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Centralia officer cleared in deadly bank parking lot shooting

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news

CHEHALIS – The man fatally shot by Centralia Police Department Officer Ruben Ramirez last month was a convicted felon carrying a stolen handgun, only recently arriving to the Centralia area with his girlfriend.

Paul M. Edmundson, 43, was staying at the Pepper Tree Motel and RV Park, using an alias. He had an extensive criminal history over 23 years from multiple states and was in the process of covering up a tattoo on his lower chest of Edmundson, one letter at a time.

But he didn’t steal the burrito that drew a police officer to the encounter at the corner of South Tower Avenue and East Cherry Street the morning of June 29.


Anchor Bank parking lot, June 29, 2014

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer concluded last week that Ramirez’s use of deadly force was justified. Police Chief Bob Berg is expecting a decision from an internal use-of-force review board by early next week at the latest. And Ramirez could be back on the job after that.

The Centralia Police Department’s initial statements that day were the officer shot and killed a man suspected of shoplifting the snack from the nearby gas station, because he reached into his pocket for a handgun as he was being detained.

Meyer’s summary of events offer a slightly different version.

A letter released by Meyer describing his legal analysis to the lead investigator in the case includes 13 pages of information, some which is pertinent to Ramirez’s decision to draw and fire his weapon, and some of which is relevant only to explain the decedent’s actions. Numerous individuals who witnessed portions of the situation described to investigators what they saw.

Including Ramirez, a 15-year veteran of the police department, a member of its SWAT team and a K-9 handler.

The investigative team of detectives from surrounding police agencies – from the counties of Lewis, Thurston, Pacific, Mason and Grays Harbor – was headed up by Thurston County Sheriff’s Office Detective Ben Elkins.

Michelle Milligan, 44, from Vancouver, told investigators she and Edmundson, although she called him Chris, had been dating about three months and came to Centralia about a month earlier.

Of his behavior in previous days, she said: “(H)e was going crazy on everybody; he was just going on a nut.”

That morning, Milligan described going to Fuller’s grocery to purchase vodka and a roast beef sandwich. And then up to the next block to the Chevron service station and mini mart to get burritos and rolling papers.

Milligan and the clerk told how she didn’t have enough money to pay for both, so she left the burritos in the microwave.

Meyer’s summary of facts discovered, some of which was learned through viewing surveillance video, tells how Milligan exited the store and crossed the parking lot to speak with two men, one of whom then came inside and took the burritos from the microwave and left, returning once again to heat them up and left again.

His name is Adam Casperson, according to Meyer.


Chevron service station, South Tower Avenue

The 911 call about shoplifting came just before 10 a.m. and when Ramirez arrived in his patrol car, with his police dog Lobo, he found Milligan and Edmundson sitting in the grass across Cherry Street next to the parking lot at Anchor Bank.

Ramirez told an investigator he began to speak with them and wanted to see their identification because based on his information, they were involved in the theft.

Edmundson was mouthy, Milligan denied stealing the burritos and told Ramirez the one he wanted was hiding in the woods, according to the letter.

But when Ramirez looked at the identification Edmundson handed him, he recognized the name on it of Christopher R. Matthews as the suspect in an assault two days prior at the Pepper Tree.

Ramirez had responded to the Friday afternoon call to the motel where a 50-year-old guest there said that during a disagreement an acquaintance he knew as Chris threw him to the ground and struck him in the eyelid with something sharp.

Ramirez indicated to investigators the man in the ID did not match the man he was talking to at the bank very well, and decided to detain him to determine the connection, according to Meyer.

Ramirez asked Edmundson to stand up.

A customer across the street at a different gas station said he watched the man stand up and turn his back to the officer as if preparing to be handcuffed. Ramirez said the man began to resist by pulling away.

Milligan said the cop was being really, really rough and “Chris” was saying “Ouch, you’re hurting me.”

Milligan said at about that time, the police dog jumped out and started attacking “Chris”. “And the dog’s attacking his arm, and dog’s attacking his leg, and the dog’s attacking him all over viciously,” he said.

Ramirez said because he was dealing with a felony suspect, who disengaged, he deployed his K-9 and ordered him to “engage” Edmundson.

“And Chris is screaming, you know, and I’m screaming, I’m like, you know, I’m like, he’s trying, he’s hurt, can you just tr-, call the dog off him …,” Milligan told investigators.

Milligan said she ran out to the road, screaming for someone to help.

Ramirez called for backup and thought it unusual Edmundson continued to fight through the bites, even as Ramirez ordered him to stop.

Witnesses described seeing the two men and the dog engaged on the ground.

A former Centralia police officer Steve Dawes was at the bank’s ATM with his girlfriend and said he saw the two men on the ground tussling while the dog was biting and the man was resisting and ignoring Ramirez’s commands. Dawes said he had turned his attention back to finish his ATM transaction and heard a gunshot.

