Topic: Drug Cops Exposed As Violent, Ineffective Thugs
Among defense attorneys, "narcotics officers" have a certain reputation: thuggishly violent goons who enjoy trashing suspects' homes and bullying children. There's no better example of why such perceptions exist than the WestNET task force in Washington state.
Reporter Sean Robinson of the Tacoma News Tribune nailed the federally funded task force to the wall in an exposé this week. The well-done piece revealed that the unit, based in Kitsap County and pulling officers from various departments, uses hyper-aggressive tactics and exaggerated claims of effectiveness, reports Nina Shapiro at Seattle Weekly.
Toke of the Town readers may remember that WestNET (West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team) is the same bunch of wanna-be Rambos who busted into the house of medical marijuana dispensary operator Christine Casey, pulled a gun on her 15-year-old son and took the money from her nine-year-old daughter's Mickey Mouse Wallet.
Well, it turns out that wasn't an aberration, unfortunately. That's how the WestNET goons got down on a regular basis, judging by the News Tribune's report.
Tacoma News Tribune
For instance, when WestNET agents in full paramilitary gear raided the house of legal medical marijuana patient Douglas Wood, 50, who suffers from a painful nerve condition, they weren't content just to brandish guns in his face and seize all the plants he was legally cultivating. They also shot a pepper ball at Wood's 11-year-old dog, blowing out her eye, according to court records.
Ironically, busting down Wood's door and shooting his dog was WestNET's "response" to the very ill medical marijuana patient reporting his plants having been stolen. Less than three months later, Pierce County prosecutors dismissed the criminal case against Wood; he had medical authorization to use, possess and grow marijuana.
"There was a uniform feeling that this was a bunch of cowboys out of their league," said Seattle attorney Mark Leemon, who took Wood's case.
In another case, WestNET goons broke down a Belfair suspect's front door and stormed in with guns drawn on the suspect, her six-year-old daughter and her 13-month-old grandson, according to court papers. The officers then broke open an Etch-a-Sketch toy -- supposedly to "see if it had drugs" in it.
Thing is, while these morons were playing soldier with all their federally funded paramilitary gear, they were using such tactics on small-time cases, often harassing medical marijuana patients who were abiding by Washington state law.
Despite the fact that their official mission was to "deter, detect, disrupt and/or dismantle drug-trafficking organizations," the task force often "drifted from its mission," as the News Tribune too kindly put it, spending most of their time on low-level cases, arresting street junkies and twenty-dollar tweakers after lengthy and expensive "investigations."
Helicopter flyovers and paramilitary raids produced minor arrests and failed prosecutions of medical marijuana patients -- who had no previous criminal records -- who were legally growing medicinal cannabis in their basements or closets.
Prosecutors often declined to take WestNET's weak, sloppy cases to court, and even when they did, judges regularly sentenced defendants to zero days in jail. But you'd never know that by reading WestNET's reports to state officials, in which the gung-ho officers claimed a "near-perfect success record."
One of WestNET's top officers, now-retired Bremerton cop Roy Alloway, is scheduled to be sentenced next month after pleading guilty in federal court to tax fraud and gun dealing with no license.
Alloway, who reportedly took an unhealthy glee in busting medical marijuana patients and terrorizing their families, was so despised by the cannabis community that a local pot strain, Alloway 420, was named after him.
Since WestNET is just one of many similar federally funded task forces around Washington -- and the United States -- it's time to ask ourselves a question:
Do we really want these ass-clowns out going berserk on the public dime, using our tax money to play Army and terrorize sick people, when their track record is clearly one of thuggery and failure?
A dirty little war
Federally funded drug task force WestNET based in Kitsap County, with tendrils into Pierce County, sometimes succeeded, but more often targeted low-level crimes and produced mediocre results.
They were supposed to bust big drug dealers and nail big networks.
“Deter, detect, disrupt and/or dismantle drug-trafficking organizations.” – State Department of Commerce policy manual
That’s the job, the official mission of the West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team, a federally funded drug task force based in Kitsap County, with tendrils reaching into Pierce County.
Sometimes WestNET succeeded, cutting supply lines that pumped methamphetamine and heroin into the South Sound. More often, the task force drifted from its mission and failed to meet required standards for prosecution success.
Investigators spent most of their time on low-level cases. They jammed junkies. They popped puny tweekers who sold meth by the gram. They blinded an 11-year-old dog, and according to court records, pointed firearms at children.
WestNET leaders say gaffes are inevitable in the messy world of drug investigations. Searches can be dangerous, and the safety of officers comes first. Arrests can go sideways, leading to bad outcomes, but investigators have to go where information leads them.
“Could we make a mistake that might make us look foolish? Yes. But as a rule, no,” said Kitsap County Undersheriff Dennis Bonneville. His agency is WestNET’s home base. The News Tribune also sought comment from Kitsap Sheriff Steve Boyer. Through a spokesman, Boyer, the elected leader of the Sheriff’s Office, declined multiple requests for an interview.
