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Widows Sue Government Over Murders at Coast Guard Station

Two Coast Guard HH-60J helicopters and one HH-65A helicopter sit on the tarmac of Air Station Kodiak awaiting the next call for help. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by PAC Tod A. Lyons, USCG)
Two Coast Guard HH-60J helicopters and one HH-65A helicopter sit on the tarmac of Air Station Kodiak awaiting the next call for help. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by PAC Tod A. Lyons, USCG)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The widows of two men killed in a 2012 shooting at the U.S. Coast Guard Communications Station on Kodiak Island are suing the U.S. government for negligence, according to court documents filed here early this month.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, 41, and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle, 51, were killed April 12, 2012, by James Wells, a former sailor and coastie who had worked as a Coast Guard civilian employee since 1990.

Wells was convicted of the murders and was given four life sentences in prison -- two for the murders, and two for using a firearm in a violent crime.

During the 2014 trial, Wells was painted by prosecutors as an angry and erratic employee who resented his coworkers. The Coast Guard, the new court filing says, allowed Wells to continue to work at Kodiak Island despite knowing that he was "clearly a dangerous and out of control disgruntled employee with numerous reprimands and disciplinary sanctions."

"The act of negligence, both of omission and commission, in retaining Wells as an employee form the basis of this suit and of the damages sustained," the filing says.

"The United States of America placed Belisle and Hopkins in harm's way by assigning Hopkins to be Wells' supervisor and appointing Belisle to take over the duties and tasks that Wells formerly performed and subsequently refused to perform as a disgruntled and recalcitrant employee," it states.

The suit, filed by Nicola Belisle and Deborah Hopkins in the U.S. District Court in Alaska, seeks over $1.1 million in damages for each woman and their children.

An attorney for Belisle and Hopkins did not respond by deadline to a request for comment.

The Coast Guard "is aware of the suit filed by Mrs. Belisle and Mrs. Hopkins, but I'm unable to comment on ongoing litigation," Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said in an email.

The suit was filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows private citizen to sue the U.S. government for wrongs committed by federal employees.

--Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amybushatz.

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