Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Officer Involved Shooting Documents Released; Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations Meets

By Janine Unsoeld

The Thurston County Prosecutor's Office released today a large portion of the documents related to the investigation into the Olympia police officer involved shooting on May 21st of two African-American men in Olympia.  

That information can be viewed at and includes transcriptions of witness statements and Olympia police officer Ryan Donald, who shot Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin.

A statement today on the Olympia Police Department website says:

In our promise to be transparent with our community we are relaying this information and link. The Prosecutor has told us that this is the majority of the information, although a few pieces of the investigation are still under review. Please note that this is not the Prosecutor’s decision or resolution on this case. The Prosecutor’s Office will publicly announce when his office has completed the review and made a decision.

The Olympia Police Department, like our community, is reading and digesting the investigative reports that were just released. We are all patiently waiting for this process to be completed. We appreciate the thoughtful and detailed work that the independent investigative team and the Prosecutor’s Office is conducting with this important matter for our community.

If you have questions about this material, please contact the Thurston County Prosecutor Office at 360.786.5540.

Jim Johnson, a resident in the Olympia area near Cooper Point Road and Langridge where the shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin took place on May 21, heard the shots that evening. He was present at tonight’s first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations.

Johnson was one of many community members who spoke out at a May 26 Olympia City Council meeting devoted to the shooting.  

His testimony to the council was transcribed by this reporter in a May 26 article at Little Hollywood, In that testimony, five days after the shooting, he revealed that neither he or his wife or neighbors had yet been interviewed by the police.

Speaking with Johnson after tonight’s Ad Hoc Committee meeting, Johnson said he was aware his witness report was part of what was released by the Prosecutor’s Office this afternoon, but has not had a chance to read it yet.  He said that the day after he gave his testimony to the city council, the police came to his house and he was formally interviewed.

Asked what he thought of tonight’s meeting of the committee, he showed this reporter his public comment sheet. It said, “This is appalling – two hours and you did not even schedule the next meeting (the purpose of which is to schedule the first opportunity for the public to comment).”

Above: Ad Hoc Committee on Community and Police Relations Member Curt Pavola introduces himself to the audience. In his day job, he works for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and served on the Olympia City Council from 2001-2005.  He said he came to Olympia when he about 25 years old as a gay man, at a time when there were no laws for the protection against discrimination in housing and employment. He felt welcomed here and worked with others for the passage of those laws, but also recognizes that the spirit of a law is not necessarily implemented. He said that the city’s comprehensive plan, particularly the chapter on policing, is a good platform for implementing and expressing our community values.

Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations

The first meeting of a city organized committee of five citizens was held tonight at Garfield Elementary School in the multi-purpose room. The group is composed of Reiko Callner, Kerensa Mabwa, Curt Pavola, Clinton Petty, Alejandro Rugarcia, and ex-officio member Lt. Aaron Jelcick of the Olympia Police Department.

Hearing the speakers was difficult at times for many audience members. A loud fan went on intermittently throughout the meeting, and some members of the group had their backs to the audience. About 40 people were in attendance at the beginning of the meeting. The meeting was audiotaped by the City of Olympia.

The group was tasked by the Olympia City Council with receiving information from the community about methods for engaging underrepresented and minority groups on policing practices and to seek input on a process for engaging the public on implementing police-worn body cameras.

The two hour meeting this evening focused on introductions, a review of the open public meetings act and public records act, a review of the committee charter, and discussion about future meeting dates and locations.

It was very late into the meeting that the Ad Hoc Committee co-chair Reiko Callner acknowledged the elephant in the room: the shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin by an Olympia police officer.

“We’re the only group asking these (police-related) questions right now…we need to listen to all of it even if it’s not on task with our charter,” said committee member co-chair Curt Pavola.

The group anticipates meeting again in about a week and a half but did not set a date, time or location. Pavola said he hoped the group could meet in different locations around the community and get different people to drop in from area neighborhoods.

Callner acknowledged at the end of the meeting that the acoustics of the room were difficult, and microphones were needed for future meetings. She said that city hall can accommodate those needs as well as televising meetings through Thurston Community Television.

It was also suggested that the public should be asked their thoughts about locations and future forum topics.

