Victims of previous assaults say release of man before Anchorage library stabbing reflects broken legal system

An Anchorage man accused of randomly stabbing a woman at the Loussac library this week was arrested in a similar unprovoked attack a few blocks away a month earlier – but released after facing trial incompetent to stand trial.

Victims of the previous assault said the case highlights glaring flaws in the justice system that led to an attack that should not have happened. The most recent victim remains hospitalized with serious injuries and 32-year-old Corey Ahkivgak has been arrested and charged with felony assault.

But there are limits to what can be done under the law: A mental health advocate has described loopholes in Alaska’s laws that show how mental health issues intersect with the justice system criminal, and where someone like Ahkivgak may have slipped through the cracks.

December attacks

Dianne Squires and Arlene Feldt had both run errands on December 6. What was supposed to be a normal Monday afternoon turned into a day that left them both with lingering trauma.

Feldt, a 64-year-old grandmother, was walking to several stores near her home when she heard screams in the parking lot of Midtown Walmart on A Street. She rushed into the area and said she wanted to avoid any commotion. But out of nowhere, a man approached her from behind, then stood in front of her and kept trying to talk to her, she said.

She tried to turn away, but the stranger hit her in the back with what she thought was a backpack and she was thrown to the sidewalk, charges in the said case.

The man, later identified as Ahkivgak, then walked away.

Shortly after, he saw Dianne Squires, 50, as she walked along the sidewalk of Benson Boulevard. He started yelling at her and calling her a series of names, she said. Then he started hitting her.

Squires said she was terrified and unsure if or when he would stop. Eventually, Ahkivgak pulled away, continuing on the sidewalk, she said. He was arrested that day.

The sudden attacks at the hands of a stranger left Squires and Feldt fearful. Both women said they were afraid to come out for the next few weeks. Squires said she sought counseling for the trauma.

“If I go to the store or anywhere and walk anywhere, I have my pepper spray,” she said. “Either I’m with someone, or I’m on the phone with someone. I constantly look over my shoulders.

Unable to stand trial and irreparable

Ahkivgak faced two third-degree felony assault charges for the December attacks.

After his arrest, a request was made for him to undergo a jurisdictional hearing. Such requests are made when “the court or the parties reasonably believe the defendant is incompetent to stand trial,” Justice Department spokesman Aaron Sadler said by email.

Ahkivgak was evaluated by a forensic psychologist at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and deemed incompetent to stand trial, Sadler said. It occurs when a person is unable to understand the criminal process or help in their own defense.

Defendants who are deemed unfit to stand trial go through a recovery process, during which they undergo a period of commitment to a facility like the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, where professionals work with them to try to to re-establish.

But Ahkivgak was not subjected to this restoration process. Sadler said the forensic psychologist concluded he was unlikely to regain his skills.

“Whether a person can be reinstated depends on the particular cause of the incompetence. If the cause is a treatable mental illness, an accused is more likely to be reinstated,” said Rebecca Koford, public information officer for the justice system.” If the cause is a disease that is not amenable to treatment, or a static defect such as brain injury, cognitive retardation, or dementia, the person is less likely to be repairable.”

The Justice Department did not provide details on why Ahkivgak was deemed incompetent and unfixable. Competency assessments are confidential.

[Report: Problems continue to plague Alaska Psychiatric Institute]

“A huge challenge”

When a person cannot be reinstated, they can no longer be detained for the charges – state law states that “either a civil recognizance proceeding must be instituted or the court must order the release of the person.” ‘accused”.

Civil liability petitions are filed when there is reason to believe that a person is seriously ill or poses a threat to themselves or others. The legal standard is different from what is needed to find someone unfit to stand trial.

There is no plan in state law that outlines who is responsible for filing a petition for civil recognizance if deemed necessary in cases involving defendants who cannot be reinstated. Petitions can be filed by mental health professionals, family members, attorneys or other concerned individuals.

Ahkivgak was not engaged. It is unclear whether a petition has been filed.

