PACIFIC COUNTY — Despite the Washington Supreme Court’s State v. Blake decision earlier this year that tossed out the state’s felony drug possession law, possession with the intent to deliver is still a felony. County officials say they are methodically hunting the “poison” dealers down.

Two months into 2021, the Pacific County Drug Task Force, spearheaded by the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office and composed of over a half dozen agencies, made a significant drug bust on Feb. 5 in Chinook that resulted in the arrest of three individuals and additional charges against a fourth.

Two short weeks later, on Feb. 19, the task force was trouncing another drug house in Raymond where a dealer was arrested for multiple charges, including possession with the intent to deliver. Officers were able to seize heroin, meth, cash, and paraphernalia from the home.

“The multi-agency cooperation was the ultimate key to the successful conclusion of both of these narcotics investigations,” PCSO Chief Criminal Deputy Pat Matlock said. “In regards to both of these cases, several agencies came together collectively during the investigative process to obtain search warrants for both incidents and to perform the service of those warrants safely, efficiently, and tactically.”

“It is also paramount to note that we received key intelligence in the form of citizens tips during both of these investigations that really helped spearhead these efforts. While we understand that these types of investigations will keep evolving and more often than not take longer to complete than expected, it is gratifying for all agencies involved to know that our citizens within our respective communities are engaged and want to assist us with making Pacific County a safer place to work, live and play with the resources that we have been provided,” Matlock added.

Off to prison

Three of the suspects from the Chinook raids reached deals with the Pacific County Prosecutor’s Office and were all sentenced to varying prison sentences. Ronald D. Wardell was sentenced to just under two years in prison on a drug offender sentencing alternative, Stephanie S. Griffiths was sentenced to five years in prison, and William D. Lachapelle was sentenced to just under two years in prison. All three will be subject to community custody or department of corrections supervision for at least a year after being released from prison.

As a result of the Raymond drug bust, Damon D. Townsend and his attorney were able to also reach a deal with the prosecutor’s office. He was sentenced to five years in prison with 12 months of community custody immediately following his release. It wasn’t his first drug-related conviction, and Judge Don Richter credited the work of attorney David Hatch for Townsend “somehow” getting the minimum sentence.

Teamwork among entities

Haslam credits the close relationship that his office and the task force maintain throughout each drug raid and investigation to the recent successful convictions. He has specifically tasked Deputy Prosecutor Joe Faurholt to work with the task force, on top of his ordinary duties, and to be at the task force’s disposal at all times. Haslam himself also makes himself available to the investigation and prefers to be involved.

“It’s really important for our office to work closely with our law enforcement throughout these investigations,” Haslam said. “We are available day and night, and we talk to our officers frequently on these cases as they are developing their investigations, and we know that’s important to achieve these outcomes [convictions]. That was something that was present with these cases.”

“The other things we’ve seen is that the investigation doesn’t end at the point of the bust. We’ve been able to glean a lot of good information from jail phone calls and also from offering deals to the people that we knew were less culpable but were involved in these crimes, in order to make sure we had them available as witnesses against the people we knew were the most culpable for dealing,” Haslam added.

Keeping the team together

The funding the PCSO acquired to get the task force up and running is only temporary, and it’s unclear how long the funding will last. Sheriff Robin Souvenir and Matlock plan to work hard to keep funding incoming for counter-drug operations.

“Working together with our neighboring agencies, we were able to acquire $371,450 from the State of Washington for Drug Task Force activities,” Matlock said. “This funding was for one year. We utilized this funding to purchase equipment, pay for overtime, and were able to send deputies and officers to training.”

Matlock explained that the sheriff’s office, other local law enforcement agencies, and even the City of Long Beach are continuing talks with the state and legislature to secure the needed funding.

The sheriff’s office received news May 11 of $391,000 in grants for each of the next two years to help continue carrying the fight to the dealers; the Observer will report complete details about this money next week.

“We have been talking with our Board of County Commissioners and have shared with them the need to support Drug Task Force activities. We are always looking for grant opportunities,” Matlock said. “Having dedicated law enforcement for drug enforcement is important even with the recent changes in our laws. We will continue to look for funding opportunities to help keep our communities safe.”

Drug dealers take note

If the drug raids and resulting convictions thus far tell any story, according to Haslam, it’s that no matter what, the county plans to bring justice and take down each drug dealer one by one until there are none left.

“One of [our] main priorities in terms of protecting the community,” Haslam said, “[is] being able to focus on the biggest dealers in our county and making sure we have them held accountable thorough investigation and arrest and then prosecution and ultimately conviction and sending them to prison is an absolute top priority for our office.”

Even though his office played an integral role in the successful convictions of four drug-dealing suspects, Halsam credits the success to the “entire team,” consisting of his office and all drug task force members. He said he believes their hard work will eventually make Pacific County a much safer place to live, but in the meantime, he finds the recent success satisfying.

“I am very satisfied we’ve been able to hold these people accountable,” Haslam said. “We’ve seen some lengthy prison sentences imposed, and we hope that sends a message to other people who would consider helping put this poison into our community that they face these stern consequences if they do so. These people will be off our streets and out of our community for a pretty significant period of time, as well as being monitored by [the Washington State Department of Corrections] even after their release.”

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