my lawyer about it?” Det. Thompson asked as an example.
He said he would follow the order if he believed it were a lawful order after he knows what the investigation is about.
Former Chief Reeder, who resigned abruptly seven months, told KTUU that the old boy’s network was alive and well at the Fairbanks Police Department.
She said the city’s chief of staff and the human resources director warned her when she was hired in April of 2019 “that there was a deeply entrenched ‘good ol’ boy culture’ within the police department.”
“They told me I was hired because they needed someone from outside the police department to address and dismantle that culture, as it would not be done if someone from within the department had been selected,” former Chief Reeder told KTUU.
She cited personal reasons when she resigned but in March said that she had actually been “forced out” of the Fairbanks Police Department.
“The culture remains entrenched from the mayor’s office down into the top levels of FPD,” former Chief Reeder told KTUU. “When city and FPD leadership condones behavior and refuses to address issues that are the result of a systemic culture that involves harassment and/or retaliation, change and healthy growth will never occur.”
For now, all Det. Thompson can do is wait in limbo until Fairbanks police tell him why he’s being investigated.
The 15-year veteran of the Fairbanks police force is frustrated.
Det. Thompson, who was awarded national recognition in the past from the U.S. Department of Justice for his investigatory work in a militia case, is worried that his law enforcement career will be over no matter what happens next.
“How do you come back from having the city’s chief executive call you ‘untruthful?’” he asked.
The Police Tribune reached out to the mayor’s office and the Fairbanks Police Department for comment but had not received a response at publication time.