Introducing The Big Bad Wolf I – Officer Clifford “Aaron” Ring

justicequoteThe decision to fight for the Fairbanks Four has not come without hardship. Many of us who chose to take a stand have, and will continue to, come under attack. One of the hardest things to do is speak out against people who we know are powerful, at least in the worldly sense. However, it is also one of the most important things we have done and will do. This is one of those difficult posts.

We are not fighting against an accident. We are not rallying against an injustice of coincidence. The Fairbanks Four were not the unfortunate four harmed by chance. They were the victims of deliberate actions taken by human beings. We do not believe that means they were forsaken by their maker or tossed aside. Instead, they came under the hardship they were born to bear, and we were given the responsibility of freeing them and exposing the anatomy of injustice in our hometown so that a greater good could come of it.

We have discussed some of the noteworthy corruption in a previous post HERE  and we do not plan to stop talking about corruption in this case until it is fully revealed, until those who committed the crime of deliberate injustice are exposed, and until amends are made to all who were hurt.

We will never be able to make a completely comprehensive post about the players in this case whose mistakes or deliberate actions led to this injustice. It is not possible to know the heart and mind, and therefore the intentions, of another human being. But we can tell you what we know and what we have been told about the men and women whose actions and choices paved the road to this injustice. It is not our wish to enact revenge on them. It is only our wish that the whole truth be known someday so that there may come a time when there is indeed justice for all.

We will post a series of pieces on individuals who played a critical role in the arrest, investigation, wrongful conviction, and illegal incarceration of the Fairbanks Four.

Clifford “Aaron” Ring

aaron ringIt seems fitting to make Aaron Ring first in the “Big Bad Wolf” recounting of the key players in the wrongful conviction of the Fairbanks Four. If this was a movie, he would be the bad guy. He was extremely active in the case, from the initial arrests to the court trials, and touched almost every aspect of the case.

George Frese, Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, and Kevin Pease have spent most of the last 18 years in 5X8 concrete prison cells, often for 23 of 24 hours in a day. For the duration of their time in prison, and indeed since their arrests, all four have procalimed their innocence in a case that has long been one of the most contested and controversial in Alaska’s history.

AaronRingsHouseBy contrast, Aaron Ring lives here. The only thing these accommodations have in common is, of course, that both are funded by the State of Alaska. The retired FPD officer lives in Florida now on a comfortable pension where apparently he can wake up every morning, put his shoes on one at a time, eat breakfast, and apparently go about life with no outward betrayal of regret, if it is there at all.

The goal of this case-specific wrongful conviction blog has been to tell a wrongful conviction story in great detail to create a broader awareness of the issue at large and this case. We have long implored the public to come forward with any information related to this case and enter a public dialogue. What we receive in response to that request perhaps more often than anything else is information on or complaints about Officer Aaron Ring. We have had multiple source accusations of race-based hate crimes by Aaron Ring as a juvenile and young adult at Lathrop High School, two accusations of sexual assault on an underage victim, one while a uniformed officer and one not. We have had many unsolicited reports by people who had contact with officer Aaron Ring as juveniles that they consider abusive. These range from actual assaults (being thrown on the ground, hit, tripped, knocked off a bicycle, slammed on a car door, etc.) to pseudo-assaults (being cuffed in the back of a police car while the breaks are repeatedly slammed), to psychologically abusive contact. Keep in mind, these accusers all have one thing in common –  they were CHILDREN when these events occurred.

This is not the first time that dozens upon dozens of alleged adult victims of child abuse have come forward to finger an individual who held a trusted position in the community. The Catholic Church had a whole scandal. Teachers, boy scout troop leaders, favorite coaches, priests, pastors…….this is recognizable territory. A scandal tends to deepen as more and more alleged victims surface with their claims. In general, mounting accusations are often perceived as confirmation that there is after all “something to it.” We have all seen that before, and on our side of the internet we are seeing it again here.

We are neither qualified nor prepared to evaluate or determine the veracity of these statements. But we want to acknowledge that they have been made.

What we can document and verify is the conduct and speech on record by Officer Aaron Ring as he investigated the Fairbanks Four case, and we have. These pages ultimately together just tell a story, and Aaron Ring is a character that appears over and over. Here are some of the more stand-out moments of his conduct.

  • Aaron Ring lied to the people being interviewed and threatened them. He made up evidence, told people that their friends or families had placed them there or told the officers they were lying, threatened people with jail or other harm if they failed to agree.
  • Aaron Ring, according to multiple witnesses, turned the tape recorders off and on during police interviews. Ring used the times the recorder was off, according to these witnesses, to threaten them more directly, provide more extreme false information, or reassure them that if they just said what he wanted them to say it would not be a big deal. Alaska law requires interrogations be taped in their entirety.
  • When George Frese said, “I want to go home,” Aaron Ring claimed he had said it alone in an empty room. Ring would have been obligated to stop the interrogation if George (which he indeed did) asked to go home.
  • When Eugene Vent, drunk and only seventeen, said “I want my mama,” Ring downplayed the statement and continued with the interview.
  • Played the major part in some of the most harrowing interviews in the case, including Shara David, Edgar Henry, Antonio Sisto, Eugene Vent, George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts, and conducted the first interview with Chris Stone, which is “missing,” and with EJ Stephens, likewise “missing.”
  • Aaron Ring made a damning and misleading exhibit with the help of prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant. This exhibit was called “totally unscientific” by the only expert who saw it in trial, but he was not called to testify. The exhibit was not to scale, and consisted of an overlay of George Frese’s boot print overtop of a photo of the victim. The size had been adjusted to create an appearance of a match. The lab logo was left on the boot print, creating the misleading impression that the exhibit had been created by scientists.

