Nome Policeman Charged In Shooting


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Keith
October 26, 2003, 02:04 PM
Nome officer charged in killing
ARRESTED: Matthew Clay Owens is accused of killing Sonya Ivanoff.


By TATABOLINE BRANT and ZAZ HOLLANDER
Anchorage Daily News

(Published: October 26, 2003)
A Nome police officer who witnesses said has a background of picking up women in his patrol car has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the August slaying of a popular 19-year-old woman, Alaska State Troopers said Saturday.

Court papers detailing the case against Matthew Clay Owens, 28, say Sonya Ivanoff was shot in the back of the head with a .22-caliber firearm. The papers say that two witnesses saw Ivanoff get into a Nome police vehicle around 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 11. Ivanoff's roommate reported her missing on Aug. 12.

Florence Habros, one of the witnesses who saw Ivanoff get into the car, said Saturday in a telephone interview that she went to Nome Police Chief Ralph Taylor with her observations when she heard Ivanoff was missing. The chief took her report and said he would call, and she never heard from police until three weeks later, she said.

Taylor acknowledged late Saturday he took the initial information from Habros, but he wouldn't comment on why it took three weeks to get back in touch with her.

Taylor said he had been aware for about a month that Owens was a suspect and Owens had been on leave for actions in other incidents, which the chief would not detail. He said Owens had been on the nine-member department since 2000.

Troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said Owens was fired Friday.

Troopers arrested Owens at his home Saturday evening, Wilkinson said. He was being held Saturday night at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Owens denied during the investigation that he picked up Ivanoff in his police car, according to the charging papers.

Ivanoff's parents, Larry and Maggie, reached by phone late Saturday in Unalakleet, were relieved that an arrest had been made. They said they heard the news from troopers, relatives and Taylor.

"For him to be a policeman, ... it's just hard to believe that someone like that could do something to someone who is just starting their life," Larry Ivanoff said.

Maggie Ivanoff said she was shocked at first that a policeman was arrested but said people are people, no matter what they do for a living. "I'm so happy it's just over and done with. I'm so sad it had to happen to my daughter," she said.

Tom Mostoller, who is married to Sonya Ivanoff's sister, said from Nome that he and his wife are relieved. "I don't know what to say. It's been a long couple of months. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end."

Ivanoff's body was found naked, except for a sock on her left foot, in willow bushes at an abandoned gold mine inside Nome city limits on Aug. 13. She had bruises on her face, neck and chest and blood on her face but did not appear to have been sexually assaulted, according to the charges.

Nome police initially investigated the slaying, but troopers abruptly took over the probe on Oct. 1 at the request of the Nome Police Department. The change was due to the fact that they had more resources, troopers said. Taylor told The Nome Nugget at the time, "Based on information we have and the rumors flying around town, we can't do the job anymore."

According to details of the troopers investigation laid out in the charges, Owens often picked up women in his patrol car. "Several of these women also stated that Owens would follow them while they were walking and drive ahead of them to cut them off," the charges say.

Two women told investigators they had sex with Owens while he was on duty on more than one occasion and the sex sometimes occurred in his patrol car, according to the charges.

Ivanoff was a star basketball player and honor role student in Unalakleet before moving about a year ago to Nome, where she worked as a secretary. Her slaying rattled both communities, angering some people and stirring a measure of fear among others.

"One of the things that makes it such a tough thing, the implications are that a police officer committed this crime," Taylor said. "The community must have a trust in the Police Department. No matter what, it's a horrible thing that this trust could have been violated."

The charging papers show Owens made several peculiar moves during the investigation that raised suspicions he was involved.

For example, he showed up at the abandoned gold dredges on a four-wheeler with his 4-year-old son when Ivanoff's body was discovered, even though he was not working at the time and no radio traffic disclosed the location.

Later, Owens and another Nome police officer were asked to fly to Anchorage to be questioned by troopers and take a polygraph test. Owens never showed. He told a sergeant that Taylor had told him he could reschedule, a claim Taylor denies, the charges say.

Owens is also accused of lying about a police car theft in Nome on Sept. 23. The marked patrol car was stolen from the department's parking lot early in the morning.

Owens, who was working at the time, said he found the car in a gravel pit and told his superiors that he heard gunshots and dived for the ground, according to the charges. A few days after the incident, an envelope was discovered in the same patrol car with Ivanoff's ID card and a letter by someone who implied he was Ivanoff's killer. The letter "warned the police that he would kill them if they got too close to him," charges say.

Owens' story about the car theft changed in small ways each time he was interviewed about it, according to the charges. After reviewing those interviews, as well as conversations with other officers, evidence at the scene and the contents of the letter, ABI and crime scene reconstructionists "determined that the theft and recovery of NPD vehicle #321 was a staged event, designed to divert the investigation," charges say.

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Standing Wolf
October 26, 2003, 07:52 PM
Commoners don't need firearms. They can just dial 911 to summon the police to protect them.

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