ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — The wives of two men killed by a disgruntled colleague at the U.S. Coast Guard Communications Station on Kodiak Island claim bosses put their husbands in harm's way by allowing a dangerous man to work there.
The complaint, filed Friday in U.S. District Court for Alaska by Nicola Belisle, surviving wife of Richard Belisle, and Deborah Hopkins, surviving wife of James Hopkins, seeks over $1 million in damages.
Belisle and Hopkins claim that supervisors "should have known that James Wells was a disgruntled and dangerous employee who posed a serious threat to other employees in the Rigger Shop." The Coast Guard kept Wells on "despite the fact he was clearly dangerous and out of control" and after "numerous reprimands and disciplinary sanctions," the women claim.
The women say the Coast Guard made things worse when supervisors assigned James Hopkins to supervise Wells and put Richard Belisle doing tasks Wells once performed and "subsequently refused to as a recalcitrant employee," according to the complaint.
Wells was charged with killing the plaintiffs' husbands, and at trial FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Oberlander described Wells as a "disaffected, substandard Coast Guard civilian employee who frequently feuded with coworkers and supervisors," according to court papers.
Oberlander laid out a history where Wells failed to follow regulations and guidelines, disappeared for hours at a time from his post, and sabotaged trees at the station so he could cut them down later to use as firewood to heat his home.
In a 2002 incident, Wells was so upset after he accused colleagues of stealing his wallet — which was later found in his own vehicle — that he sped off in his truck and crashed into a government vehicle. By 2011, a supervisor told Wells he needed to "shape up or retire," according to Oberlander's affidavit.
A month after the reprimand, the same supervisor sent the plaintiffs' husbands to the National Association of Tower Erectors conference instead of Wells, who usually attended. Three months later, a colleague of all three men found Hopkins and Belisle's bullet-riddled bodies at their duty station.
According to court documents, Wells left two phone messages the morning of the murders, saying he would be late due to a flat tire. Prosecutors said Wells created the tire cover story to provide an alibi for the murders.
Unbeknownst to Wells, Coast Guard security video showed him in his white truck heading toward the airport prior to the killings. Prosecutors said he then switched to his wife's vehicle, parked at the airport while she was off the island, and drove it to his and the victims' duty station at the Rigger Shop.
He then committed the murders, switched vehicles again and returned to his home.
Besides their wives, James Hopkins, 41, left behind two children and Richard Belisle, 51, left three children.
In April 2014, a federal jury deliberated just six hours before finding Wells, 62, guilty of two counts each of first-degree murder, murder of an officer or employee of the United States, and possession of a firearm in a crime of violence.
Evidence presented at trial corroborated what the wives say in their complaint, that Wells resented the growing influence of their husbands in the shop where he was a nationally recognized antenna expert.
The wives are represented by Jill Wittenbrader of Kodiak.
Kodiak Island, some 250 miles south of Anchorage, is home to the largest Coast Guard air station in the Pacific. The double homicide took place 3 miles away at the base's communications station, where personnel monitor radio traffic from ships and planes.
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