Ramirez told investigators that when they were on the ground, Edmundson had his hand underneath his body and he heard scraping sounds. He thought it could be a knife, given the assault from the Pepper Tree, he said.

Ramirez said he looked and saw it was the butt of a gun and Edmundson was pulling it out from what appeared to be his waistband.

Ramirez backed up, told him drop it. Ramirez heard a click sound.

Ramirez fired a single shot from his weapon.

Edmundson died at the scene. A single round penetrated his heart and lodged in his spine.

Meyer’s analysis includes that when making a decision to use deadly force, an officer must have probable cause to believe that the person “poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer.”

The elected prosecutor points out Ramirez made two requests for assistance, that Edmundson ignored repeated commands and gained possession of a firearm, which became, at that moment, a fight for life for Officer Ramirez.

“Officer Ramirez was left with no choice but to draw his weapon and protect his own life,” Meyer wrote.

The firearm recovered was described as a Sig Sauer P938 9mm, stolen out of Longview. It was found in the “cocked” position with a round in the chamber, according to Meyer.

How many dog bites Edmundson sustained was not mentioned in Meyer’s report.

An individual named Michael Caton was interviewed, and told investigators he saw Casperson, Milligan and Edmundson at the Chevron, and that Edmundson had flashed a gun at him and it was not the first occasion.

Caton told investigators  Edmundson was dangerous because he was drunk all the time and had a gun.

Prosecutor Meyer who attended the autopsy noted the smell alcohol emanated from the body.

Meyer wrote that Edmundson was originally identified as Christopher Matthews, but fingerprint analysis revealed who he really was.  Edmundson’s previous convictions included assault, robbery, burglary and firearm offenses from Utah and California. Just a month before he was killed, he was arrested in Oregon for driving under the influence.

Meyer called the outcome tragic, but wrote had Edmundson survived, among the crimes he would have charged him with related to the events the morning of June 29 were attempted second-degree murder, or in the alternative, second-degree assault.

For background, read:

• Prosecutor Meyer’s letter detailing his investigative conclusions, here

• “Stolen burrito leads to fatal shooting in Centralia” from Sunday June 29, 2014, here

• “Coroner releases name of police shooting victim” from Wednesday July 2, 2014, here

• “Centralia police shooting case now in the hands of prosecutor for review” from Monday July 14, 2014, here

Sharyn’s Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Saturday, July 19th, 2014


• Members of six fire departments were joined by crews with the state Department of Natural Resources yesterday when a four to six acre fire broke out in Bucoda. Crews were called around 4 p.m. to an area near Tono and Ohop roads, on timber property owned by Green Diamond Resources previously clearcut and then about two years ago replanted with seedlings, according to Bucoda Fire Department Assistant Chief Robert Gordon. It was not threatening any homes, Gordon said. As many as 75 firefighters were on the scene and it was contained when he left about 8 p.m., Gordon said. “The winds were five to seven miles per hour, and that’s probably what saved the fire from getting any bigger than it did,” he said. DNR planned to sit on the fire overnight and are conducting mop up today, according to Gordon. The incident followed another the day before in Rochester when about an acre and a half of scotch broom and brush caught fire, along with a fence and a shed at the 9000 block of 173rd Avenue Southwest. Gordon said his chief and about eight other individuals with the fire departments from Tenino to Gibson Valley are currently in Eastern Washington assisting with the large wildfires over there.


• Centralia police say they are looking for Juan E. Mejia after an incident just before midnight in which he allegedly entered a residence through a window and assaulted the female inside. It happened at the 400 block of George Anthony Lane, according top police. Mejia, of Centralia, is 32 years old and wanted for first-degree burglary, according to the Centralia Police Department.


• A 30-year-old Centralia man is being sought by police after breaking into a home on the 300 block of East Magnolia Street in Centralia and assaulting his mother. Officers responding about 5:45 p.m. yesterday say Isaiah M. Davis is wanted for first-degree burglary, according to the Centralia Police Department.


• Police were called about 6:40 p.m. yesterday after a resident on the 1100 block of Ham Hill Road in Centralia returned home and found someone had broken in. Several items are missing and the case is under investigation, according to the Centralia Police Department.


• Medication was reported stolen yesterday from the 900 block of North Tower Avenue in Centralia and from the 1100 block of West Chestnut Street.


• Someone stole a Pioneer stereo from an unlocked vehicle parked at the 1200 block of Royal Avenue in Centralia during the night, according to a report made to police yesterday morning.


• Centralia police responded just before 10 a.m. yesterday to the 1400 block of Oxford Avenue where several vehicles got their windows shot out with a pellet gun during the night.