Records show the task force took regular cues and tips from Roy Alloway, a Bremerton police detective who recently pleaded guilty to federal crimes – crimes committed while he supplied the evidence to put others in jail.
Helicopter flyovers and paramilitary raids produced minor arrests and failed prosecutions of medical patients without criminal records growing marijuana in basements and crawl spaces. Among those convicted based on WestNET arrests, more than half were sentenced to zero days in jail.
The task force filed weak cases or sloppy ones. Among defense attorneys and local prosecutors familiar with WestNET, one word comes up frequently: cowboys.
Prosecutors in Kitsap and Pierce counties declined a fifth of WestNET’s cases – one of every five since 2007, according to a News Tribune analysis. During that span, the task force regularly failed to meet the required benchmark for continued funding.
The subpar performance didn’t show up in required reports to state regulators. For years, WestNET has claimed a nearly spotless record of success, and been well paid for it. Since 2007, including grants budgeted for next year, WestNET has received almost $1.4 million in public money.
Aug. 29, 2007: WestNET detectives knock on a door in Suquamish, five miles east of Poulsbo. They’re looking for evidence of a possible outdoor marijuana grow spotted during an earlier helicopter flyover, court records state.
No one is home. A detective peeks over a fence into the back yard. One marijuana plant, a foot tall, sits in a pot next to a green lawn chair.
Detectives subsequently arrest Lance Duane Smith, 43. In their search of the home, they find another marijuana plant and two pipes.
Smith is charged with manufacturing marijuana, a felony. Eventually, he pleads guilty to marijuana possession, a misdemeanor.
The case lasts four months. Smith is sentenced to 90 days, 85 suspended. Total jail time: five days.
The Smith case is one of 120 submitted to Kitsap and Pierce county prosecutors in 2007 by WestNET. Of that number, 93 led to convictions.
- 18 cases were declined without a felony charge.
- Seven were dismissed.
- One went to trial and ended with a not-guilty verdict.
- One is still open (a suspected/charged heroin dealer who jumped bail).
Success rate: 77 percent.
That year, records show WestNET claimed a 100 percent prosecution success rate in its reports to the state. The forms included a space for unsuccessful prosecutions. None was reported.
Funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Justice and the state, WestNET, formed in the late 1980s, operates out of Kitsap County. Staff support comes from the Washington State Patrol and law enforcement agencies in Mason and Pierce counties. The task force ranges beyond those borders, often chasing drug routes up and down the Interstate 5 corridor.
The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is the base for day-to-day operations and supervision. A sheriff’s lieutenant oversees day-to-day operations.
“We’re the host agency,” Bonneville said.
WestNET is one of 19 similar task forces operating in the state , and one of hundreds across the nation. King County has its own task force. So does Pierce County, where the task force is known as TNET: the Tahoma Narcotics Enforcement Team, an entity with a strong performance record, directly sponsored by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
On average, WestNET receives about $183,000 per year in grant money – a total of $1.8 million since 2004. Leaders say the money is well spent.
“Absolutely,” Bonneville said. “Historically, we’ve been one of the better-performing task forces. I haven’t had a huge concern with the task force as far as doing a good job.”
Those arrested or convicted based on WestNET arrests, and the attorneys who represent them, tell a different story. They cite overkill: big-time charges for small-time crimes and dubious searches conducted commando-style.
‘THE CRAZIEST THING’
In September 2002, WestNET arrested Douglas Wood, a Fox Island resident. Investigators followed a 4-year-old tip from a juvenile, a teen who got caught trying to steal marijuana from Wood’s house in 1998. The kid got caught because Wood called police to report the crime, according to court records.
Wood, 50 at the time of the raid, had medical-marijuana authorization, a small grow of 35 plants and an energy-efficient home powered by solar collection systems of his own invention. He also suffered from trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve condition marked by stabbing head pain.
Wood had no criminal record. He owned two guns, stored and ignored on a basement shelf. One was an antique that didn’t work. The other was his father’s hunting rifle.
Court records say WestNET officers raided Wood’s place in paramilitary gear. They shot a pepper ball at his 11-year-old dog and blew out her eye.
Less than three months later, Pierce County prosecutors dismissed the criminal case against Wood; he had medical authorization for his marijuana.
Wood subsequently sued WestNET and other parties in federal court in 2005 and won a small settlement. It shows up in court records as a dismissal.
Seattle attorney Mark Leemon took Wood’s case. He hadn’t dealt with WestNET previously.
“A little inventor over on Fox Island, whose wife is a psychiatrist who works for the state, and they bring out the Gestapo,” he said. “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. They got the state involved, they got the DEA involved, and it turned out to be nothing.”
Leemon recalled speaking with local defense attorneys about WestNET.
“There was a uniform feeling that this was a bunch of cowboys out of their league,” Leemon said.
Bonneville, the Kitsap undersheriff, calls that label “a stretch,” among other colorful words.
