Former prosecutor tried to warn state about Peronto
After an Alaska State Trooper is charged with trying to sexually abuse a minor, at least one woman says she saw the charges coming -- and tried to warn troopers about Vance Peronto in 2014.
Speaking by phone Tuesday, former state prosecutor Florina Altshiler says the messages 57-year-old Peronto sent to a 16-year-old girl earlier this month are similar to the ones he sent her four years ago -- messages she reported as sexual harassment.
Their exchanges are now part of a lawsuit Altshiler has taken to federal court.
In 2014, Peronto texted Altshiler at a training session on state-run sexual assault investigations.
According to Altshiler, those messages began in a friendly tone but quickly turned flirtatious.
"Trooper Peronto was much older than me, and I responded to his advance by trying to hint that I was not interested," Altshiler wrote in a court statement. "His response was to escalate the situation sending unanswered texts 'you a child. Ok then I see it, "Cuz I will sooooo Enjoy molesting you' and 'Slooooowly.'"
Altshiler showed the message to troopers, launching a sexual harassment complaint.
"Because we were at a training for sexual assault, I thought if the trooper would be crossing the line with me in this environment that he might be willing to do so to a more vulnerable population as well," Altshiler wrote. "This concerned me."
Altshiler claims that filing the complaint ultimately cost her her job. She's now suing the state for wrongful termination, and referred KTVA to her lawyer for on-camera comment.
"People have instincts based on their feelings, and she'd been prosecuting sex crimes for a long time, so someone with some experience made a complaint -- it just so happens that her complaint, unfortunately, is true," said Christopher Hoke, Altshiler's attorney in the case.
For its part, the state says Altshiler was fired for the appearance of dishonesty, after she failed to give the complete picture. The state also notes that Altshiler was uncooperative in the investigation into the complaint because she refused to turn over data from her phone.
According to court documents filed by the state, Peronto's phone records show the pair had exchanged more than 100 text messages the day before -- including one in which Altshiler asked the trooper "do you like little boys too?" and another warning "your number is making its way across bathroom stalls in the northwest."
"We don't think that her communications are the smoking-gun defense that the state believes that they are," Hoke said of Altshiler's messages to Peronto. "Any two people can have communications, and at some point, if one person believes those communications are harassment or cross the line, it's that person's obligation to step forward and make a complaint."
While there are complex arguments on both sides of this case, it's now up to a federal judge to decide whether the state made the right move -- by firing Altshiler, while letting Peronto keep his job.
Both sides presented arguments in federal court Tuesday. A trial for the lawsuit is scheduled for August, but a judge could make a ruling in the case sooner.
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