The Bethel City Council meeting on March 23 saw the biggest public attendance in months. Many came to share their outrage about the handling of Juanita Nick’s rape case. Although Bethel City Council approved a proclamation declaring April to be Sexual Assault Awareness Month, they took no other official measures to address Nick’s case or the general handling of sexual assault crimes in Bethel.
Bethel resident Juanita Nick says that she was raped in December, and that the Bethel Police Department mishandled her case. Police Chief Richard Simmons has declined to comment on her allegations, but Nick said that nearly everything about the handling was botched, from the seven hours she said that it took police to respond, to the alleged 34 days that it took officers to pick up her rape kit from initial processing at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. YKHC says that rape kits are available within 24 hours after being dropped off, and state statute says that officers must send rape kits to a crime lab for processing within 30 days of collecting them. Nick said that she’s had to go public with her case in order to get the district attorney to look at it.
“Today I'm calling to let you guys know how humiliating It is to be forced to share my story publicly just to see justice. My rape kit waited over 30 days for the Bethel police to pick it up. Victims should never have to disclose personal information like this. I demand you make changes,” said Nick.
Nick and her supporters showed up on Zoom or called in to the meeting to express their anger, and not only about alleged police mishandling of the rape kit. Some Nick supporters also directed comments to City Manager Pete Williams; Ruth Miller was among them. “I'm coming to you, Pete, because after I spoke here last time, Mark Springer said that you are more responsible for the Bethel Police Department, opposed to city council and the Public Safety Commission,” said Miller.
In the prior city council meeting, Councilmember Springer urged Williams to look into this case with Chief Simmons. But on March 19, when KYUK reporter Greg Kim asked Williams if he had followed up with Simmons, Williams said that he had not.
Springer also suggested in the prior meeting that police mishandling of a rape case isn’t in the council’s purview. This meeting’s agenda didn’t contain this as an ordinance or item, so council members didn’t any take specific steps, other than to proclaim April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But when it came time for council member comments, members seemed to show their support for tackling this issue head on.
Councilmember Alyssa Leary said that this issue is important and must be faced by all parties.
“This is an extremely difficult issue, and it deserves the full attention of this council, the city manager, and the Bethel Police Department. I believe that the first step in addressing any problem is admitting that the problem exists rather than passing blame,” said Leary.
Councilmember Rose “Sugar” Henderson agreed with Leary, saying that the council needed to find a solution.
“Like Councilmember Leary said, let's not place blame, let's work on a solution. We can only move forward from this, and we need to get a solution done,” said Henderson
And Councilmember Conrad “CJ” McCormick, who is personally involved with a member of the rape victim’s family, took it a step further. “I'm ready to accept full responsibility for the failure that we've seen,” he said.
Councilmember McCormick said that he hopes that the council can do something, and that it will make “substantial changes.”
There are not any official measures for council debate on the matter yet. The next regular city council meeting on the agenda is on Tuesday, April 13.
Editor's note: The original headline of this article was "Angry Bethel Residents Speak Out Against Alleged Mishandling Of Rape Kit."
Correction: The story originally stated that the next city council meeting will be Tuesday, April 6. That is incorrect. The next regular meeting is scheduled for April 13.