January 29, 2023

Alaska State Troopers took the principal of Colony High School to a hospital last week for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation based on an invalid court order, officials said this week.

Mary Fulp livestreamed the encounter on Facebook. In the video, which has since been viewed more than 45,000 times, she said the assessment was being ordered because of her ardent Christian faith.

Commissioner James Cockrell, who oversees the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement Tuesday the incident was being investigated and officials plan to review policies and procedures.

“Based on the limited information we were able to learn from the Alaska Court System about this incident, it appears we made a mistake in transporting the adult woman for an inquest,” he said. “Our staff should have taken additional steps to verify the information provided by the complainant and the validity of the court order.”

Fulp was in her freshman year as a principal at Colony High School, having served as the principal at Colony Middle School next door for 15 years. She was named Alaska Principal of the Year in 2022 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Mary Fulp, Principal of Colony High School

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District sent a message to high school families last week after the video surfaced. Superintendent Randy Trani said officers were aware of the situation and were monitoring it.

A school district spokeswoman did not respond to messages Tuesday and Wednesday but declined to comment on Fulp’s employment status on Monday.

School officials are constitutionally prohibited from expressing their religion in schools.

In a Facebook post on the day of the incident, Jan. 18, Fulp said she was not at work that day because her “supervisor needed some time to process what is unfolding over a very short period of time had,” an apparent reference to a religious revelation she described in a four-hour video released last weekend. Fulp also said she would have been at school “if I hadn’t worked with such grace and compassion for this new level of testimony that just hit the floodgates over the weekend.”

The encounter with the invalid court order occurred during law enforcement’s second visit to Fulp’s home in one day.

Officers had been called to Fulp’s home Jan. 18 by someone demanding a welfare check because she wouldn’t answer the door and “he had concerns about her mental health,” spokesman Austin McDaniel said in an emailed statement Explanation.

A police officer visited Fulp’s home at 11:45 a.m. and spoke to her and the man who requested the wellness check, McDaniel wrote. The police officer left about 25 minutes later and found that Fulp showed no significant evidence of a mental health problem that would cause her to harm herself or others – the conditions required to initiate involuntary psychiatric admission.

Fulp described the first encounter in a separate Facebook post and said her family asked her to have a psychiatric evaluation.

Just before 5 p.m., a second person called police on 911, “explaining that she had a signed warrant from a judge that[Fulp]be involuntarily admitted to the nearest mental health screening facility,” wrote McDaniel. Both people who contacted the soldiers that day about Fulp knew them, he said in an interview.

Soldiers Sgt. Matthew Sidders and Trooper Jacob Switzer went to the caller’s home and were shown a document that the caller claimed was signed by a judge, McDaniel said. It called for Fulp to be taken to the hospital for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation, McDaniel said.

James Cockrell, Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner, Narcotics Seizure

The order “appears to have been signed by a judge and appeared to be valid,” he said. The soldiers did not take or copy the order, McDaniel said. The caller has since refused to release the order to Department of Public Safety officials who are trying to obtain it for their ongoing investigations, McDaniel said. He declined to say whether the documents were forged or whether the officers were investigating criminal activity on behalf of the caller.

State law allows an affected party to apply to the court for an involuntary mental health obligation if they believe someone is “seriously disabled” because of a mental illness or is likely to cause serious harm to themselves or others. If there is reasonable suspicion, a judge can order compulsory confinement and then transfer the person to a medical facility for examination or treatment.

The court system notifies law enforcement once an order is issued, and officers may be asked to help transport the person, said Rebecca Koford, a court system spokeswoman. Petitioners are not being asked to organize their own transport, she said.

Law enforcement officials may also initiate a process to have an individual evaluated if they believe they pose a danger to themselves or others. That happened at a Mat-Su school last year, when police officers demanded the involuntary enlistment of a special-needs Wasilla elementary school student – against the wishes of the boy’s parents, who were there – at an encounter at Tanaina Elementary School, where a police officer was involved. Spraying the student.

Last week, police officers went to Fulp’s home to tell her about the order and drive her to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. They acknowledged that she “did not present a severe mental health disability and was unlikely to cause serious harm to herself or others,” McDaniel said.

In her livestream, Fulp described how she was “taken to the hospital for claiming that Jesus is King and claiming that I side with Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement.” She complied with the officers’ request and the approximately 20-minute video ended when they arrived at the hospital at around 5:45 p.m. Fulp could be heard for the duration of the drive.

The soldiers escorted Fulp to the hospital, and McDaniel said they did not provide the facility with any records or orders.

McDaniel said he doesn’t know how long Fulp will be held in the hospital. She did not respond to messages left by a reporter.

A citizen contacted the Department of Public Safety Friday to report that the court order presented to the soldiers for Fulp’s involvement may not have been valid, McDaniel said. Public Safety Commissioner Cockrell ordered an investigation into the incident that day.

The department requested copies of the documents from the court so they could determine if they were valid, but McDaniel said the requests were denied. Compulsory placement orders are confidential.

On Tuesday, the court system issued a statement saying there was no valid court order for Fulp’s commitment.

“The court has not issued an order to take Ms. Fulp into custody or detain her or take her to hospital for any reason,” Koford said. “The actions of law enforcement authorities in this case were not taken or carried out pursuant to or as a result of a court order.”

Koford said she could not comment on whether a motion for a bond from Fulp had ever been brought to trial or whether such an order had been denied.

Cockrell has ordered an internal review of policies and procedures related to constraint. McDaniel said he could not disclose whether Switzer or Sidders violated department guidelines.

“We take full responsibility for this and want to reassure the public that we are taking the necessary steps to ensure incidents like this never happen again,” Cockrell said in the statement. “This type of situation is unacceptable and you have my commitment that we will do better.”

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