Community Members Take The Lead

A group called Unity in the Community was organized in response to the shooting and will have a meeting on September 10, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at the Olympia Center, Room A. The purpose of the meeting is to provide the community an opportunity to react to and discuss the outcome of the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office findings, anticipated in early September. 

“If this had happened to a couple of blonde, blue eyed kids, this (the shooting) probably wouldn’t have happened, so that started (the group), but it’s also an opportunity to have a series of conversations about institutional racism and oppression, said Kathy Baros Friedt, a member of Unity in the Community.

“....It’s past time, she continued. There are so many things right about having this conversation about race that didn’t exist before….and the faith community is socially engaged and more inclusive than ever before.” 

For more information about the Olympia Police Department, the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations, and community conversations about the shooting in Olympia on May 21, go to Little Hollywood at and type key words into the search engine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Olympia Police Present Strategic Plan to City Council

Above: Olympia Police Department Chief Ronnie Roberts greets Kingston, 7, before tonight's presentation by the department on its 2015-2020 strategic plan.  

Ad Hoc Committee Members Present at Tonight's Presentation

By Janine Unsoeld

Ever since the shooting of two young African American men on May 21 by an Olympia police officer stunned the South Sound community, momentum has grown for community conversations around racial issues. 

While the event caused national news to suddenly become local and deeply personal, some in the community live the conversation every day, experiencing prejudice, profiling, and discrimination. For some people of color, it was a question of not if, but when, an act of police violence would occur.

At a community forum last night at Traditions Fair Trade, Raphael Ruiz gave an update on a group he is involved with called Full Circle United. The group, composed of people of color, is actively organizing and fundraising to help Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin with their recovery, both physically and emotionally. 

Bryson Chaplin is in a wheelchair.  Ruiz said that doctors are not sure they can remove a bullet that is still lodged in his spine.  Chaplin’s brother, Andre Thompson and his sister Jasmine were in the audience last night, but did not speak.

Contrast that discussion with a city council study session meeting tonight featuring a nearly 45 minute presentation by the Olympia Police Department (OPD) on its 2015-2020 strategic plan, and the meeting could be described as restrained.

Staff went out of their way to avoid any mention of controversial issues but effectively spoke to their goals and priorities, challenges and opportunities.

Several interested citizens, including three members of the city’s new Ad Hoc Committee on Community and Police Relations, listened to Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts and Olympia Police Department staff members.

Roberts was hired in January 2011, and inherited the challenge of high turnover within the department due to the numerous retirements of officers and staff. Since 2011, the department has hired 30 officers, seven sergeants, five corrections officers, four and a half time administrators, and four managers.

Roberts described the 120 day hiring process for officers and said he is largely hiring people from the local community. He said they have hired a railroad engineer, a barista, a military officer, and even a member of a Christian rock band.

“Our department is changing, and we’re future focused,” said Roberts.

Demonstrating the different methods of community engagement, Lt. Paul Lower said that the department attends events such as neighborhood picnics and organized the popular Where’s Melnik? scavenger hunt around Melnik, the K-9 officer. 

The department is also using social media tools and has an active presence on Twitter, Next Door, Instagram, and their website. Lt. Lower also said that they are looking into a video mobile app.

Describing how the department uses its two new school resource officers and getting into the schools in different ways, officers are going to start participating with the handing out of awards to school crossing guards. He said they were also seeking nontraditional venues to speak with the community.

Internally, the department is using technology: 17 different software packages from tracking patrols, investigations, and crime prevention to records management and information sharing.

The days are gone where an officer gets out his or her pad and pencil to write out a ticket. Every officer has a computer in their car and they are essentially unable to work without their computer, said administrative services manager Laura Wohl. Violator information is entered into the computer, and a ticket is printed out in the squad car.

This fall, members of the public will be able to download their own police-generated accident report and send it to their insurance agency, run crime maps for their neighborhood or anywhere in the city, register their bicycle, and report some crimes.

The only time body cameras were mentioned was when Wohl described the possible future use of technology to interact with the community.

“….From body cameras to record public police interactions to access social services you may need, the department will continue to evaluate and implement the tools that can have a positive impact on public safety,” said Wohl.

