By James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 6, 2008
WASILLA, Alaska, Sept. 5 -- The state trooper at the center of Gov. Sarah Palin's "Troopergate" scandal denied Friday that he ever threatened to kill Palin's father and expressed regret that his case has exploded into the national media.
"I would like to put this behind me and move on with my life," Trooper Mike Wooten said in an interview with the Washington Post. "I don't wish ill will on anyone. I think that the nomination that Sarah got is great for the state of Alaska. I wish her good luck and the family good luck. I honestly think that everyone involved in this wanted to put this beyond us."
He also voiced pride that he had once been part of the Palin family. "I was a member of that family for five years. I cherish those memories," he said. "I will carry them with me for the rest of my life. There are several things that will be handled differently on my part, and if I could do it over differently, I would."
Wooten, however, contradicted Palin's statement that she overheard him in 2005 threaten her father during an argument with Palin's younger sister, Molly McCann, Wooten's wife at the time. Wooten noted that an internal investigation failed to sustain the death-threat allegation.
"That did not happen," Wooten said. "There was obviously arguments between Molly and I, but there were no confrontations where I threatened to kill her father. I haven't threatened to kill anyone in that family."
Wooten, 36, speaking during a break while working in the Mat-Su Valley, acknowledged making mistakes in his first few years with the Alaska State Troopers. "I was younger," he said. "I made some mistakes. I paid for those mistakes. They are behind me. I am trying to move on. My focus is on my job and my kids. I want to be the best dad that I can be and the best trooper that I can be."
Wooten said he had no direct information about efforts to have him fired after Palin became governor in 2006. "I had heard that there were still conversations and some pressure being sent forward about me being a trooper, but I didn't know anything about concrete conversations," Wooten said.
Palin is under investigation by the state legislature to determine if she pressured the state police commissioner to fire Wooten and then fired the commissioner because he did not. A senator leading the investigation said Friday that the bipartisan committee moved up the completion date of the report several weeks to Oct. 10.
Wooten and the governor's sister divorced in 2005, and the couple have been embroiled in testy child-custody fights.
On the same day that McCann filed for divorce in April 2005, the governor's father called the state troopers to report allegations of wrongdoing. Complaints filed by McCann, Sarah Palin and their family resulted in more than 20 internal affairs investigations, said his attorney, Richard Payne.
He was found to have violated state policy for using a Taser on his 10-year-old son, killing a moose while using his wife's permit, drinking a beer before driving a state vehicle and having an open beer can in the vehicle.
Wooten acknowledged the moose and the Taser incidents but denied that he ever drank beer in a patrol vehicle. The initial investigation sustained the first two incidents but not the third, said John Cyr, the trooper's union representative, who listened in on The Post's interview. The colonel in charge of the troopers later sustained the allegation, and Wooten served a five-day suspension.
Wooten said he deeply regretted the Taser incident, offering an extensive explanation. He said the device was set on "test" and contained less power than an electric fence. Wooten said he shocked boy using clips attached to his shirt and not darts fired from the gun.
He said his stepson became curious and wanted to feel the Taser in the same way that troopers tested the device on themselves during training.
"He was inquiring about the Taser and all the ins and outs about it," Wooten said. "I hooked him up to one of the training aides and turned it on for less than a second. I had him on the living room floor with pillows around him and made it as safe as possible. When it was over he thought it was great and wanted to do it all again. He was bragging about it and telling everyone in the family about it."
Jon Marc Peterson, one of Wooten's attorneys, said the Taser incident was a violation of policy because he was using state equipment for personal use. "It was not the actual Tasing of the stepson that was the issue," he said.
Wooten's wife was in the home at the time, investigative reports state. The boy's extended family, including Chuck Heath, the father of Sarah Palin, thought the story was humorous, Wooten said.
"If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't do it," Wooten said. "It's one of those situations that nobody cared about. Everybody laughed about it, until several years later and it was made to be something it wasn't. It wasn't a good idea."
Wooten said he wishes he could turn back the clock. "I was a young guy, a trooper fresh out of the military, made some bad choices, made some mistakes and paid my penance," Wooten said. "I have not made any more mistakes and I definitely have not repeated my mistakes."