• Four people were arrested yesterday after they reportedly harassed a male as he walked down a Centralia street with his small children yesterday evening. Officers responding about 6:45 p.m. to the area of East Locust and South Buckner streets say the male was approached and asked for a cigarette, then threatened when they did not like the way in which they were told no. According to Centralia police, Dustin J. Scott, 31 of Bay City, was booked for obstructing as well as a felony warrant and Richard A. James, 20 of Centralia, was booked for several outstanding warrants. After police left, two others allegedly went back to the individual and began threatening him again, so, booked for disorderly conduct were Jalab L. Browing, 20 of Centralia and Tyler A. Reeves, 21 of Raymond, according to the Centralia Police Department.


• Centralia police responded about 2:55 p.m. yesterday to the area near East Maple Street and the train tracks after a driver attempted to cross the tracks as the crossing arm was coming down. It broke the windshield and the driver was cited for failing to yield to the arm, according to the Centralia Police Department.


• A pickup truck and a car were totaled and the driver of the car was hospitalized when the pickup truck traveled into the oncoming lane yesterday evening on state Route 508 about three miles from Interstate 5. Brittney N. Dickinson, 18, from Winlock, was westbound when she drifted to the right, over corrected and crossed the centerline running into a 1993 Toyota Camry, according to the Washington State Patrol. Troopers called about 7:25 p.m. found the pickup on its side and cited Dickinson for improper lane travel, according to the state patrol. The car’s driver, Bruce A. Hood, 63, of Onalaska, was transported to Providence Centralia Hospital with unspecified injuries, according to the investigating trooper.


• And as usual, other incidents such as arrest for driving under the influence; responses for bicycle stolen, collision on city street … and more.

Sheriff’s Office: Fired corrections officer allowed inmates to suffer

Friday, July 18th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The lawyer for the fired Lewis County Jail sergeant shot back yesterday, issuing a press release criticizing Sheriff Steve Mansfield for attempting to try the case in the news media, reminding news reporters of Mansfield’s personal experience of being investigated for alleged criminal conduct.

Centralia attorney Shane O’Rourke said he represents Trevor S. Smith, who was terminated at the end of last month for mistreatment of two inmates and then arrested earlier this week for allegedly accessing secure jail computer records while he was still on the job.

“As a career corrections officer, my client respects the court system and the judicial process, and because of that we are not going to make any comments about the facts of the disciplinary proceedings or criminal case against my client other than to say that there are always more facts to a story than what only one side offers,” O’Rourke wrote. “We will allow those facts to come out through the legal process.”

Mansfield revealed on Wednesday that Smith was let go because he abused his authority in dealing with assaultive inmates, insinuating Smith moved beyond containing the situations and into punishing the individuals.

The sheriff called Smith’s actions disgusting and embarrassing, but didn’t go into much detail, citing a concern of jeopardizing a termination hearing.

However, a fulfilled public record request for the June 27 termination letter and other related documents show Smith was disciplined last year after directing that an inmate be kept in a restraint chair for approximately twelve hours without food, water, or restroom breaks.

And on Jan. 25, an inmate with mental health issues was not offered a wet towel, a shower or any “decontamination” for more than five hours after Smith had directed the discharge of OC-10 pepper spray into his closed cell, according to the sheriff’s office. There was no running water in the cell at the time, having been shut off the day before due to his attempt to flood the cell.

The termination letter from Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff Steven Walton noted that in both cases squad members approached Smith about attending to the inmates’ needs and Smith ignored them, allowing the inmates to suffer.

“Your conduct in this case screams of deliberate indifference to the care and well-being of those over whom you are responsible,” Walton wrote on behalf of the sheriff. “Indeed your conduct ‘shocks the conscience’ and could be viewed as violating basic civil rights possessed by all human beings regardless of status.”

Smith’s attorney O’Rourke pointed out Mansfield is an outgoing sheriff and that his office isn’t supposed to be involved in a large part of the investigation – Smith’s criminal case – because of a conflict of interest.

O’Rourke noted the sheriff has had firsthand experience as both being the subject of an investigation – in 2009 when allegations were made of Mansfield harboring a runaway; the 16-year-old girlfriend of his son, a case that ended with no charges filed – and contended he has before attempted to impose his own beliefs and try a case in the media before it was brought to court.

“(A)s was the case with the Ronald Brady homicide from a number of years ago, where his judgment was later proven to be incorrect by a trial court and appellate court,” O’Rourke stated.

O’Rourke was one of two Lewis County deputy prosecutors who tried the Brady case in 2011 and has since moved into private practice with the firm of Buzzard and Associates. Sheriff Mansfield refused to arrest Brady who shot at two intruders on his Onalaska property, saying it was self defense.

“My client and I hope that as this case moves forward, Sheriff Mansfield draws upon these experiences and discontinues any efforts to improperly taint this case and further prejudice my client,” O’Rourke wrote.

The June 27 letter did not name the two inmates, but did offer further details about the most recent incident.