Jail Manager Chandra Brady gave an informative presentation with statistics on how the department is using jail resources by prioritizing bookings based on charges, which are mostly assault, theft, and driving under the influence. The department is also being more selective about warrant confirmations such as domestic violence, harassment, and driving under the influence.

Above: Kerensa Mabwa outside Olympia City Hall after tonight's Olympia Police Department presentation.

Ad Hoc Committee Members Present

Three members of the city’s new Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations were present at tonight’s meeting: Curt Pavola, Kerensa Mabwa, and Clinton Petty.

Coming from Chicago, Kerensa Mabwa moved to Olympia ten years ago. Mabwa is currently the community engagement coordinator for Garden Raised Bounty (GRuB), a local non-profit that works with youth and people with low-incomes to create food solutions.

Interviewed after the OPD presentation, Mabwa says she’s excited to be invited into the conversation.

“It’s a big opportunity for people to do some deep listening…this opportunity offers initializing energy….We can benefit by riding the momentum of the conversations that have already begun. I’m curious, and it will be a learning opportunity for me as well to better our community, to learn, respond and communicate in new ways….” said Mabwa.

Above: Clinton Petty after tonight's Olympia Police Department's 2015-2020 strategic plan presentation.

Clinton Petty is a Vietnam veteran and a retired US Army Division Command Sergeant Major. His professional career includes service for the State of Washington. While in state service, Petty was twice awarded the Distinguished Manager award by two governors.

Also interviewed after the OPD presentation, Petty said that things today don’t have to be what they are tomorrow. 

As an ad hoc committee member, Petty says he is interested in hearing from the public.

“….They want to get into what their experiences are… and that’s not bad, we should be trying to get into an understanding of how things can be better. Those experiences don’t have to be what they are tomorrow, and I believe if we take that, and begin to look at it proactively, we don’t have to be another Ferguson, if we do the right thing and put the right process in place. And the other thing is, we should work together….The governor of the state needs to understand that we should be the model. We shouldn’t be waiting for somebody to present it for us…. And you know, we shouldn’t do it in a piecemeal fashion, and then get to a week or a month later, and nothing has changed. I just see that what we do will be a benefit to our children and our grandchildren, and by the way, the police force, the way I look at it, they’re our sons and daughters too, and so often we talk about that as if they’re not….They are our children,” said Perry.

Community Members Take the Lead

Many individuals and organizations have taken the lead in developing opportunities for constructive conversation around racial justice.

Leslie Cushman is a member of the United Churches of Olympia, and attended tonight’s police department presentation and last night’s community forum at Traditions Fair Trade.

With her spouse Jody Smith, she is working alongside their minister Tammy Stampfli and Carol McKinley from the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation to keep their congregations engaged with racial justice issues.

Earlier this summer, United Churches of Olympia hosted a three part film series, Race: The Power of an Illusion, and held discussions that drew over 100 people. The group also helped convene the Michael Brown memorial on the Capital Campus on August 9. 

“I am going to stay involved in this policing issue, and the broader racial justice issue, which includes a broad array of topics, including jails, government services, education, land use, and climate change,” said Cushman.

“We have been fortunate to have partnered with the YWCA on these events….their national mission is to eliminate racism. That is inspiring to me. The approach we are taking is a balance between the need to educate ourselves on white privilege and the need to get directly engaged in the police accountability issues.  We will be involved in observing and providing input to the Ad Hoc committee.  We are very aware that at this point in time, silence is akin to complicity.  We stress the need to be willing to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable in order to tackle these topics, and we have heard loud and clear from people of color in our community that they are afraid.  This speaks volumes.”

For more information about the Olympia Police Department, the May 21 shooting of two African American men by an Olympia police officer and community conversations, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search engine.

Olympia Police, Community Conversations Continue

Above: Jose Gutierrez, Jr., a faculty member at South Puget Sound Community College, speaks Monday night at a forum discussing personal experiences and perspectives about police issues. To his left are Tony Benton of Rainier Valley Radio, Seattle, and Jeremy Newton, faculty member at St. Martin’s University. Other panel members included Olympia community activists and candidates for public office, Rafael Ruiz and Marco Rosaire Rossi. The event was held at Traditions Fair Trade in downtown Olympia and was coordinated by Ruth Brownstein, KAOS 89.3 FM Community Radio general manager at The Evergreen State College. It was the first in a series of community conversations called “Tea and Talk.” 

