Domestic Assault Leads to Ban of Iditarod Musher

     
     ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — The Iditarod Trail Committee Board on Thursday banned a veteran Iditarod musher accused of multiple domestic violence incidents against another musher in 2015 from competing in future races.
     The announcement was made after the board’s annual post-race meeting at the Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage.
     The board of nine men, including some current and past race veterans, began with its closed executive session rather than conduct the public portion of their agenda first. They emerged not long after to present a statement of their unanimous decision to prohibit Travis Beals, 24, from entering the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
     “The Iditarod Trail Committee Board recognizes that domestic violence is a pervasive problem in the state of Alaska and society in general,” the board said in a statement. “It will immediately implement a process of reviewing its rules and policies, with the assistance of an advisory committee, with the objective of revising those rules for future races to better address this serious societal issue.”
     The board added that it will not accept Beals’ race application in 2017 “and for an indefinite period of time thereafter,” depending “in large part on documentation of successful completion of all court-ordered rehabilitation.”
     Under Iditarod rules cited by the board, mushers “must exemplify the spirit and principles” set forth by the board and race mission. The rules also give the board the right to reject any race applicant that doesn’t comply.
     Beals, of Turning Heads Kennel in Seward, Alaska, was arrested in December 2015 for “assault 4-cause fear of injury” relating to domestic violence, according to a complaint filed in the Third District Court at Palmer. Since his arraignment and release on bond, trial has been postponed while Beals attends monthly opt-in hearings of the Palmer Coordinated Resources Project run by the Palmer Mental Health Court
     A little less than a week before Iditarod’s announcement, CraigMedred.News broke the story about Beals and that the December 2015 arrest was not his first. A May 2015 conviction in Seward resulted in probation.
     The December 2015 incident four hours north in Willow — where Beals was arrested on suspicion of physically assaulting his fiancee, a fellow Iditarod racer, – allegedly stemmed from domestic arguments over dog training. Beals was out on bail and awaiting trial when he ran the 2016 race in which his fiancee also competed.
     Promotional materials tout the 1,000-mile journey from Willow to Nome as “The Last Great Race on Earth.” As happens in Alaska, known as “The Last Frontier,” individuals and organizations are slow or last to make changes that have been occurring for some time in the lower 48 states.
     The National Football League, Major League Baseball and even NASCAR have been tackling the issue of players and participants committing crimes against girlfriends, boyfriends and family members. It took Medred, an independent Alaskan journalist, to break the story and an outlying regional newspaper — also doing its own investigative reporting — to fill in more details before Iditarod officials would publicly act.
     Medred and Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Matt Tunseth, who had also been working on breaking the story, revealed that Iditarod race director and marshal Mark Nordman and race executive director Stan Hooley knew of Beals’ arrest prior to the race.
     At first both men told reporters that they only knew of the pending assault case, not the probation for the previous conviction, and that they were “advised that Beals should be allowed to participate until the case was settled.”
     Nordman told the Frontiersman, “In January I confirmed a complaint alleging domestic violence was filed in the Palmer District Court. I received a copy of the formal complaint, and accessed the court file through the public record. Travis was arraigned in December and the case remains unresolved. Many of his court hearings are part of a court diversionary program wherein confidentiality prohibits full file access.
     “From what is public, however, and relevant to this response, is the Palmer District Attorney charged Travis and a Palmer judge released him on bond. Nothing in Travis’s bail conditions, no condition the court imposed, prevented Travis from running the race,” Nordman stated.
     When pressed further by media and public comment on social media sites as to why their investigation didn’t uncover the May 2015 incident, officials said that “had they known of the first incident they probably wouldn’t have let Beals run the race.”
     In a third story by Alaska Public Media, Hooley said that they “were advised by legal counsel to wait for a court ruling.”
     That same news report identified the race committee’s legal counsel as the firm Davis, Wright, Tremaine, and that Hooley stated that the firm had not advised them of the earlier domestic violence assault charge. Beals pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminal mischief in July, receiving a sentence of 90 days in jail, with 90 days suspended sentence and probation for one year.
