Gov. Dunleavy forgives victim's debt that caused garnishing of PFDs
An Anchorage man says it feels like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders now that Gov. Mike Dunleavy has forgiven a debt some say he should never have owed in the first place.
In 2001, Stephan Hansell was one of four boys who were waiting for the school day to begin at Mountain View Elementary when they were slashed by a man wielding a knife. The man who did it, Jason Pritchard, had a history of mental illness and had talked about hurting children.
The attack left 8-year-old Hansell with a wound on his that required multiple surgeries. As a 26-year-old adult, he carries a scar that runs from his hairline to his chin.
Hansell said he tries not to dwell on that day, but there’s one thing that keeps bringing it back to the forefront. For the last few years the state has garnished his Permanent Fund dividend check. Until recently, Hansell said, he had no idea why.
“Why was I being attacked again? Why was I being pursued by the state? Why were they taking stuff from me of all people, especially when it had to do with what happened then?” he asked.
Hansell learned his name was on a civil lawsuit his parents and other victims' families had filed against the state after the attack. When they lost the suit, Hansell and his parents were required to pay back part of the state’s attorney fees. Their bill totaled $24,777.
Hansell’s situation was detailed in a recent article in the Anchorage Daily News that both Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson said they read independently. After investigating, Clarkson said he came to the conclusion the situation needed to be fixed. Dunleavy agreed.
When Hansell reached out to the governor’s office earlier this week to see if something could be done, he got a message back inviting him to a meeting in Dunleavy's Anchorage office Friday morning. It was there that Hansell learned his debt had been forgiven.
“We thought it just didn’t make sense,” said Dunleavy. “It sounded wrong that the state was garnishing the Permanent Fund dividend from an individual that was 8 years old when this incident happened and so, therefore, really didn’t have a say in the lawsuit that was filed and which this garnishment in the end was the result of.”
A document issued by the Department of Law shows Hansell was granted a Notice of Satisfaction of Judgment, meaning future checks will not be garnished because of the lawsuit. Clarkson said the state would also look into whether to refund any of the money that has already been paid.
For his part, Hansell said he is both grateful and surprised that the issue could be resolved so soon. But mostly what he feels is relief.
“This won’t be haunting me anymore,” he said. “That ghost has been taken off my back.”
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