The room was packed with community members voicing their thoughts about police and community relations, which included the May 21 shooting in Olympia of two young African American men, Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, by Olympia Police Officer Ryan Donald. Andre Thompson and his sister Jasmine were in the audience but did not speak. Brownstein said that she chose this topic because “it was long overdue that we talk to each other and get to know each other as a community.” Brownstein also said that she invited representatives from the Olympia Police Department, the Lacey Police Department, and The Evergreen State College campus police department, and all declined the opportunity to participate.

By Janine Unsoeld

The Olympia Police Department will give council members an oral report called, “Creating a Leading Organization” at a city council study session on Tuesday, August 25, at 5:30 p.m. at Olympia City Hall, 601 4th Avenue East.

Presenters will discuss the police department’s strategic initiatives through 2020 and include Olympia Police Department Chief Ronnie Roberts; Lt. Paul Lower; Jail Manager Chandra Brady; Acting Lt. Rich Allen; and the department’s administrative services manager, Laura Wohl.

There is no city council meeting scheduled following the study session.

Wednesday: Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations

The first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations will be held on Wednesday, August 26, 5:00 p.m., at Garfield Elementary, 325 Plymouth St. NW, in the multi-purpose room.

The agenda states that public comment will not be allowed.

The group will review and discuss roles and responsibilities of the committee, review the committee charter, and discuss future meeting dates and locations.

At the Tuesday, August 18 city council meeting, Mayor Stephen Buxbaum made a surprise announcement about the upcoming meeting of the ad hoc committee on police and community relations group and named additional participants, providing brief biographies of each member.

At the meeting, Mayor Buxbaum said that the committee will meet up to six months and have up to five community forums within that timeframe. He said that within approximately two months, the committee will have a work session with the whole council, and two work sessions with the council before the end of the year.

The public is invited to attend the meetings, but he said not all meetings will be open for public comment. Committee members will have city email accounts and a website will be established for the committee. There will be a method for the public to leave comments for the committee via the city website.

Although Mayor Buxbaum said that this information will be announced on the city website, as of this writing (Tuesday, August 25, at 1:15 a.m.), it is still not available on the city website.

A city webpage on the police shooting was last updated since August 6.

In that update, the Olympia Police Department said: The Critical Incident Team has completed their investigation and transferred it to the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office. The Olympia Police Department does not have a copy of the investigative report. The Prosecutor will review the report contents, consider the case details and request any additional follow-up work needed. Once the Prosecutor has completed his review, he will publicly issue his findings as well as any criminal charges. The Olympia Police Department will learn the results of this investigation along with our community at that time.

Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations Charter

Mayor Buxbaum and Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones have been charged by the council with enlisting the help of five community members who would act as a “convener group.”  

Exact language of the charter is as follows:

The group’s purpose is to develop opportunities for broad-based and inclusive engagement with the community about police and community relations.

The specific charge of the task force is to work as a team, in collaboration with City of Olympia staff and local non-profit organizations, and carry out up to five community forums to receive information and share perspectives about methods for engaging under-represented and minority groups on policing practices in order to bridge understanding between Olympia’s law enforcement officers and the public and seek input on a preferred process for engaging the public on implementing police-worn body cameras.

Engagement methods will include community briefings by city staff and other criminal justice professionals, small group discussions, and other direct public engagement strategies.

Outcomes: Within six months of appointment, provide a summary of what was heard that might assist Olympia in achieving its goals as a transparent and inclusive organization.

Challenges for success: Achieving broad based community input and understanding; Attaining adequate resources to support the ad hoc committee; Staying within the charter of the Committee; Delivering results within the appointed time frame.
The Comprehensive Plan establishes a broad policy framework for Olympia’s public services that emphasizes the importance of integrated and interdisciplinary approaches to service delivery. Criminal justice issues can’t be addressed solely through policing. Partnerships between police, the courts, schools, the religious community and many other organizations are essential to addressing the sources of much of the crime in our community. Public engagement is a critical part of this work.