WestNET, like other task forces, is a small, rotating team of cops and bosses. The roster has five people at the moment, Bonneville said. State standards require at least three drug investigators, one supervisor and a half-time prosecutor, plus a half-time clerical position to handle the paperwork.
The Kitsap County Sheriff’s office leads WestNET, and the state patrol provides a supervisor. Grant money funds operations. Other personnel come from individual police departments within the region, including Bremerton, Gig Harbor and Poulsbo. Participation by those secondary agencies is voluntary.
The idea is collaboration, an unbroken chain from the street deal to a federal courtroom, if necessary. Agents from the DEA often share information with task forces and join investigations. The collaboration principle cuts both ways: local police agencies often join task force busts.
WestNET is shrinking. Local governments are slicing budgets. Police departments from outlying areas have pulled officers out of the task force, citing fiscal constraints.
“We’re basically trying to keep the task force alive,” Bonneville said.
Task forces statewide are candidates for budget cuts in the current special legislative session. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed list of cuts includes a line item that proposes eliminating seven of the state’s 19 task forces. It doesn’t say which ones.
TASK FORCE MISSION
All the task forces receive state and federal money. It comes with strings. Task forces must meet standards of success and file quarterly reports with the state Department of Commerce to prove it.
They have one mission: Bust drug rings.
“Our specific goal is to interrupt drug-trafficking,” Bonneville said. “My understanding is that we’ve done a pretty decent job.”
The task force mission is spelled out in state guidelines:
“The task force must agree to focus its investigative efforts to deter, detect, disrupt and/or dismantle drug-trafficking organizations operating in and through its service area.”
– Task Force Policy and Procedure Guide, March 2011
What does a “drug-trafficking organization” look like? The U.S. Department of Justice defines it:
“Drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and/or distribute large quantities of one or more illicit drugs.”
Those arrested by WestNET tend to fall short of that definition. John Cross, an attorney in Kitsap County who has defended clients arrested by the task force, sees trivial cases rather than big busts.
One of his clients was a 60-year-old man, a long-time county employee with no criminal record who allowed a friend with cancer to grow five marijuana plants on his 4-acre property, court records state.
WestNET detectives spotted the plants during a helicopter flyover in early 2010. The initial charge against Cross’s client was manufacturing marijuana: a felony.
The case lingered for five months in court and never went to trial. Cross talked it down to misdemeanor possession. Sentence: 90 days, 85 suspended. Five days total.
“Absolutely absurd,” Cross said. “What an extraordinary waste of resources.”
It still counted as a conviction – a notch in WestNET’s belt.
“What are you supposed to do, leave the marijuana there?” Bonneville said. “What we have to do is pretty much enforce the law.”
Such low-level cases invite legal risks. Cross’s client was convicted, but other small-time busts led to dismissals or outright rejections from prosecutors, which hurt WestNET’s bottom line.
The measure of success for drug task forces is a moving target. It’s always been set at an “80 percent prosecution success rate,” but the precise definition of success changed two years ago.
“There’s always been a debate as to what is a successful case,” Bonneville said. “It’s in constant flux.”
Until mid-2009, the definition was “convictions and pleas versus declines and dismissals,” meaning cases that led to convictions and guilty pleas versus cases that were dismissed or declined by prosecutors.
After mid-2009, the Department of Justice changed the definition in a subtle way, according to state records:
“A minimum of 80 percent prosecution success rate, as determined by dividing the number of defendants found guilty by the total number of all defendants prosecuted.”
By including only prosecutions, the new definition omitted declined cases, redefining success by excluding failure.
WestNET failed to meet the old standard every year from 2007 to 2011, according to a News Tribune review of 420 court cases.
The benchmark: 80 percent.
WestNET’s five-year average: 67 percent.
WestNET’s claimed average: 94 percent.
The task force didn’t meet the original standard over the full span, nor did it clear the threshold in any single year. In 2010, WestNET’s success rate, by the original standard, was 59 percent.
Under the looser standard, first measured in 2009, WestNET’s performance improved, but not by much, according to The News Tribune analysis: 84 percent success in 2009, 80 percent in 2010. By either measure, its reports were still inaccurate. WestNET claimed a 90 percent success rate in 2009 and 2010.
The state Commerce Department, following inquiries by The News Tribune, has asked the State Patrol to take a closer look at WestNET’s reporting practices, according to Dan McConnon, a deputy director for the agency, who oversees the task force program.
“We’ve asked the State Patrol to take a look at it and see if anything needs to be fixed,” McConnon said in an Oct. 27 interview.
On Nov. 8, State Patrol spokesman Dan Calkins said his agency didn’t know about any request from the Department of Commerce, and added that the State Patrol is not investigating WestNET.
“We don’t have a deeper look going on here,” Calkins said. “We’re not doing an investigation. We’ll take accountability for what our people did, but this is primarily a Kitsap County issue.”
Bonneville said the Sheriff’s Office is reviewing WestNET’s case records to see if there are any issues that need to be corrected.
“If there is something that’s not being done 100 percent right, we want to correct it,” he said.