The inmate with mental health issues was described as a man large in stature, 6-feet 9-inches tall and about 275 pounds, who had exhibited aggressive behavior since his incarceration. He was being held in the medical observation area when he reached through the cuff port in his cell and grabbed an officer’s keys, pulling the officer against the door, according to Walton.

The inmate got the keys, but returned them shortly after an entire three-ounce can of OC-10 was discharged into the cell, Walton wrote.

The decision to use force, the pepper spray, to gain compliance wasn’t questioned, according to Walton.

But leaving him to suffer without any relief was extremely serious and demonstrated unacceptable judgement and decision making, he wrote.

Walton left the sheriff’s office when on July 1 he took a position as Lewis County budget administrator, but has been designated to continue in the chief of staff-undersheriff role for the purposes of handling Smith’s case.

Smith was hired at the sheriff’s office in 2004 and promoted to jail sergeant in 2011.

Smith has filed a grievance through his union, asking to be reinstated, claiming his termination was not for just cause.

His arraignment on charges of computer trespass is set for next Thursday.

For background, read “Lewis County Jail sergeant let go for mistreating inmates, then arrested for computer snooping at work” from Wednesday July 16, 2014, here

Dad pulls pulseless son from pool in Centralia

Thursday, July 17th, 2014


By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A toddler found unconscious and not breathing in a swimming pool at a Centralia home was revived by his father and rushed to the hospital this afternoon.

Aid called at 4:50 p.m. to the 600 block of G Street learned the dad discovered the 2-year-old boy and pulled him from the water. The child had no pulse and the dad started CPR, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

A paramedic unit from the Pearl Street station was the first unit on the scene and arrived in just under a minute and a half, according to Capt. Scott Weinert.

The boy was conscious and breathing but crying when they got there, Weinert said. Medics performed advanced life support measures to ensure the toddler continued to breathe and remained stable, he said.

It happened in a backyard built-in swimming pool, he said.

“We’re really happy he’s in stable condition and hopefully he continues to improve,” Weinert said.

When someone stops breathing for whatever reason, immediate and early intervention through CPR is key, according to Weinert.

“It’s important, that’s why it’s taught, because it can make a difference,” Weinert said.

But a traumatic event such as a near drowning could lead to a variety of physical issues or complications that still need to be evaluated by doctors and possibly treated, according to Paramedic Jade Gross.

The child was transported to Providence Centralia Hospital and then transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital for observation.

Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children between the ages of 1 and 4 and it’s the third leading cause of death among children, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

The department took the opportunity to remind adults to be mindful of the risks and familiarize themselves with water safety tips for little ones. Riverside recommends a resource with numerous tips called Safe Kids Worldwide.

Lewis County Jail sergeant let go for mistreating inmates, then arrested for computer snooping at work

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 10-year veteran of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has been fired over his manner of dealing with two assaultive inmates.

Sheriff Steve Mansfield said Trevor S. Smith worked in the jail where he was promoted to sergeant in 2011. He was terminated June 27 for an incident at the beginning of this year and another last year, Mansfield said.

The longtime corrections officer abused and exceeded his authority, Mansfield said.

It was the way they were treated, the way they were contained that was a problem, and how Smith handled it was inappropriate, the sheriff said without going into much detail.

“Both situations involved inmates who were acting out and assaulted staff, situations that needed immediate intervention,” he said. “That’s what it is; it’s disgusting and embarrassing for this organization.”

Mansfield said he is reluctant to say more, as Smith is appealing his firing, and the sheriff worries about jeopardizing any termination hearing that may come up.

Meanwhile, Smith was arrested on Monday at his home in Chehalis for a discovery made after he left, that he allegedly had been snooping into secure jail computer records.

“He had no business accessing administrative and personnel files,” Mansfield said. “There’s a reason for them being secure.

Mansfield said he used someone else’s password.

Some deleted files have been recovered but the primary issue is he should not have been reading them and collecting information, the sheriff said.

Smith was booked Monday into the Lewis County Jail for five counts of computer trespass, a class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison, according to the sheriff. He was housed at another jail until his hearing in Lewis County Superior Court yesterday and then released by the judge, Mansfield said.

The criminal allegations, investigation and arrest were handled by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

The inmate treatment issues were investigated internally.

Mansfield said after the most recent incident, Smith was taken out of any role that involved contact with inmates and put on administrative duties, in an office next to the jail chief’s.

Mansfield spoke in general about the duty of care to the people housed in his jail. Feeding, housing and making sure they are safe is his obligation under the law, he said.

Corrections officer have a variety of ways to contain or isolate problem inmates, including using whatever level of force is necessary, but only until the point the situation is stabilized, he said.

“If they do something wrong, the judge decides the level of punishment, not me,” he said. “When people cross that line and make it their role to punish someone, you’ve got problems.”