As stated in the Public Services section of our Comprehensive Plan [GS15]:

The citizens of Olympia are empowered as partners in solving community problems.

The Ad Hoc Committee is tasked with identifying strategies to advance the following three Comprehensive Plan Public Service Goals:

PS15.1: Form interdisciplinary partnerships with individuals and groups in the community to address policing issues.

PS15.2: Involve citizens as we look for ways to reduce repeat crimes, and use education to prevent crime.

PS15.3: Emphasize the need for our police force to have positive, day-to-day interaction with the public that encourages collaboration on problem-solving, rather than responding only to crises. Regular contact between the police and citizens helps strengthen working relationships and makes policing more effective.

To this end, the purpose of the task force is:

To engage the public and 1) provide them with information on current activities and best practices, 2) listen for opportunities for improvement, and 3) create grounds for positive and productive engagement between people who have different experiences and perspectives.

Ad Hoc Committee on Community and Police Relations

Ms. Reiko Callner
Reiko Callner is a local attorney and human rights activist.  She is the current Olympia Chapter President of the Japanese American Citizens’ League.  She is the former Chair of the State Human Rights Commission. 

In her day job, she is employed as the Executive Director for the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct.  She worked in Thurston County as a prosecutor for ten years and has represented Child Protective Services.  Her emphasis in prosecution was on domestic violence issues, diversity and hate crimes.  She wrote the hate crimes ordinance for the City of Olympia, and has prepared and presented a domestic violence program for the Department of Ecology, workplace violence programs for state and local agencies, and diversity programs for law enforcement agencies. 

She was an active member of Hands Off Washington!, a GLBT rights organization in the 1990s.  She is one of the founding members of Unity in the Community, an anti-hate crime organization, volunteers with a variety of civil rights organizations, and performs with a Polynesian dance group. 

She was the recipient of the YWCA’s Woman of Achievement Award for Social Justice in 2000 and the Capital City Pride Day Award in 2005.

Ms. Kerensa Mabwa
Kerensa is the Community Engagement Coordinator for Garden Raised Bounty (GRuB), a local non-profit that works with youth and people with low-incomes to create empowering individual & community food solutions. Kerensa has 20 years of experience in the nonprofit world including work on parenting & child welfare, affordable housing, project evaluation, management & fundraising. She is passionate about helping people to tap into their innate strengths to live successful and sustainable lives. Kerensa is deeply inspired by holding space for group collaboration and multicultural awareness.

Mr. Curt Pavola
Curt Pavola is a program manager at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Previously, Curt worked for the Association of Washington Cities and was responsible for policy development, educational programming for city officials.

In January 2000 Curt was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Olympia City Council. In November 2001 he was elected to a full four-year term that ended in December 2005. 
As a community advocate, Curt worked many years for political campaigns at the federal, state and local levels, while also pursuing non-discrimination and equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. 

As part of this community organizing work, Curt created non-profit organizations, led advocacy projects and interacted with the news media and elected officials, while also maintaining a broader focus on community outreach and education.

Mr. Clinton Eugene Petty
Mr. Petty is a Vietnam veteran and a retired US Army Division Command Sergeant Major. His professional career includes service for the State of Washington as the director of operations for the Employment Security Department and Director of the Washington State Unemployment Insurance Program. He retired from state service in 2001. While in state service Mr. Petty was twice awarded the Distinguished Manager award by two Governors.

Mr. Petty currently serves as Trustee, Director of Operation and Training and Facility Planning for Risen Faith Fellowship Church since its inception in 1989. He is married to Pastor Charlotte Beeler Petty. He is a father, a grandfather, and  a great-grandfather.

Mr. Alejandro Rugarcia
Mr. Rugarcia was born in Mexico City and immigrated to the United States and became a citizen in 2009.  He completed his Masters of Public Administration at the Evergreen State College in 2012. He has worked for multiple non-profit organizations and is currently employed by the Olympia Food Coop and also serves as a member of the Coop’s Board of Directors.  Mr. Rugarcia desires to build a diverse, strong and safe community based on respect, understanding and inclusion.