The News Tribune’s review examined every case submitted by WestNET to prosecutors in Kitsap and Pierce counties over a five-year span, from January 2007 to June 1 of this year – almost the entire task-force output, excluding a small number of federal cases.
Those records were matched against WestNET’s regular reports to the Commerce Department, which claimed high success rates, but provided lower case totals than The News Tribune’s analysis. The News Tribune found 420 cases – WestNET reported 375.
“Our records show that these guys are meeting the standard within the quarter,” McConnon said.
The numbers looked good because they were incomplete.
WestNET’s quarterly reports left out unfinished cases, didn’t catch up with them in subsequent reports, and didn’t include cases declined by county prosecutors.
Of the 420 cases submitted by WestNET, 384 are closed. The remaining 36 (chiefly from the past two years) are still open.
In counting WestNET’s results, The News Tribune found that prosecutors in the two counties declined 84 of WestNET’s cases – a fifth of the task force’s output – without filing criminal charges. The declines don’t appear in court records, but they still reflect spent money: expenditures of investigative time and resources. Until mid-2009, WestNET was explicitly required to report them. The task force did not, according to records.
Declines come in flavors. They sometimes reflect referrals to lower courts for possible misdemeanor charges. On rare occasions they reflect referrals to federal court.
At other times, declines reflect rejections of weak cases or sloppy investigation. Whatever the reasons, WestNET hears about it.
“We’ve got a decline form that we send out every time we decline to file a case,” Kitsap County prosecutor Russ Hauge said. “We’ll briefly state the reason.”
Kitsap prosecutors received 295 cases from WestNET in the past five years, and declined 57 of them. That’s about one of every five cases – a fifth of the task force’s work.
Pierce County prosecutors received 125 WestNET cases over the past five years, and declined 27 of them – again, about a fifth. As in Kitsap, the decline decisions came with formal notices.
“When we review a case for charging we look at whether or not a case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and whether it’s fair and just to proceed,” Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said. “This analysis includes many factors – one of which is whether or not the officers played by the rules.”
Allegations of cutting legal corners – the cowboy label – have dogged WestNET for years. Privately, prosecutors raise concerns about it, though they won’t speak for the record.
Defense attorneys aren’t so shy when it comes to WestNET.
“Those guys will believe anything and anybody in order to break down somebody’s door,” said Clayton Longacre, a Port Orchard attorney who has battled the task force several times.
Longacre cuts a striking figure in the west Sound. He’s a Native American, known for long hair, bolo ties and rhetoric. He’s had a few run-ins with the state bar association, according to news accounts in the Kitsap Sun.
Longacre’s scores on online lawyer rating sites go up and down; some clients say he’s a money-grubber. Others love him – especially those he’s defended in drug cases.
He first tangled with WestNET in 1997, when he represented Mary-brigit Scott, a Belfair woman whose house was raided by WestNET investigators in 1995.
The task force followed a tip from a man stopped by the State Patrol, court records state. The man had active arrest warrants. He’d offered information to get loose. He knew Scott, said he’d just come from her house, where he’d seen a big load of meth.
Scott was home with her 6-year-old daughter and 13-month old grandson when the task force arrived.
“The WestNET forces broke through her front door. The WestNET forces had drawn their guns on the porch. They stormed in with guns drawn on Marybrigit, six-year-old Annie and the baby.”
– Scott declaration, January 1997
Task force officers ransacked the house and held Scott at gunpoint, she claimed. They broke an Etch-a-Sketch toy to see if it held drugs, Longacre said. They found nothing and left. No charges were filed.
Scott sued WestNET for false arrest and false imprisonment, among other claims. She denied using or having drugs. She wanted to know why the task force took the informant’s word.
The case shifted to federal court. The defendants – a host of public agencies – disputed the story of guns pointed at children, records state. Most of Scott’s claims were dismissed. The suit ended with a $6,250 payment to Scott for her child’s emotional distress, records state.
“We will never forgive the actions of the officers. They made it clear in their depositions that they had no remorse. Indeed, they remained arrogantly convinced they had only arrived at the wrong time. The law enforcement officials never sought any charges against the person who obviously gave them false information.”
– Scott declaration, August 2002
Longacre defended other clients arrested by WestNET in subsequent years. One was Christopher Silva, arrested by WestNET in 2004 and charged with possession of methamphetamine.
Silva was an easy target. He had priors. He was a former meth maker and dealer who claimed he was trying to stay clean. According to Longacre, Silva was trying to evict renters who were dealing meth.
The lead detective on the case was Roy Alloway, a big dog on the task force, a Bremerton cop who’d worked for WestNET since 1999.
Alloway filed a search-warrant affidavit claiming that Silva confessed to having meth-making materials under the house.
Records of the case mention nothing found under the house; but Silva’s renters were caught with 14 grams of meth, scales and a handgun. Investigators also found meth in Silva’s bedroom – less than a gram, records state.
Longacre attacked the Alloway affidavit, arguing that it was false: His client hadn’t confessed.