Worker burned in Texas petroleum explosion just relocated from Adna

Friday, July 11th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news

CHEHALIS – An Adna native was seriously injured in a fiery explosion at a dormant oil well in central Texas.

Cameron McDonald, 25, is in a Houston hospital, with several broken bones and severe burns to his face, arm and legs, his Uncle Jim Harris said today.


Cameron McDonald

“He doesn’t remember anything at all,” Harris said. “He still doesn’t know why he’s in the hospital.”

It happened on Wednesday at a work site in New Baden, Texas, about 100 miles northeast of Austin, Harris said.

He got a phone call from his sister, who flew down yesterday to be with her son, he said.

Harris has been scouring the news to find out what happened and said he learned his nephew was using a cutting torch to remove bolts from a catwalk above a 12,000 gallon storage tank.

Harris said he understands McDonald was wearing a harness and thrown clear, but then slammed face first into the hot metal of the tank. News accounts say he was critical when transported and describe pillars of smoke visible for miles.

The incident is under investigation by Texas regulatory authorities.

Harris said his nephew only recently took the out of state job with a company that dismantled well sites, as he understood it. Before that, he worked construction locally, he said.

“Cameron, he just went down there in December,” he said. “He decided he was going to go down there and get some of that big oil money and took off.”

Harris got the call from his sister about 2:30 p.m. the day it happened, shortly after his nephew’s employer called his sister, Janie Harris, also of Adna.

They’ve been keeping in close contact. She texted him yesterday with an update, he said.

She told him her son is pretty upset.

“They won’t let him see his face or the news yet,” Janie Harris texted her brother. “Both his eyes are black, all his teeth are gone. But he’s alive. Thank God he’s tough.”

He’s had some skin grafts, Harris said, but it’s not clear how long he might be hospitalized.

Today, his nephew was able to walk from his bed to the bathroom, a good sign, Harris said.

“I hope he pulls through, he’s burned pretty bad,” he said.

Tractor operator falls onto hay mower blades in Mossyrock

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

The mowing tractor is parked after accident in Mossyrock. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 3

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A man cutting a hayfield in Mossyrock who fell onto the blades of his hay mower yesterday is expected to survive but likely faces a long road to recovery.

Lewis County Fire District 3 was called by someone at the trailer court next to property on the 200 block of Mossyrock Road West  about 5:30 p.m.

“At the time of the incident he was alone, but when I got there, people were around,” Fire Chief Doug Fosburg said. “He was conscious and alert, but in a lot of pain.”

Fosburg said it was an older style piece of equipment – with five blades – where the cutting surfaces are exposed, not shielded.

The victim, who he estimated is in his 40s, had pretty severe cuts on all four extremities with quite a bit of blood loss and will probably lose some fingers, Fosburg said. Both legs and one arm were broken, he said.

He said responders were able to get him stabilized fairly quickly, administering fluids, and splinting and dressing his wounds.

He was airlifted from Mossyrock High School to Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, according to Fosburg.

“He’s very lucky no vital organs were hit,” the chief said.

It didn’t appear the injuries were life-threatening, but it’s definitely going to be a long road, he said.


Hay mower blades / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 3

Drugs in Chehalis big drug case unavailable to use as evidence

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Randall D. Mauel, right, looks to his lawyer Don Blair during his sentencing hearing in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – When police found a backpack containing a one-gallon freezer bag nearly filled with chards of meth and more than $11,000 worth of heroin inside a south Chehalis home in December, they didn’t have the authority to enter the house.

So say lawyers in the case of the Mauel brothers, two men arrested and charged with two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, as well as unlawful use of a building for drug purposes.

“There was an issue with the search warrant affidavit, which would have been extremely difficult for the state to overcome,” Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Paul Masiello said yesterday.

Randall D. Mauel, 43, was in Lewis County Superior Court with his attorney, following a plea agreement which would send him to prison for a year and a day.

The raid that took place on Dec. 9 at the 2500 block of Jackson Highway came out of fast-moving investigation by the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force. The Lewis County Regional Crime Task Force and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team assisted, contributing about half of the 14 law enforcement officers that swarmed the residence.

Centralia defense attorney Don Blair told the judge a problem with the affidavit was an understatement.

Mauel pleaded guilty yesterday afternoon to two counts of drug possession, admitting he had drugs.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey agreed with the recommended time, and read off a list of 16 previous felony convictions, mostly involving drugs, on the defendant’s record.

The judge was told he will be also doing two years for a Thurston County conviction that followed his March arrest in Tenino when detectives reportedly found nearly $10,000 cash in his wallet, along with a little more than an ounce of methamphetamine and a small amount of heroin.

Masiello said the case of  Ryan G. Mauel, the younger brother was resolved a few months ago, with a few months of electronic home monitoring, if he recalled correctly.

