Alaska National Guard recruiters file lawsuit, claiming privacy violations

Nearly three weeks after media reports began to chronicle what appeared to be a pattern of predatory debauchery within the Alaska Army National Guard’s recruiting and retention battalion, the recruiters named in the stories are suing in federal court in an effort to reveal how the story got out.

On Tuesday, Lt. Col. Joseph Lawendowski, Sgt. Shannon Tallant, Master Sgt. John Nieves and Master Sgt. Jarrett Carson filed suit in Washington, D.C. against the U.S. Department of the Army and the Secretary of the Army over violations of the Privacy Act.

At issue are Army investigative reports known as AR 15-6s. Recent news stories in Anchorage publications, including Alaska Dispatch News, have used leaked AR 15-6 reports to describe problems in the guard’s recruiting and retention battalion. In their lawsuit, the former recruiters — all of whom are still in the guard but assigned to other units — argue that the leaked files are confidential and should have remained private.

“The intent is to find out who knows what and when did they know it and who released it,” Matt Tully, the attorney whose firm is representing the guardsmen, said late Monday.

Of particular concern to his clients has been what he describes as the “selective disclosure” of only the most damaging information, information that he and his clients say was also “inaccurate and defamatory.”

Tully said that allegations of sexual misconduct against his clients that might imply rape or sexual assaults are overblown. Most of the situations boil down to old extramarital affairs, he said. There’s no crime, he said — but he didn’t address whether affairs were violations of Army or guard policy.

Not all adulterers in the guard have faced separation proceedings before an Army board, he said. He’s questioning why his clients are “being singled out for this treatment.”

In a story last week, Alaska Dispatch News said the AR 15-6 files described the recruiting unit as a place where noncommissioned officers prowled the lists of new recruits for sex, routinely cheated on their wives, drank to excess, went to strip clubs, cheated the government with their official credit cards, and made a habit of making leering and demeaning comments about women, including their fellow soldiers.

The Anchorage Press earlier published a story about misconduct within the guard based on leaked AR 15-6 reports.

Soon after the first story was published, several law enforcement agencies launched investigations into the “unlawful release of records,” Tully said in the complaint. “The Defendants have failed to act in an appropriate manner to investigate, stop, and prosecute the persons harming the Plaintiffs,” he wrote.

Anchorage police deny they’re involved in any new investigations. 

“There are no current criminal investigations being conducted by APD into how those documents got into the hands of the media or anyone else in the public,” Dennis Wheeler, municipal attorney, said late Tuesday.

The FBI was non-committal. “The FBI does not discuss whether or not we have a pending investigation,” said Kevin C. Donovan, assistant special agent in charge for the FBI’s Anchorage office.

There has been harm, Tully said. Stories written based on the leaked files have caused grief to his clients, who he said should have had the right to have the investigative process and any resulting administrative proceedings play out.

“They are doing horrible,” he said. “Their families were humiliated and embarrassed. Many of these clients have young children. Many of the allegations are totally false.”

Contact Jill Burke at jill@alaskadispatch.com.

Update: This story has been updated to add comment from the Municipality of Anchorage and the FBI.