We must preface the following with a statement that we have no comment as to the veracity of the accusations made below. We have no idea if the accusations below are valid, but can only report that the following accusations have been made against Aaron Ring in statements to us by others.

  • A woman contacted us to tell us that she had known Aaron Ring as a young man, from adolescence to his late teens. She was substantially younger than him and claims he sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions.
  • Several individuals claiming to have known Ring in high school have contacted us to claim that Ring was widely known as a racist, and was extremely and overtly racist against Native students.
  • A woman contacted us to tell us her now-deceased daughter claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Aaron Ring as a teenager and while Aaron Ring was on duty as a police officer. According to this woman, Ring made contact with her teen daughter and picked her up for underage consumption of alcohol, but agreed to let her go in exchange for sex acts, and threatened her with severe legal consequences if she did not comply. Her story was apparently taken and preserved by a local journalist.
  • A man contacted us to tell us that as a young person he was arrested by Aaron Ring and was physically assaulted during the arrest. The man claims that while he was in the back of the squad car Mr. Ring repeatedly and deliberately slammed on the breaks to cause injury to the him.
  • More than a dozen individuals have contacted us to report that Aaron Ring used unnecessary force.
  • A Fairbanks resident alerted us to the existence of the Henry Kettendorf case – a young man named Henry Kettendorf was shot and killed by Aaron Ring in downtown Fairbanks. The case created some controversy at the time. An eyewitness to the shooting described it very differently than the officers at the scene. A transcript was later published by reporter Gene George of “The Athabascan Report,” in which officers can be heard mocking Kettendorf, his death, and threatening to conspire against the witness to the shooting. After years of searching for this particular edition of the publication and finding it was removed from nearly every library in the state, we finally procured a copy.

There was a time when we believed, or at least wanted to, that this was all one big mistake. But the more information that surfaces about the case, the more it seems that the wrongful conviction of the Fairbanks Four was not a mistake so much as an event on a timeline of terrible deeds committed against the young and vulnerable of Alaska for minimal personal gain. We can choose to believe, and for now we will, that the actions that harmed so many were not so much intentional as they were the byproduct of a kind of thinking so ingrained that it produced great harm. If someone as a young person believes an entire race to be animalistic or below them it is not hard to imagine that deep seeded thought growing into a tree of injustice as the person’s schemas hardened and their power grew. Whether a source is corrupted or bad is impossible to say, but there is wisdom in the verse that says “Ye shall know them by their fruit.”

To change the landscape of our community or country as it relates to biased thinking inside the justice system it is not enough to attack the tree or judge the fruits, we have to ensure that the seeds of racism and bias are not sown into the minds of the next generation and find a way to articulate their visibility in our current social structures. There comes a point where an individuals intentions in a series of actions do not matter nearly as much as the fact that they were capable. In other words –  maybe didn’t know better. And if that is the case perhaps the people most responsible for the damage he did are those who surrounded him, knew better, and stayed silent.

Many children were harmed in the making of this wrongful conviction. The players in this game who moved them like pawns failed to calculate the outcome now at hand – they didn’t crush ALL of those children. Some persevered. Some found self-worth against the odds. Some of those kids didn’t fall into addiction,early graves, fold into the small town inside a small town and disappear into the familiar. Some did not bow down under shame. Some of them grew up. And they remembered.

As for Aaron Ring, accountability is not ours to assign. As is often the case, there is probably not as much peace inside the beautiful Florida home as there appears to be from outside. All we can do is wish him well, hope that if he indeed struggles with the demon of pride or racism or rage that he wrestles it and prevails, and that if he is guilty of any actions that were illegal that the justice system may find him and treat him fairly. After all, our wish is the same for him as it is for you, or for the Fairbanks Four. Justice for all.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

A better question might be who’s afraid of the big bad wolf pack?

The corruption in this case runs very deep. So deep that there is no point in denying that there is a large range of potential risks in writing about some of it publicly. Every stone that is turned over in researching this case reveals more and more indications of corruption, some on the part of common criminals, some on the part of those that we should be most able to trust – police officers, attorneys, and judges. And the idea of making any of them too angry is, well, scary.

But the truth in this case is that fear was used like a tool to repress many people. A lack of courage on the part of many was required for justice to be so far miscarried. In this climate, the courage of some is all the more astounding. The earliest truth-tellers in this situation are people to be admired. It seems simple enough to just tell the truth, but as Orwell said, “In times of universal deceit telling the truth becomes of revolutionary act.” It was scary to stand up then, and many didn’t.