The sheriff’s office describes them both as Chehalis residents. When the brothers were charged in December, the judge was told the house belonged to their parents.

“We’re trying to get the best outcome we could possibly get,” Masiello said after the hearing.

Without the drugs available as evidence, the case essentially goes away, he said.

He explained the issue of the search warrant this way: When using an informant, they needed to establish the informant saw what they saw and that the informant was credible, he said.

When the Thurston County drug task force officer made a recorded request by phone to a judge, the officer didn’t really address the veracity part, other than saying, we’ve used this person before, he said.

For background, read “Two charged with drug dealing, two set free after Chehalis area raid” from Wednesday December 11, 2013, here

Stray fireworks mortar lands inside Onalaska woman’s clothing

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Amanda Allen is covered in gauze at Harborview Medical Center’s burn unit on Saturday.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Amanda Allen woke up in her own bed yesterday having a panic attack from a nightmare, slapping at her chest, trying to put the flames out.

The 24-year-old Onalaska woman was scared, but not as frightened as she was on Friday night at the fireworks show near Oakville when an errant mortar struck her in the mouth and shot down inside her zipped up jacket.

It felt like she’d been hit with a baseball, she said.

“Out of nowhere, I get hit in the face,” Allen said. “I see bright lights, I felt like I was on fire; I was on fire.”

Allen recalls trying to rip off her burning coat, and three tribal police appearing, attempting to help remove her flaming clothing.

Much of what followed is a blur, she said.

“I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it happened, she said.


Amanda Allen, undated photo

The Onalaska resident said she was at a friend’s place in Rochester on Friday, and they decided to go watch the Fourth of July show at the Chehalis reservation, something she’d never done before.

They spent time enjoying the concessions with hot dogs and ice cream and watching the numerous fireworks before settling down in the grass near the tribal center for the big event that began after dark.

“There were people all around us, little children, old people,” she said. “There were fountains and ground hogs, and then the people to the right of us were doing bigger ones in the road.”

Her friend Skylar Christoffer said he saw a cake-type device fall over, and it was pointed toward the four of them and the 5-year-old boy sitting next to him, she said.

“He grabbed Ryan and threw him into Travis’s arms,” he said. “Then he was helping me.”

Firefighters were called about 10:45 p.m. to the incident on Neiderman Road, they called for LifeFlight out of Longview and set up a helicopter landing zone, according to Grays Harbor County Fire District 1 Chief Kevin Witt.

It was one of two fireworks-related injuries they responded to there that night, Witt said.

Allen spent the next two days in the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, being treated for burns from her neck down almost to her belly button, she said. Her lip was split open.

She’s feeling fortunate she still has her teeth and was so relieved to discover her nipple was not burned off, she said.

“They said they don’t think my lip will scar too badly,” she said. “They’re not sure about my chest, neck, chin and fingers, because scarring can up to a year to heal,” he said.

It hurts pretty bad, she said yesterday.

She’s home and won’t be able to work; she’s a caregiver for her 20-year-old bedridden brother, she said. She expects to spend time resting, watching movies, and trying to heal.

“One thing I’m worried about, I don’t want to look like Freddy Krueger, I don’t want people to stare at me,” Allen said. “I don’t want to be a sideshow.”

She’s grateful to the first responders, who tried to be gentle, but not very happy with whoever was setting off big fireworks so close to a crowd.

“My mom called the tribal police, they said they got so many stories, they don’t know,” Allen said. “I don’t want to sue them, I don’t want to press charges. I just want them to know I’m pretty messed up, physically and mentally.”


The mortar burns extend from Amanda Allen’s lip and neck to almost her belly button.

Two teens drown over the weekend

Monday, July 7th, 2014
2014.0707.ohanepecosh.drownIMG_0927 copy

Searchers look in the river where the 17-year-old boy from Port Orchard was last seen. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office says a 17-year-old boy taking photos with friends slipped and fell into the Ohanapecosh River and was swept away.

It happened about 9:30 a.m. on Friday, near the Cedar Grove Campground off state Route 123 just south of the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, according to the sheriff’s office.

“He was swept down river while his friends chased him along the river bank,” Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown stated in a news release. “The friends tried to reach out to him with a stick while he was caught in an eddy but he was unable to reach it and was swept further downstream into a whirlpool near a fast moving chute.”

Searchers with the sheriff’s swift water rescue team and rangers from the national park searched for the boy with no success until about 3 p.m. on Friday and then again on Saturday and yesterday, according to Brown.

He is from Port Orchard.

Cascade Dogs Search and Rescue scoured the banks as well, she said.

The sherif’s office indicates the river levels will be monitored and the area checked in hopes of locating him.

The Ohanapecosh is s cold and fast moving river.

Brown said later in the day, deputies were notified of a presumed drowning of an 18 year old Tacoma man at Alder Lake near the end of Pleasant Valley Road in Mineral.