“(Silva) never said such a thing,” Longacre said. “Chris had this probation officer right beside him the whole time on the arrest, who said he never made a confession like that to Alloway.”
Prosecutors shortly dismissed the case against Silva. The order in the court file cited “insufficient evidence.”
By the time of the Silva case, Alloway was 49, a burly 26-year veteran of the Bremerton Police Department, longtime president of the patrol officer’s union and nobody to mess with. He retired from the department in 2010 after 30 years, receiving a lump-sum payment of $12,000, along with his monthly pension.
Medical marijuana advocates despised Alloway. One, Everett resident Steve Sarich, who’d been raided by WestNET, named a strain of marijuana for the detective: Alloway 420. The Seattle Weekly has published several stories about Sarich’s tangles with WestNET.
Alloway had joined WestNET in 1999 and established himself as a go-to guy: the regional expert on marijuana grows.
He had a big list of informants and checked it like a trapper.
“The way a case with Alloway would come together, he would, from whatever sources he had, whatever milieu, get some information, usually about a marijuana grow,” said Hauge, the Kitsap prosecutor.
Alloway recently added a new title to his résumé: federal felon. In October, he pleaded guilty to selling guns illegally and filing fraudulent tax returns.
The charges cited more than 300 illegal firearm sales between 2007 and 2010 and unreported income of $192,000 – an ongoing, four-year pattern.
Alloway’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 20. He faces up to five years in prison. His name appears on scores of WestNET cases filed during the span of his crimes.
“That was embarrassing to all of us,” said Bonneville, the Kitsap undersheriff. “That’s probably the dumbest thing I can imagine he could do. The case against him on the firearms speaks for itself. He knows better. He knows about his tax stuff and what he’s supposed to do.”
Reached via email Nov. 10, Alloway responded with a brief statement:
“This entire situation has been a nightmare for my family and I. It has had major impact on my wife’s health as well as mine and we want this to end. The situation has never had anything to do with WestNET.
“I know nothing about any sentencing recommendation and have been very disappointed in a system that I was committed to for so many years. My attorney would not want me to say anything at this point, with sentencing pending.”
The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t select its detectives from other departments. Individual law enforcement agencies supply candidates from within their own ranks. WestNET leaders accept those candidates, monitor their performance and send them back if they fall short.
In Alloway’s case, Bonneville saw no sign that the detective’s work with WestNET was tainted.
“The feedback I was getting was that Roy was doing a pretty good job,” Bonneville said.
Alloway was a star at WestNET and a long-term headache in his own department. His personnel file reveals multiple suspensions and reprimands. Many revolved around ethical lapses and indifference to rules and legal procedure.
In 1982, he’d claimed sick leave from a swing shift and gone to a party instead, records state. Two of his own commanders caught him drunk at 1:30 a.m., headed for his car.
“What do you care?” he told the sergeant who spotted him. He took a breath-alcohol test and pumped out a reading of 0.10.
In 1990, Alloway was reprimanded for campaigning on public time. He’d toyed with a run for county coroner and called law enforcement officials during his shifts to ask for their endorsements. Confronted with the idea that he was supposed to separate duties and political activity, he said he’d done nothing wrong.
“I didn’t do any political activity on duty. I, ah, simply made a couple of short phone calls to ah – individuals I am very familiar with – got their opinions on this thought of running for Coroner and ah – that’s all there is to it.”
– Excerpt from Alloway internal investigation interview, May 1990.
Fellow employees complained about his abrasive style. One officer, unnamed in records, said he’d seen Alloway spray mace on the handles of patrol cars driven by those he disliked. Alloway denied it.
When criticized, he criticized others.
“You continue to feel that you do nothing wrong and continue to shift blame for your unacceptable performance to someone else, such as superior officers, other peers or other agencies.”
– Alloway evaluation, April 1993
Before joining WestNET, Alloway raised the hackles of city attorneys and local prosecutors, who complained about his reliability and chided him for sloppy police work that led to declined cases.
“In the past, you have indicated your displeasure with this office for declining to prosecute on a number of occasions. The number of declines by this office are reduced when officers take precautions to ensure a strong case against a suspect.”
– Excerpt from city attorney letter to Alloway, 1986
City attorneys learned Alloway had to be watched closely to ensure his appearance in court for needed testimony. He had a habit of not getting the word about court dates.
“They feel they have to search for you to make sure you’re going to appear when scheduled. They further advise that when you were in Crime Scenes they had to make extra effort on marijuana cases to make sure you would also be present. They further advise that you are the only officer they have to consistently track to make sure you appear in court cases.”
– Memo to Alloway from Capt. Craig Rogers, December 1993
Alloway sold guns on the side. He called himself a collector and hobbyist. Records from his personnel file state that he was warned by federal agents as early as 2006 about his loose approach to gun sales – the activity that later led to federal charges and his 2010 conviction.
Craig Rogers, the current chief of the Bremerton Police Department, did not respond to messages from The News Tribune requesting comment about Alloway.