Ex Officio Member: Lt. Aaron Jelcick
Lieutenant Jelcick has served as a police officer for the Olympia Police Department for 22 years. His positions have included service as a patrol officer, a field training officer, emergency driving instructor, walking patrol division, detective for the Thurston County Narcotics Task force, a general crimes detective, a patrol sergeant, the detective sergeant, and now the special operations lieutenant.  Prior to joining the Olympia Police Department, he attended Washington State University, where he completed a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree in criminal justice. 

For more information about the Olympia Police Department, go to past articles on Little Hollywood,, and use the search button to type in key words.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Electrical Needs For a Marijuana Grow Operation

Above: Electrical lines at sunset in a northeast Olympia neighborhood off of Puget Street. 

By Janine Unsoeld

On Friday, August 21, Little Hollywood sat down with representatives of Puget Sound Energy to discuss the Olympia case involving a marijuana grow operation in an Olympia northeast neighborhood. PSE has been in contact with both customers involved in the dispute.

Puget Sound Energy is responsible for the utility connections to homes and businesses.
Amy Tousley, municipal liaison manager for Thurston County, and Bryan McConaughy, senior local government affairs representative, discussed what they knew about the case, answered questions, and explained their next steps.

Puget Sound Energy has told the City of Olympia that the repair work done on a line after three utility line fires was safe, and that PSE was continuing to monitor the condition of the line. PSE concluded that the line fire cause was due to the age of, or damage to, the line.

Tousley said she will give the Olympia city council an update on the situation at their September 1 meeting.

“Our business is having a safe system…and to work closely with cities and counties to see what we can do to help them,” said Tousley. 

Above: The transformer in question in a northeast Olympia neighborhood.

According to PSE, a PSE employee made a service call to Melinda Spencer’s house and her neighbor’s several months ago because Spencer’s neighbor asked if he could pay PSE to upgrade the transformer. The tenant indicated that he didn’t think the service line or transformer serving the home could support the equipment used in his marijuana grow operation.

That PSE employee reported seeing a large number of marijuana plants, much more than what would be considered as a collective grow. The tenant also said to the employee that he intended to expand his operation to a detached garage.

The tenant never followed through with paying to have a larger transformer installed, so the original transformer, which serves six homes on the street, is still in place. In addition, the service line, which is sized for residential electrical loads, continues to serve that property.

On August 15, a volt recording meter was installed on the Spencer’s house. It measures voltage and amperage. The levels were normal at the Spencer’s house, and well within what is called a “voltage swing,” determined to be 114 - 126 volts.

On Thursday, August 20, a volt meter was installed on the neighbor’s house in question. The results will be available next Wednesday, August 26. The volt meter is put on the transformer right on the live line to get the best data available to see if that transformer is overheating. The volt meter data will measure whether or not too much load is being pulled through the wire, and whether or not the wire is too small.

“The transformer is large enough but the wire may not be because of what may be pulled through,” said Tousley.

If an upgrade is needed and if the wire needs to be changed out, then it is the customer’s responsibility. If the customer is a renter and the renter leaves, the property owner would bear that cost.

“Our lineman was taken to a detached garage and was told there might be an expansion into that structure. Whether or not that has already occurred, they have already disclosed their intention, and that would very much require more electricity,” said Tousley. 

“PSE is taking action on this. We are doing the monitoring and testing to make sure we provide ourselves the best information so we can find out what the next step is, otherwise, we’re just going to be making a lot of speculation based on what we think might be occurring….This is an issue we’ll be seeing more of throughout our region. It’s probably something we need to put together a team and say, ok, this is going to be happening…how are we going to address this? Do we encourage cities to add some code component, or request that they do, or defer to the cities and say it’s the cities’ responsibility? We need to figure that out….” said McConaughy.

Tousley said that the repair work that was done after the line fires may look a little like undone shoestrings, but its appearance is a standard method of splicing and repairing of the line.

Marijuana operations aren’t the only type of business that may draw more electricity. Beauty shops, automotive shops, small internet service providers, and radio stations are other examples commonly seen within a residential area. PSE has different customer classifications based on usage, but it is up the city to determine if a business is taking place within a home.