She said that part of Alder Lake is in Pierce County and the incident was handled by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. His body was located yesterday, according to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office which assisted.

Teen disappears in lake north of Mineral

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Divers were expected back at Alder Lake today to search for  17-year-old boy who slipped below the surface while swimming with friends.

Mineral Fire Chief Kevin Mounce said his department was dispatched on Friday afternoon for a possible drowning at the end of Pleasant Valley Road and when they arrived deputies from Pierce County already had a boat in the water.

Mounce said there were a lot of people in the area as there seemed to be a wedding or two taking place. Deputies from Lewis County and firefighters from Bald Hills responded as well, he said.

It was at an old campground, he said.

“Alder Lake is cold, murky, muddy and not a very good place to swim,” he said.

A deputy told Mounce his crew wasn’t needed, so they left, and he didn’t have further information, Mounce said.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office tweeted last night that divers from its office and Pierce County would be returning to the lake today.

Centralia used car business theft defendants get a break

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Lorrine D. Birdwell prepares to enter a plea to a far lesser crime than originally charged as her husband Keith Birdwell awaits a judge’s decision on holding off on his sentencing for theft.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The deadline for former used car dealer Keith Birdwell came and went yesterday, to pay back a portion of what he allegedly owes a local bank so he could take advantage of a plea deal to avoid a potential lengthy prison term.

But prosecutors allowed a reprieve.

Birdwell, 48, and his wife were charged early last year in Lewis County Superior Court with theft, for allegedly using various deceptions to dodge repaying what they borrowed for the vehicles at Birdwell Auto Sales in Centralia and their lot in Lacey. Both businesses are now closed.

A court hearing was set for 1 p.m. but it wasn’t until 20 minutes later when the proceedings convened.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg indicated they’d like to postpone sentencing.

Tacoma-based defense attorney Keith McFie told the judge his client was scrambling.

“One of the major sources of funds dropped out,” McFie said.

Eisenberg said he learned that day that getting the money wasn’t working out.

“There was a potential avenue by which he was going to acquire those funds,” Eisenberg said. “That’s changed to a different avenue.”

The criminal case came out of a lengthy investigation by the Centralia Police Department, with losses claimed by Security State Bank of more than $1 million. The amount of restitution is in dispute. The portion which Birdwell must pay before getting sentenced has not been disclosed.

The couple was accompanied by more than a dozen apparent supporters in the Chehalis courtroom.

Toledo resident Renee Buswell called it heartbreaking to watch those she loves lose their business and the home they raised their children in. Keith Birdwell is her husband’s cousin, she said.

“And be forced to plead to a crime they didn’t commit simply because they’ve run out of resources, and they have nothing left to fight the case,” Buswell said.

Keith Birdwell pleaded guilty in May to one count of first-degree theft and three counts of felony unlawful issuance of a bank check.

His wife Lorrine D. Birdwell was originally charged the same as her husband, but as part of his deal, she was offered a chance to plead guilty to attempted second-degree theft, a gross misdemeanor.

“That was our agreement,” Eisenberg told the judge.

Eisenberg said that both Birdwells maintained he was the major player while she was less culpable, mostly signing documents.

Her lawyer Allen M. Ressler said a jury might find she participated, or at least ignored the obvious, so she would be making a so-called Alford plea, not admitting any wrong doing.

“I don’t think we concurred she knowingly committed this,” Ressler said.

Judge James Lawler asked her if she agreed with what her lawyer said.

“Looking at the probable cause statement, do you agree that if that evidence were presented to a jury or a judge, and believed, it is highly likely you would be found guilty?” Lawler asked.

“Yes,” Lorrine D. Birdwell replied.

“And, you’re pleading guilty to take advantage of a plea offer?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

The offense to which she pleaded guilty has a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The couple is now scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 6.
For background, read “Birdwell theft case deal includes incarceration plus deadline to pay back funds” from Tuesday May 13, 2014, here

Green Hill School student-inmate flees captivity while in Seattle

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A Green Hill School inmate escaped yesterday while on a field trip for his graduation ceremony in Seattle.

The 18-year-old was one of three students who traveled to the West Seattle campus of South Seattle Community College following the successful completion of a 14-week vocational program, according to a spokesperson from the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Mindy Chambers said it was about 10 a.m., before the event began, and he was on the phone purportedly with his mother, trying to give her directions to get there.

“They were standing outside and a gray Volvo pulled up,” Chambers said. “He got in the backseat, laid down and it sped off.”

Staff called 911 immediately to report the escape, she said.

Green Hill School in Chehalis is a medium and maximum secure facility for older juvenile boys incarcerated for felonies and operated by the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, under the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Chambers wouldn’t disclose his name, hometown or the crime he was locked up for citing policies for the juvenile institution.

A warrant for his arrest for escape has been issued, she said.