PUTTING ON THE SQUEEZE
In 2007, a WestNET search warrant filed by Alloway led to criminal charges of methamphetamine possession against Port Orchard resident Rhonda Lemon, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months, records state.
During pretrial wrangling, one of Alloway’s informants, Angie Varney, came forward to describe how he’d squeezed her.
Varney was no angel. She had multiple drug convictions. She’d previously signed a contract to talk to Alloway in exchange for leniency.
According to Varney’s sworn statement, Alloway asked her about Rhonda Lemon and other people. Varney said she hadn’t seen them for a while, and hadn’t bought drugs from Lemon.
“Alloway claimed it didn’t matter. He bragged that he wanted those people and he often made up stories to get search warrants. He further bragged that he would even make up false confessions and write up people as snitches who refused to go along with his false stories. Det. Alloway claimed that he could word reports so that the drug world would get back at people who didn’t cooperate with him.”
“Det. Alloway used my name as the source of information, but I never provided that information. His claims to what I said were false and he knows it. … I was afraid to put this statement in writing because of the threats made by Det. Alloway.
“Det. Alloway let me know he wanted to get these people and he would one way or the other. He threatened to put it out that I was a snitch and let the drug world … take care of me. I refused to give him any information about real drug dealers and didn’t cooperate anyway. But he obviously wrote up those lies in those search warrants to get back at me for not cooperating.”
– Varney declaration, Oct. 11, 2008
Varney’s statement carried little weight in the court action. It was immaterial. She was a convicted drug user and an informant who’d signed a contract. Alloway was a trusted cop.
“(Varney) has crafted a document alleging a 30 years [sic] police detective lied and coerced her into statements. She has NOTHING to back up her claims.”
– Kitsap County prosecutor statement, Oct. 24, 2008
LOSSES IN COURT
WestNET has its own space on the Kitsap County Sheriff’s website, which promotes a tip line aimed squarely at marijuana growing operations. The task force made a specialty of such cases, but the results sometimes hurt.
A Kitsap County case against medical marijuana user Bruce Olson, filed in 2007, ended in acquittal in 2009. A 2008 Kitsap case filed against a quadriplegic named Glenn Musgrove ended with prosecutors dropping charges in 2009. Musgrove was wheeled into the courtroom on a gurney, according to news accounts.
A 2010 case against a Tacoma medical marijuana dispensary called Club 420 led to multiple dismissals when WestNET’s informant either proved to be unreliable or refused to testify (accounts differ).
Each case consumed court resources and time. Each ended with a loss – a mark against WestNET’s success rate. The task force continued to target marijuana grows. Records show WestNET spent roughly 30 percent of its time on such operations.
Statistics from WestNET’s court cases show how wins and losses changed depending on the drug involved.
Cases involving meth, heroin and other hard drugs typically led to long sentences and quicker outcomes. Cases involving marijuana took longer, and more often led to dismissals or minimal jail sentences.
Hauge, the Kitsap prosecutor, recognizes the idea that the task force is supposed to look for big organizations and big dealers.
“I can see how a person would think that,” he said. “That’s my understanding as to why the task forces are created.”
Hauge doesn’t supervise the task force. His office takes cases as they come.
“All we’re evaluating is that particular case,” he said. “We don’t really have the luxury to sit back and critique the performance of a task force as measured by its mission statement.”
Bonneville, the Kitsap undersheriff, said it’s reasonable to expect WestNET to put its resources where the payoff is likely to be big. That’s what the federal money is supposed to pay for.
“Obviously we don’t want to waste a bunch of time on some low-level user,” he said. “That seems ridiculous. We’re not going to waste a bunch of time on some little cases. If that was the case that would be a no-no.”
The record shows that little cases make up the bulk of WestNET’s activity. More than half of the convictions tied to task force investigations led to sentences with no jail time.
In part, the results reflect geography. High-volume dealing is rare in Kitsap County, in comparison with urban areas such as Tacoma and Seattle.
“A pound dealer is a big deal here,” Bonneville said.
In some ways, WestNET looks more like a local drug unit than a regional task force. That’s no coincidence – the Kitsap Sheriff’s Office has 115 commissioned officers and no local drug unit.
“We don’t have the luxury of a lot of special units,” Bonneville said.
The result: Virtually all Kitsap cases with a drug connection wind up in WestNET’s hands, inevitably leading to low-level arrests.
Hard drugs and big dealers led to good busts for WestNET. The task force cut heroin supply lines, and knocked down some high-end meth dealers. A 2011 investigation led to the arrest of Julio Cesar Segura Hernandez, a dealer based in Lakewood who was moving meth in pounds. Hernandez pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison – the longest local sentence associated with any of WestNET’s cases since 2007.
A 2008 WestNET case filed against Jose Manuel Nunez-Maldonado, backed by the DEA, moved into federal court. An intricate case with multiple defendants, it uncovered a major operation moving methamphetamine out of Mexico, leading to multiple convictions – a big score.
