FAIRBANKS — A Tanana man was sentenced to eight years in prison Thursday for tampering with evidence after the shooting deaths of two Alaska State Troopers last year.
Arvin Kangas, 59, was found guilty by a Nenana jury in April of two counts of evidence tampering for manipulating the bodies and guns of Sgt. Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich after they were allegedly killed by Kangas’ son Nathanial. Kangas also was found guilty of a third count of evidence tampering for destroying marijuana plants growing in the home at the time.
Johnson and Rich flew to Tanana on May 1, 2014, to arrest the elder Kangas for threatening Village Public Safety Officer Mark Haglin the night before. Kangas resisted arrest and Nathanial allegedly opened fire with a rifle, killing the troopers.
Both troopers wore personal audio recording devices that continued to record for hours after they were killed. In one portion played at Kangas’ trial, he could be heard muttering “This is sick, man,” as he tampered with the evidence.
Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle applied three out of four of the possible aggravators — which are circumstances which can lengthen the sentence for a particular crime — and gave Kangas the maximum sentence allowed by law.
Lyle cited the audio recordings as he enumerated his reasons for applying the aggravators.
“As Arvin Kangas himself said, during or right after he manipulated the bodies and altered the weapons and their positions, ‘This is sick, man.’ The court agrees. The tampering was conducted in callous disregard for the honor and dignity of the lifeless bodies of Trooper Sgt. Johnson and Trooper Rich, the victims of a double homicide,” Lyle said.
The evidence tampering made it appear as if both troopers had acted aggressively when they in fact had not, Lyle said. This “tarnished their reputations” and had a “devastating emotional impact on their families,” according to Lyle.
Lyle characterized Kangas as an “abusive, aggressive, irrational” man with an “ingrained pattern of belligerence toward police” and a “nearly non-existent rehabilitation potential.”
“This court has no doubt that if he’s at liberty, he will act as he has always acted,” Lyle said. “He needs a long period of incarceration.”
Kangas was charged with assaulting a police officer in 1977; resisting arrest, damaging property and assaulting two police officers in 1986; disorderly conduct, eluding and evading police and reckless driving in 1987; reckless driving in 1991; assaulting his brother in 1997; refusing to submit to a chemical breath test or to perform field sobriety tests in 2002; disorderly conduct in 2003; failure to take a breath test in connection with a DUI in 2012; and the fear assault on VPSO Haglin in 2014, according to Lyle.
During his incarceration for the evidence tampering charges, Kangas has refused to follow instructions from correctional officers, engaged in a group demonstration at the jail, thrown his food tray out of his cell, threatened someone with bodily harm, destroyed jail property, used racial slurs and urinated on the floor, Lyle said.
Lyle deliberated for about 30 minutes before sentencing Kangas to five years with one year suspended for manipulating Johnson’s weapon, five years with one year suspended for manipulating Rich’s weapon and six months for removing the marijuana plants.
The gun manipulation sentences will run consecutively and the marijuana sentence will be served concurrently, giving Kangas a 10 year sentence with eight years to serve. Kangas will serve 10 years probation upon his release.
Lyle said the imposition of suspended time and probation was essential because of Kangas’ history and unlikelihood to change.
“If he’s not given suspended time, there is nothing to enforce probationary terms,” Lyle said.
Nathanial Kangas is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 9. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder, one count of third-degree assault and two counts of evidence tampering, all felonies.
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.