There is a quote so often repeated that it is hard to find its original source – “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” It is a powerful idea, and one that applies here. Many, many, many people did not come forward as alibis, or as informants to the actual perpetrators while this case was active because they were afraid. It is understandable, it was a terrifying time, but to move forward we must let go of that fear. Many good people did nothing when this case occurred. That is the past, and we must learn from it, but we must also let it remain the past and walk bravely into a new future.

So, here is a new quote to for a new era:

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.”  – Gandhi

We possess a power greater than those that oppose us because we act from love. On that note, here are some of the highlights of corruption in this case. Sadly, this is the tip of the iceberg:

When the labwork came back and there was NO physical evidence against the Fairbanks Four, the investigators did not pursue other leads. They went “shopping” for jailhouse snitches. One was a woman who claims that she overheard an incriminating statement while she was in jail at FCC the same time as the four. Even though male and female inmates are separated even in general population. Even though the four were being held in isolation, where they made comments of any nature to absolutely no one. The star witness was a man who received leniency in his own crimes (and whose criminal record would make you sick) who agreed to testify that he had seen the four together. From 550 feet away. In the dark. Drunk. High on drugs. Standing with a group of people, some who were sober, who saw nothing. (To be fair, perhaps he got into radioactive goo or something as a child and has super powers).

In the absence of any physical evidence to take to trial, Detective Aaron Ring and Prosecutor Jeffery O’Bryant got together in their hotel room and made some. Don’t bother reading that sentence twice, you did indeed read it right the first time. With young men’s entire FUTURES at stake men sworn to uphold justice, to serve and protect us all, made exhibits for court during a hasty craft hour held in their hotel room. They took a lab-made ink print of George’s boot that was printed on clear overhead type paper. They selected a few slides that did not show all of the tread. They then layed it over a photo of John Hartman’s face. The photo had no scale. It was scientific garbage, but the lab logo would lead the average person to see it as legitimate. With no scale, a picture can be adjusted until its size roughly corresponds with any shoe. The exhibit was not made by a forensic lab, but by a police officer and prosecutor in their hotel room.

In an affidavit filed by John Cayton, the forensic expert the defense employed at the trial, filed post-trial, Mr. Cayton calls the exhibit “extremely misleading,” “troubling,” a “misrepresentation,” and states that, after repeatedly asking the defense attorney for a chance to review the evidence (remember, the defense attorney should have WANTED his expert informed), he was eventually told to get it directly from Aaron Ring, who sent poor quality copies and copies without any scale.

George’s first attorney, Bob Downes, made some other remarkable choices during trial. In addition to not supplying the expert the information he would have needed to testify properly, he did not call any of George’s alibis as witnesses. He also DID NOT OBJECT to the homemade bogus boot exhibit.

Bob Downes had worked with the prosecutor, Jeffery O’Bryant in the past, and knew him personally. After the trial was lost Bob Downes became a judge. He used Jeffery O’Bryant as a reference, and got the job. You can read his application/resume HERE.

No other suspects were investigated. Even though John Hartman’s brother had received a phone call warning him that his brother might be in danger the same night that he was killed. Even though Chris Stone, the person last seen alive with the victim, had astounding inaccuracies in his statement. Even though the victim was found wearing his pants. Even though he had suffered a similar beating a few weeks earlier and had refused to name his assailants. Even though there was never ever any evidence that any of the accused knew the victim or would have had any reason to harm him. Even though Chris Stone left a disturbing message for a friend that night, even though that friend asked police to get a copy, even though she went to the police station that day to make a statement that she thought Chris Stone was not being honest. EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE.

All interrogations in Alaska are required by law to be taped. George insists, and Crystal Sisto also insists, that his interrogation began long before a tape recorder came on. Read transcripts of the interrogation HERE and decide if that seems to be the case. You can also read the post about his interrogation HERE.

Eugene Vent was a minor and had the right to have a parent present. They told him that, but read about his interrogation HERE and ask yourself if they really believed he had understood all of his rights.

There is no recorded Blood Alcohol Level for George Frese on record anywhere. Interesting, considering that he had drank beer and liquor all night, hard liquor all morning and into the afternoon. Unusual, since it seems that an intoxicated underage patient would typically have a blood alcohol test. It makes you wonder… there a blood alcohol content at which a person must receive medical treatment and cannot be interrogated? Is there a blood alcohol content at which a person is considered legally incompetent and their statements could be voided? If there was one taken, how did it disappear?

The key players in this case received serious promotions following the “successful” outcome. These boys made the list of his notable accomplishments when Jeffery O’Bryant’s promotion to Fairbanks District Attorney was announced. Check that out HERE

Add to that the MANY PAGES of details that we will need time to write down. Add to that controversies that we are still afraid to write down. Add to that corruption we have not unearthed. And add this final quote to your mind for times when you want to blend into the flock because you are afraid:

“Make yourself sheep and the wolves will eat you.” Benjamin Franklin

There are many people in our community who know who committed this crime and have remained quiet out of fear. To you we say, muster your courage. Put your faith in the idea that to act from love gives you great power. Remember that fear does not make you safe, it makes you sheep. And the wolves are out there.