Such cases were the exception rather than the rule. More often, WestNET focused on small-timers such as Sam Fairbanks, a one-time marijuana grower and admitted meth addict.
WestNET nailed Fairbanks the first time in 2006. He had 19 marijuana plants growing in his garage and a meth habit.
“It was my mistake,” he told The News Tribune. “I didn’t have to have what I had in my house.”
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in work release. He walked out with a felony conviction and no job prospects.
He’ll be 50 in January. He’s unemployed. He used to be an apprentice electrician. Until 2006, his court record included traffic tickets and debt, but no felonies.
In 2008, WestNET nailed him again. Fairbanks had 6 grams of meth, a handful of pills and a half gram of marijuana. Alloway, following an informant’s tip, ran the bust. He wrote the search warrant affidavit.
Fairbanks had a safe. Alloway made him open it.
“Fairbanks agreed to open it and while doing so complained (not in response to questions) that WestNET had ruined his life because he got a felony last time he was arrested by WestNET and now he could not find a job.”
– Excerpt of charging papers, May 2008
Fairbanks got the standard talk from Alloway about going easy in exchange for information.
“Oh, yeah they always ask that, but that’s not my world,” he said. “Where’d you get this from, do you know other people. Might be able to make it easy on you, whatnot. What I do is what I do. I just don’t like the idea of being a narc. You’re here for me. I’m not gonna hurt on other people’s lives for what I’ve done.”
He pleaded guilty again. His sentence: 20 days.
He admits guilt, but Fairbanks has read a little about WestNET since his arrests. He wonders why the task force bothered with him. He didn’t run an organization. He had no henchmen.
“I’m not saying I’m right in what I did,” he said. “But it seems to be a lot of expense of money. I’m not the big dude down the road. I’m just more of a user than a dealer.”
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486
WestNet's Drug Cops Exposed as Ineffective Cowboys
Maybe all drug cops are not cowboys prone to trashing supsects' houses and intimidating children. But, among defense attorneys, such cops certainly have that reputation. Exhibit A: the task force known as WestNet.
The News Tribune nails the federally-funded task force, which operates out of Kitsap County and uses officers from various departments, with an in-depth story exposing its hyper-aggressive tactics and exaggerated claims of effectiveness.
Readers of DW will remember that WestNet is the same task force that last year charged into the house of a medical marijuana dispensary operative, pulled a gun on her 15-year-old son and raided her 9-year-old daughter's Mickey Mouse wallet.
Some eerily similar events show up in The News Tribune's report. In 2002, WestNet raided the house of Douglas Wood, a 50-year-old medical marijuana patient with a painful nerve condition. Task force officers showed up in paramilitary gear and then shot a pepper ball at Wood's 11-year-old dog, blowing out her eye, according to court records cited.
In another case, WestNet officers broke through a Belfair suspect's front door, storming in with guns drawn on the suspect, her 6 six-year-old daughter and 13-month old grandson, according to a court declaration cited in the story. The officers proceeded to break an Etch-a-Sketch toy to see if it had drugs.
The irony is that the task force used such Rambo-like tactics on penny ante cases. Prosecutors often declined to take the cases to court and when they did, judges regularly sentenced defendants to zero days in jail. Yet WestNet claimed a near perfect success record to state regulators.
Perhaps no surprise, then, that one of WestNet's top officers, now retired Bremerton cop Roy Alloway (pictured above), wasn't scrupulous about other forms of paperwork. In October, Alloway pleaded guilty in federal court to tax fraud and gun dealing without a license. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
WestNet is one of many similar task forces across the state and the country. The question that arises is now this: Is WestNet the exception, or the rule?
Genesis of a Medical-Marijuana Raid: Asst. U.S. Attorney's E-Mail to Crooked Cop Roy Alloway Asking for 'Dirt'
Five months before members of the West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team (WestNET) burst into medical-marijuana activist Steve Sarich's home in Everett, then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Janet Freeman sent an e-mail to now-convicted dirty cop Roy Alloway asking him if he had any "dirt" on Sarich and his friend John Worthington.
The e-mail, obtained by Seattle Weekly, shows the close relationship prosecutors had with Alloway, who was convicted last week of illegal gun dealing and tax-evasion charges and is awaiting a sentence of up to five years in prison.
The message also shows that Sarich and (to a lesser extent) Worthington were relatively unknown to law enforcement prior to the raid, and that the investigation that preceded the raid seemingly started as a direct result of Freeman's request for "dirt."
Thumbnail image for steve sarich alloway 420.jpg
Steve Sarich was the subject of a Seattle Weekly cover story in May of last year.
First, some background: In 2004 Port Orchard resident Ken Stone and several others were indicted for manufacturing and distributing marijuana. Stone had argued that he was a medical-marijuana provider, but prosecutors weren't buying it as an excuse.
Not long after being indicted Stone entered a guilty plea. But at some point Sarich and Worthington got wind of the case, and they felt that Stone was getting a raw deal from his lawyer (the second of three).
"Ken was getting railroaded," Sarich explains to Seattle Weekly. "He had a shit lawyer and he should have never [pleaded] guilty. We just tried to help him."
