JUNEAU, Alaska — Family and friends of an Alaska Native man missing for more than three weeks are criticizing Juneau police over what they described as delayed search efforts.
Christopher Orcutt, 22, went missing on Aug. 25 after leaving a party in downtown Juneau. Three weeks after his disappearance, Juneau police used a team of search dogs to look for him at a campground where he had reportedly been spending his nights, but the search came up empty.
Liddie-Marie Armstrong, Orcutt’s sister, said her brother is from Washington state and that he had been visiting family and friends in Juneau, where he spent most of his youth. She said her brother is not homeless or a transient, as he is described in a news release from the Juneau Police Department.
“(An officer) was like, ‘Your brother was highly intoxicated and he runs with a crowd that’s transient,'” Armstrong told the Juneau Empire (http://bit.ly/2cPF8XO). “I don’t know if it’s because they thought he was homeless — they just thought he didn’t matter.”
Lt. Kris Sell said police did not mention the search for Orcutt publicly or solicit the public’s help sooner because they wanted to keep the area clear for the search dogs.
But Orcutt’s family and friends have questioned whether police have made his case a priority after another 22-year-old, Ryan Harvey, went missing last week and was found within a day by hikers who had heard about the search and seen Harvey’s picture.
The department had organized teams of searchers who worked through the night to find Harvey after he disappeared near the University of Alaska Southeast. Police called him a “vulnerable” missing person because he is autistic. He was found by hikers who had heard about the search and seen Harvey’s picture.
The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska brought police and members of the public together during a “Coffee with a Cop” session Tuesday to discuss the concerns. Police Chief Bryce Johnson said he wants to put an end to the rumors circulating on social media that the department cares more about missing persons cases when the missing person is white.
Johnson said the difference in the two cases had to with the information that was available to police, and not the race of the missing person.
“I think we need to do a better job at explaining those differences,” Johnson said.
Sell said the department is dedicated to finding Orcutt and that she understands the family’s frustrations.
“These families are scared and we don’t take it personally,” Sell said, adding that no one at the department meant any disrespect by describing Orcutt as a homeless man or as someone who was seen intoxicated.
Sell said police are now seeking the public’s help in finding out Orcutt’s whereabouts.
“At this point we need some sort of an indicator. … Where would he have gone?” she said.
Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com