Asked how often PSE is responding to cases similar to this one, Tousley said it is happening more and more because they are wondering more often why their equipment is giving way.

“We’re becoming very familiar with this on the industrial side of the pot growing operations. Because they have to go through proper permitting to become an actual facility, we are usually brought into the loop earlier because some of these larger operations are 200,000 square feet, like the one in Lacey. There’s going to be a need for a couple megawatts of power. We actually have a special person inside PSE that works with these official businesses to help them through the process and make sure the load in our system is prepared to handle that...,said McConaughy.

As for the non-industrial side of the operation, McConaughy said, We’re having to address a whole new scenario…(it’s) new case law, a brand new legal arena.” 

Above: Of course, fire was the first source of light, as the Olympic Mountain Family Fire Dancers demonstrated Sunday night at the Love our Local Fest event in Olympia's northeast neighborhood.

For more information about this case, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search engine.

Olympia Dispute over Marijuana Operation Raises Questions

Above: Medical Marijuana

By Janine Unsoeld

Questions are being raised in a community issue involving medical marijuana, code and law enforcement, he-said-she-said neighbor disputes, and three utility line fires that involve Puget Sound Energy. Throw in a breakdown in communication and you have a messy situation.

Little Hollywood has learned that the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force did what is called a “knock and talk” at a marijuana operation in an Olympia northeast neighborhood on July 7. 

The unannounced visit to the home was in response to a neighbor complaint by Melinda Spencer, who alleges that her neighbor is operating a commercial marijuana grow operation.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday with narcotics task force captain Dave Johnson and the detective who actually visited the home, both said that the tenants were cooperative and invited law enforcement inside. The tenants showed the proper paperwork for a collective grow. Captain Johnson said that the residents gave the detectives a tour of the entire property and it was found to be in compliance with current medical marijuana law.

Captain Johnson said that in the last three years since the passage of state legislation, they have dealt with a lot of complaints about grow operations.

“The law is going to change next July, and it’s going to get cleaned up a little bit, but until then, it’s a Catch-22 law, and not easy to deal with,” said Johnson.

Collective grows are not required to register with the state or local authorities, so police have no idea how many are in operation, and neighbors and concerned neighbors wonder where to turn to for information and assistance.

Utility Line Fires and Communication Timeline

The information about the narcotic task force’s “knock and talk” was never provided to Melinda Spencer, who complained about her neighbor’s operation at Tuesday night’s Olympia city council meeting in public testimony.

City manager Steve Hall mentioned it during council comments and regretted the lack of communication with Spencer.

Spencer said that she believes that three recent utility line fires, one occurring as recently as July 30 near her home, were caused by the grow operation in her northeast neighborhood. She says that her neighbor in question has repeatedly and openly referred to his operation as a wholesale grow for sale to medical dispensaries.

Spencer began communicating her concerns with the city and other authorities in the third week of June, before the fires.

In a June 29 email, the date of the first utility line fire, Chris Grabowski, lead city code enforcement officer, told Spencer and her husband that their concern had been forwarded to the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force, saying this was not a city zoning or code enforcement issue, but a law enforcement issue.

That same day, a sergeant at the Olympia Police Department said that the task force will make contact with the residents when time permits and determine if there are any law violations. Spencer responded to Grabowski, and thanked him for getting her concern pointed in the right direction. 

Another utility line fire occurred in early July.

Spencer continued to do research and contacted Puget Sound Energy. She also wrote the city attorney on July 8, specifically detailing her concerns and to ask if the operation has the proper permits. Spencer says she never got a response from the city attorney.

A third utility line fire occurred July 30.

Spencer and several other neighbors co-wrote a letter on August 1 to the property owner informing him that they have authorized their insurance agents to pursue damages against him if any activities occurring at his property harm persons or property in the vicinity. She sent copies to several city officials, including the fire chief, the police chief, and city attorney.

Spencer wrote an email to Olympia city council on August 13. She says she did not receive a response from any councilmembers. That same day, she contacted Puget Sound Energy to provide details about the grow operation so it could better evaluate if those activities contributed to the service line fires.

On Tuesday, August 18, Spencer felt compelled to speak publicly about the situation.