On June 30, 2005 Sarich and Worthington filed declarations saying that Stone never wanted to plead guilty, and on Sept. 1 Stone entered a motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
When Freeman got wind of that, she reached out to Alloway for "dirt."
Freeman Alloway email01.jpg
It may strike some as unethical for a prosecutor to ask for "dirt" on someone simply because they filed a document in court that the prosecutor didn't like. As it turns out, however, there is nothing unethical about it. In fact, according to Seattle University School of Law professor and legal-ethics expert John Strait, Freeman's actions are "quite common."
"This is something that any attorney would use," Strait says. "By them filing declarations, they are putting their credibility at issue. The prosecutor can and should look for anything that discredits their credibility. If she was intending to blackmail them, that would be another story."
Unethical or not, what happened after the e-mail was sent shows exactly how much latitude was given to WestNET investigators, particularly Alloway, in taking a request from prosecutors and turning it into a full-on raid.
Former WestNET drug cop Roy Alloway is now a convicted felon.
In a subsequent report, Alloway notes that it was Freeman's e-mail alone that inspired him to dig into the lives of Sarich and Worthington, pulling information on not only those two, but other members of their families, as well as retrieving power records (without a warrant) from Seattle City Light.
This case begins when Steve Sarich and John Worthington took it upon themselves to become involved with a major marihuana grower/distributor that with his co-defendants were facing Federal prosecution. It was there actions and apparent close association with these other Federal defendants that led me to begin an investigation into their involvement with marihuana.
Here is the full report:
In an interview with Seattle Weekly, Freeman, who now works as the Assistant Regional Counsel at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stands by her e-mailed "dirt" request, saying, apparently quite rightly, that asking for such information was well within her scope of duties as a prosecutor. When asked why she didn't just look up Sarich and Worthington's criminal records herself, she says "That's not my job; that's why I have FBI agents, DEA agents, and other law-enforcement officers."
"You have to look at the context of the entire case," Freeman says. "When you look at accusations made by Ken Stone camp against WestNET and against Alloway at the time, look at all the time and effort that was using; and when you look at the particular track record in this particular case . . . Is it unfortunate that [the e-mail] ends up on public display? Maybe. But this is how people talk."
The current U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan refused to comment on the case, her spokesperson citing a recent threat of a lawsuit by Sarich as reason.
In the Stone case, Freeman's e-mail, Sarich and Worthington's declarations, and Alloway's subsequent investigations didn't matter in the end, as Stone eventually kept his guilty plea in a plea agreement.
For Sarich and Worthington, who have invested the last several years of their lives into digging into the reasons that police raided their houses, the entire affair is but one important footnote.
Mickey Mouse Drug Raid: Cops Take Cash From Little Girl's Wallet
A Washington State mother says that drug cops mistreated her son, took $80 from her daughter's Mickey Mouse wallet, and trashed her house.
Christine Casey, affiliated with North End Club 420, a patient collective considered legal under Washington state law, told the Seattle Weekly that detectives from the West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team (WestNET) handcuffed her 14-year-old son for two hours and put a gun to his head, reports Nina Shapiro.
They also told the frightened kid to say goodbye to his dad, Guy Casey, because they said the pot dispensary operator was going to prison.
As the Rambo-esque detectives trashed the home looking for cash, trying to prove the dispensary was illegally profiting from medical marijuana, Casey said they confiscated $80 that her nine-year-old daughter had received for a straight-A report card.
The gung-ho drug warriors found the money in the little girl's Mickey Mouse wallet.
Casey said the cops dumped out all her silverware, punched a hole in the wall, and broke her appliances for good measure. She said they also finger-write "I Sell Pot" in the dust covering the family's Hummer -- which the cops then seized.
WestNET, already notorious for its abuses of medical marijuana patients, is a federally funded task force comprised of officers from multiple jurisdictions.
The officers came to Casey's Olalla, Washington home because Guy Casey, her ex-husband, still lives on the property in a guest house. Guy, a 48-year-old medical marijuana patient with artificial knees, legally grows marijuana there for himself and another patient, Casey said.
Fortunately, the little girl wasn't present in the house to see how WestNET gets down -- she didn't witness the theft of her Mickey Mouse wallet and 80 bucks. She had already gone to school on May 11 when the narcs arrived about 8:30 a.m.
But Casey said her son had missed the bus and had just gone to the guest house to tell his dad, when he encountered the wanna-be soldier boys of WestNET.
Casey said the cops claimed they handcuffed the 14-year-old boy "to keep him safe" as they questioned Guy Casey and several friends who were visiting.
According to court documents (PDF) filed with the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office, WestNET claims to have found $3,000 and 76 marijuana plants at the home. Casey says about half of those were only small "starts."
Casey and Michael Allison, another dispensary employee, said they never sell marijuana without seeing a patient's note from a physician, as required by Washington state's medical pot law.
Last edited by james sr (2011-12-09 14:43:24)