State troopers, misled by a false court order, detain the headmaster for a mental health check


Jim Cockerell
Jim Cockrell, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, speaks in Wasilla at the May 3, 2022, press conference. Cockerill ordered an investigation after soldiers mistakenly arrested a school principal for a mental health test. (Photo by Erith Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

State troopers mistakenly arrested the 2022 Alaska Director of the Year for a mental health screening last week after a family member provided troopers with a document they said was signed by a state judge.

That wasn’t true, Troopers and the Alaska court system confirmed the error Tuesday, six days after Colony High School principal Marie Walp posted video of the incident and claimed she was being held because of her religious beliefs.

The department said James Cockrell, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, has ordered a full internal review of the incident.

“Based on the limited information we have been able to glean from this incident from the Alaskan court system, it appears that we made an error in removing the adult female for an evaluation. Additional steps should have been taken by our staff to verify the information provided by the complainant and the veracity of the complaint,” Cockerill said in a written statement. Court order. We take full responsibility for this and want to assure the public that we are taking the necessary steps to ensure that incidents like this do not happen again. This type of situation is unacceptable, and you have my commitment that we will do better.”

After KTUU-TV in Anchorage ran a story about the video, Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, and Sen. Shelly Hughes, R-Palmer, spoke in the state legislature about the issue.

Rebecca Crawford, a spokeswoman for the court system, said in an email Tuesday responding to KTUU’s story. “The actions of law enforcement in this situation were not taken or carried out pursuant to or as a result of any court order.”

Hours later, Alaska State Troopers released a written report of the events on January 18 that saw Volpe taken to Matanuska-Susitna Borough Hospital for a mental health evaluation.

According to their account, the soldiers got a call Wednesday morning, asking for a welfare check on the Fulp.

State law allows police and mental health experts to forcibly detain someone if they are “likely to cause serious harm to themselves or others” immediately.

The forces responded and determined that she did not meet the requirements for emergency mental health custody. Hours later, another caller said they had a written order from a judge agreeing that Fulp should be taken into custody for her mental health to be evaluated.

The official account read: “The soldiers noticed that the document appeared to be signed by a judge and appeared to be valid.”

It should have been a red flag, said an attorney familiar with the state’s mental health compliance procedures and unaffiliated with the case.

Under normal events, if a petitioner seeks to involuntarily commit someone to custody on mental health grounds, the petitioner must provide evidence to a judge, who will seek advice from a medical professional—assuming the petitioner is not one themselves.

A third party interviews the person subject to the proposed order, and then advises the judge. If the judge orders the person to commit the crime, the judge contacts the public safety officials themselves. The petitioner is not involved.

Crawford said she doesn’t have documentation related to what happened on the 18th, but “when there’s a warrant, we send local law enforcement a request for transfer, and that’s what they use.”

In this case, “no request was sent,” Cofford said.

On Friday, Beacon, citing a tip that claimed the order was bogus, requested copies of the court order and was told that state law keeps these records confidential and that “the request will likely be denied.”

According to the Troopers’ account, “On Friday, January 20, 2023, it was brought to the attention of the Alaska Department of Public Safety that documentation…provided to the troopers may not have been a court order authorizing the involuntary bonding of an adult female.” DPS Commissioner Cockrell ordered a full review of the incident. “.

The court system denied the troop’s request to examine documents related to the incident, but the court system’s statement on Tuesday confirmed the error.

“With this new information, the soldiers now believe that the document that was provided to the forces…was not a valid involuntary commitment injunction,” the forces said.

In 2021, Governor Mike Dunleavy proposed changes to state laws governing involuntary commitments for mental health reasons, and the Legislature approved those changes last year. Last week’s incident does not appear to include those changes.

A Department of Public Safety spokesperson declined to say whether a family member intentionally falsified the documents or if the mistake was an innocent mistake. The spokesperson also declined to say whether charges are pending.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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