     Davis, Wright, Tremaine’s website says that it is a full-service law firm with “approximately 500 lawyers in nine offices on the east and west coasts of the United States and in Shanghai.” Multiple emails to the Anchorage office of the firm went unanswered. Phone calls to the offices resulted in several minutes on hold while the staff answering the phone attempted to “locate the proper person to possibly answer questions” pertaining to representing the Iditarod Trail Committee.
     The firm’s staff refused to provide any information on which attorney represents the Iditarod committee, whether they in fact received a request for information on Beals, or how they might have missed the previous conviction that is publicly accessible on the Alaska version of Courtview Justice Solutions.
     The firm’s receptionist would only say that they are not able to give out that information at this time, and that the person who can answer questions would be available Friday. No responses were received by press time, despite assurances that the unnamed attorney would respond with a comment.
     Beals — who won nearly $17,000 for an 18th place finish in the 2016 Iditarod — and the alleged victim, who also finished the race, have declined to comment publicly.
     Alaska has one of the highest rates of crimes against women in the nation. According to the 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey by the University of Alaska-Anchorage Justice Center, 40 out of every 100 women living in Alaska have experienced intimate-partner violence. Thirty-three percent have experienced sexual violence.
     The comments, both public and private, made to the reporters who chose to publish articles on this story have illuminated just how difficult the issue is for people to discuss and ultimately find an end to, among other abuse issues plaguing Alaskans.
     Mitch Seavey, two-time race champion and runner-up to his son Dallas in the 2016 race publicly posted this comment to an article on CraigMedred.News: “People, law enforcement is on it. This is not the fault of the race or Nordman. Mushers sign up in June and show up for a race in March if they happen to be ‘at large.’ There is no year-round contract (nor compensation) like the NFL.
     “Careful how much you ask the race to monitor mushers’ criminal records. Some of your favorites may have never been allowed to enter.
     “As for guilt-tripping friends or other mushers, not much can be done if the victim is a volunteer.
     Law enforcement is on it.”
     Prior to the ruling, four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King told an Alaska Dispatch News reporter that “as bad as domestic violence is,” Iditarod is not an investigative body and “I think it’s tabloid journalism to even be associating the word Iditarod with it.”
     Another four-time champion, Martin Buser, had a different take. Buser told the same reporter, “I wouldn’t feel at all uncomfortable if the Iditarod came up with a very, very strong domestic-violence policy.”
     Upon learning of the announcement, Buser’s wife Kathy Chapoton commented on Facebook by quoting Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
     She added, “Craig Medred got a great deal of grief over exposing this story. Thank you Craig for bringing this to light and thank you to ITC for making a clear statement.”
     The absence of any other significant public commentary from the 85 mushers in the 2016 race might be attributed to a fear of reprisal from the Iditarod committee, which instituted a new personal conduct rule for 2016. Several mushers contacted for comment refused to speak on the record for fear of disqualification based on what has oft been referred to by reporters and others as “the gag order.”
     The rule allows Iditarod officials to deny entry or disqualify a musher who starting on the day they sign up for the race — as early as last Saturday in June — until 45 days after the last musher crosses the finish line in that year’s race.
     During that period, “mushers shall not make public statements or engage in any public conduct injurious to and in reckless disregard of the best interests of the race,” the rule says. “This includes public statements or acts which are disparaging to any of the sponsors of that year’s race.”
     The increasingly embattled race was also negatively impacted this year when a drunken fan on a snowmobile allegedly attacked two mushers on the trail, killing one dog and injuring several others. The “gag order” has also brought about much more scrutiny to the race and conduct of mushers.
     This is a developing story that Courthouse News will continue to follow as the Iditarod Trail Committee Board sets up an advisory committee and begins the “process of reviewing its rules and policies,” according to its official statement.
     
     Photo: Julie St. Louis/CNS

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