Communication from Code Enforcement

On Wednesday, the day after she spoke at city council, Chris Grabowski, the city’s lead code enforcement officer, sent Spencer an email providing details about the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force visit, but did not provide her the date. That information was provided to her by Little Hollywood.

Grabowski said in the email that detectives counted 50 plants on site.
“At the time of the inspection, that was slightly above the maximum 45 allowed, but under the new laws now in effect, the amount has gone up to 60 plants.  (The detective) told me that the grow was a legal one, and that (the task force) had no plans to go back and re-inspect as there was no indication of any illegal activity,” wrote Grabowski.

In an interview, Spencer says she appreciated the email, but it came a little too late.

“No one ever closed the loop with us,” Spencer said.

“This really is such a gray area and I feel pretty whipped and overexposed by this whole situation. I did get some staff to focus on this issue and follow up with me -- with prodding. I asked a lot of questions that were never definitively answered…but what makes me bitter is the big lapse by whoever should have let us know that the task force had done its job and made its conclusions. My emails after the inspection on July 7 should have reminded someone at city hall that crucial information had never been sent to me....” said Spencer to Little Hollywood late this week.

Spencer says she would have preferred to not have spoken publicly, nor ask for media attention, but felt she had no choice. Spencer still has concerns regarding the electrical safety of her home, and other homes on her street.

The Other Side of the Story

Little Hollywood has spoken several times with the resident at the address in question to get his side of this story.

The resident, who does not want to be named, says he is a medical marijuana user. He says he is a retired engineer on Social Security and disability. He says he has had brain surgery and uses the medicine to prevent seizures. He says he has been very up front with his neighbors about his collective garden, and gets along well with many of them. He is upset with his neighbor, Melinda Spencer, who he feels has been harassing him. He says the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force has come to his home twice and he has showed them the proper paperwork.  He admits he put about 50 plants outside during a recent heatwave. The air conditioning runs fulltime because he says marijuana is a fickle plant and needs to stay at a cool temperature. He says his crop is grown organically and he does not use chemicals. He did some work on the home for the owners late last year and says they are aware of his collective garden. He says the house used to be the worst looking one on the block.

“.…I’ve only been doing this since November. This is an expensive thing to do if you’re going to do it right. I’ve got nothing to hide. There’s no 100 plants. This hurts…it’s life changing stuff….” he said.

He currently has an option to buy the home, but now feels like he needs to break his contract and leave the neighborhood. He says he has retained an attorney.

The tenant says he knows of at least seven grow operations within four blocks of his house.

Collective and Cooperative Marijuana Garden Law

A collective grow is not a business, since the intent of the marijuana grow, under current Washington State law, is for the members of the collective to pool their resources to grow medicinal plants for their own consumption. 

According to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), a “collective garden” means qualifying patients share the responsibility for acquiring and supplying the resources required to produce and process cannabis for medical use such as, for example, a location for a collective garden; equipment, supplies, and labor necessary to plant, grow, and harvest cannabis; cannabis plants, seeds, and cuttings; and equipment, supplies, and labor necessary for proper construction, plumbing, wiring, and ventilation of a garden of cannabis plants.

Starting on July 1, 2016, collective gardens will be eliminated, but will allow for the creation of medical marijuana “cooperatives” that may be formed by up to four qualifying patients or designated providers.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed new legislation in July that will make marijuana laws more restrictive. The new law repeals RCW 69.51A.140, which granted cities and counties the authority to adopt and enforce requirements related to medical marijuana, including zoning.

Rules regarding marijuana cooperatives state that they cannot be located within one mile of marijuana retailers; the location must be registered with the WSLCB; they must be located in a domicile of one of the participants; are limited to one cooperative per tax parcel; and may grow up to the total number of plants authorized for each patient, a maximum of 60 plants. Qualifying patients or designated providers may only participate in one cooperative, and are subject to inspection by the WSLCB and law enforcement. The WSLCB may adopt rules relating to security and traceability requirements for cooperatives.

Above: The northeast Olympia neighborhood rocked tonight at the Love our Local Fest on Bethel and San Francisco Avenue. DBST played funkadelic rock.

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