Group seeks resignation of American Legion leaders over support for pardon of sex offender

Resolution to be considered by Legion’s mid-winter meeting next week

By: - January 5, 2023 4:30 am
pardons board protest

A group formed to object to the pardon of a convicted sex offender in September, pictured here protesting outside the Nebraska State Capitol, is backing a change in state law to ensure crime victims are notified of such hearings. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A group upset with the show of support by Nebraska American Legion leaders for a pardon of a convicted sex offender has ramped up its efforts to get those officials removed from office.

The group called “What About Us?” plans to submit a resolution at the state Legion’s midwinter meeting, scheduled for Jan. 13 in Norfolk, calling for the removal from office of State Commander Don Suchy and a handful of other officials.

One hour has been set aside by the Legion’s 28-member executive committee to debate the resolution, which follows an informal call for the officials to resign in November.

Wearing caps against policy

Beth Linn of Scottsbluff, an organizer with the group and a former state Legion commander, said the officials violated Legion guidelines by wearing their official Legion caps at the Sept. 19 meeting of the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Such caps, she said, cannot be worn at such judicial hearings.

Linn added that the show of support by 15-20 Legion members for convicted sex offender John Arias was done “in secret” and should not have happened without approval of all Legion members.

“We feel what they did benefited one,” she said. “When you have had a multitude of not just females but males who were sexually assaulted in the military it was like a slap in their face by doing this.”

Suchy, when reached on Wednesday, declined to comment.

Was a ‘model citizen’

In earlier comments to the Examiner, Suchy has said that Arias, who is a state liaison with a Legion motorcycle riders group, had been a “model citizen” and a mentor to other veterans to reform their lives since his release from prison. Suchy added that the Legion does not condone violence and that Arias might have been a victim of overzealous prosecution back in 1993 — a claim his ex-wife has rejected.

Gov. Pete Ricketts chaired the Nebraska Board of Pardons in September and voted to pardon convicted sex offender John Arias for a 1993 assault along with Attorney General Doug Peterson. Secretary of State Bob Evnen, foreground, voted “no.” (Jazari Kual/Nebraska Examiner)

At the Pardons Board meeting, members voted 2-1 — with Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson voting “yes” — to grant Arias a pardon. It is a formal act of forgiveness that allows his name to be removed from the state’s sex offender registry and restores his voting and gun rights.

Arias was convicted in a violent sexual assault of his estranged wife in 1993.

In his official application for a pardon, he said he wanted to remove the “stigma” of being listed on the state’s sex offender registry, which he maintained had led to harassment and blocked him from serving in higher office with the Legion.

Linn, who served as state commander in 2016-17, said it will require only a majority vote of the executive committee to remove Suchy and others from their posts. She said that there are members of the committee who support “What About Us?” and that this effort is not just a group of “vindictive females.”

Seeks suspension of one official

The group is also seeking the removal of five others, including Arias, from their Legion posts, and is asking for the suspension of a Legion employee, State Adjutant Dave Salak.

Salak, according to Linn, supported the show of support for Arias. Salak, when reached Wednesday, declined to comment other to say he wasn’t involved.

Beyond getting the officials removed, Linn said the group hopes eventually to change the guidelines for granting a pardon.

Arias’ ex-wife, in an interview with the Examiner, said she was upset that she wasn’t notified of the Pardons Board hearing and allowed to testify.

Ex-wife ‘feared for her life’

Jody Snogren said she feared for her life and had opposed her former husband’s early release from prison on parole. She said he has never expressed remorse to her for what he did.

At the Pardons Board hearing in September, all three board members commented on the show of support from the Legion members, who sat as a group in the front of the room wearing their Legion caps.

Despite that, Secretary of State Bob Evnen voted against a pardon for Arias, saying that the case involved a serious crime and that Arias had not “come to grips” with what he did.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.