He was released on January 6, according to court records.

Court records show he has been in and out of the criminal justice system over the past 14 years – with previous convictions ranging from trespassing to assault. Several court documents indicate that he suffers from a mental illness.

Sadler did not respond to questions about whether the Justice Department believed Ahkivgak was dangerous.

[Alaska’s system for evaluating mentally ill defendants hits the breaking point]

For the victims of the December attack, it seems obvious that Ahkivgak was a danger.

Both women said they were scared and angry when prosecutors informed them in early January that the charges against him had been dropped.

Squires and her friend Kacie Blank, who supported her after the attack, said it made no sense that Ahkivgak was released on his own accord after being deemed incompetent to understand the legal proceedings.

“He needs help,” Blank said. “He’s in jail because he needs help, they know he’s incompetent to stand trial – why would you put him on the street where other people are?”

But there is no protocol or system provided in the law to deal with what comes next for defendants who have been deemed irredeemable and are then released.

“There’s not necessarily a navigator, if you will, to say (someone) is going to leave the criminal side and now have to come back and log into community services to meet the services and supports you need. ,” said Steve Williams, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

Alaska Department of Corrections staff can try to help connect a person to services in these cases, Williams said, but the timeline is often short because once the decision is made to dismiss charges, the person is quickly released.

“I think the DOC is doing what it can to achieve this, but it often runs into obstacles beyond its control,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge, that’s for sure.”

“This shouldn’t have happened”

Both Squires and Feldt said they feared Ahkivgak could harm another woman, unprovoked. It felt like a matter of time, Feldt said.

And on Sunday, their fears came true.

Charges filed against Ahkivgak this week says he approached a couple from behind who were standing near the book depository inside the Loussac library on 36th Avenue. He stabbed the woman in the back and then fled the library, according to the charges. He was arrested about a mile a few hours later, said the police.

The attack was unprovoked and Ahkivgak did not know the victim, police said.

She was hospitalized with serious injuries and charges reported a spinal cord injury.

Ahkivgak is being held at the Anchorage Correctional Center for first-degree assault, criminal mischief and violation of bail conditions.

Squires and Feldt both learned of the stabbings from relatives who saw media coverage of the library attack. When they realized it was the same man, they said, they were devastated. They felt like the system had failed to protect the woman in the library and had failed to release the man who had hurt them.

“How can this happen? It shouldn’t have happened to him,” Feldt said.

“Look at the damage he did to that other lady,” Squires said. “And in the library, everyone else had to see that.”

A stalled effort to change state law

Ahkivgak’s case bears strong similarities to the 2018 stabbing death of Michael Greco at the Alaska Zoo. Prior to this case, Clayton Charlie had been found unfit to face criminal charges in a series of random, unprovoked assaults and released at the end of October of that year. His family tried to have him committed against his will, but he was released in early November.

[Previous coverage: ’The system was unable to protect anybody from him’: Family struggled to help violent, mentally ill son charged in Alaska Zoo killing]

Charlie then stole his family car and eventually drove to the zoo, where he encountered Greco and stabbed him in the parking lot before running him over with the vehicle.

Charlie was sentenced in January 2022 to spend 55 years in prison for second degree murder.

There are problems and flaws in how the system currently works, said Williams of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. The Trust and other stakeholders have compiled a list of recommendations for the evolution of the statutes of commitment and competence in 2018.

The recommendations generated a lot of interest, but Williams said they had never been introduced by a lawmaker or agency as a bill. The issues surrounding jurisdiction and recognizance are complex, he said, and changes would likely take the form of omnibus bills, which are often difficult to pass.

Squires and Feldt say they want things to change. They don’t want another woman to fall victim to loopholes in the system.

“When this passes, will a judge return him to the streets again?” asked Feldt’s husband, Roger Feldt. “Next time, is he really going to kill or murder someone before they get off the street? So what are they going to do when it happens? Will they fire him a third or a fourth time?

“It has to stop.”

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