The young man had already received his certificate of completion from the program – called the Job Readiness to Employment Project – and was set to be released from Green Hill sometime between August and November, according to Chambers. The length of time he’d been incarcerated wasn’t immediately available.

The trio were accompanied by two security officers and a program manager.

He was so close to becoming employed, and now things have changed, she said.

“Our next step would have been to place him with an employer,” Chambers said. “Instead he made the decision he did, and now he will be charged as an adult.”

Coroner releases name of police shooting victim

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
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Detectives from outside police agencies examine items at the scene in the Anchor Bank parking lot on Sunday.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The 43-year-old Centralia man shot to death by a police officer following a shoplifting incident has been identified as Paul M. Edmundson, an individual who lived at the Pepper Tree Motel and RV Park.

Edmundson died at the scene on Sunday morning, in a bank parking lot just south of the Chevron service station on the corner of South Tower Avenue and East Cherry Street.

Police say he was combative as Officer Ruben Ramirez and his K-9 partner tried to detain him, and he pulled a handgun from his pocket.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod reports Edmundson died of massive internal bleeding from a bullet wound to his chest.

It’s the second time this year a Centralia officer has shot and killed someone. In February, an officer fired eight shots at a 48-year-old Westport man staying at the Lakeview Inn after a night time encounter in a nearby residential neighborhood when the man refused to drop a knife.

That use of deadly force was found by the prosecutor to be justified.

The Centralia Police Department this morning revealed Edmundson was wanted in connection with an assault in which he allegedly shoved some type of sharp object though the eyelid of a neighbor during a disagreement on Friday at the Pepper Tree Motel. Responding officers to the 1200 block of Alder Street didn’t know what the object was and still don’t, according to Officer John Panco.

Panco said Edmundson thought his 50-year-old neighbor owed him a favor because he’d bought him some beer a few days earlier, and he wanted him to drive him around town instead of leaving that day.

The victim’s eye was not permanently damaged, according to Panco.

Panco said he didn’t know if Officer Ramirez knew that’s the man he’d come across when responding to the 10 a.m. call on Sunday about a stolen burrito, but just wanted to get the information out there.

“He was the one who took the report of the assault, so whether he recognized him or not, I do not know,” Panco said. “That will come out in the investigation.”

The details of what preceded the Sunday morning shooting in Anchor Bank’s parking lot are limited, as Centralia police arrived as backup after a struggle ensued between Ramirez and Edmundson but officers instead worked to preserve the scene of the shooting and turned the entire case over to a group of detectives from outside police agencies.

Panco said this morning a 44-year-old woman, Michele Milligan, who was present – and said to be screaming at Ramirez as the two men fought – was taken into custody for a warrant.

A gas station clerk from across the street who called 911 said she watched for what seemed like 10 minutes of the officer trying to handcuff the man.

Nicole Escalante described seeing the man on the ground, and repeatedly trying to get up, and Ramirez telling him to stay down and at one point punching him.

Escalante said she stood on the sidewalk in front of her convenience store talking with 911 and saw the man reach for something, and saw Ramirez draw his weapon and fire one shot.

Ramirez, a 15-year veteran of the police department and a member of its SWAT team, was placed on paid leave. Police Chief Bob Berg says the Region Three Critical Incident Investigation Team is expected to complete its work within the next three weeks.

An internal use-of-force review board will convene after that, according to Berg.

For background, read “Stolen burrito leads to fatal shooting in Centralia” from Sunday June 29, 2014, here

Marijuana trade: All eyes will be on Centralia with legal fight in federal court

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The nearly three dozen page lawsuit filed against the city of Centralia regarding its stance on marijuana businesses talks about many issues, but boils down to one thing: making the city make a decision.

“What we really want is to light a fire under their butts, essentially,” the petitioner’s attorney Elizabeth Hallock said.

Her client, Perry Nelson, would-be proprietor of a retail store RIU420, has been selected by the Washington State Liquor Control Board to receive a license, but he can’t move forward because the city won’t take any applications, Hallock said.

She called Nelson a law abiding citizen caught in the middle of a political game.

A hearing date was set for next month in Lewis County Superior Court, but the city this past week gave notice it would like the case to be heard in federal court.

Nelson’s lawyer’s reaction:

“The federal question has to be decided for the country one way or another,” Hallock said. “What happens in Centralia not only affects the state, now the entire country is watching.”

The lawsuit filed on June 10 is the second in the state regarding local governments and their positions on recreational marijuana businesses. The Wenatchee lawsuit focuses on the federal law issue, Hallock said, and Centralia’s is more about state law.

Centralia’s City Attorney Shannon Murphy-Olson said like every other jurisdiction, Centralia has been studying the issue.

The city put a moratorium in place in November and renewed it in April. The hold on marijuana businesses runs into October, she said.

City planners created a zoning ordinance that was tentatively approved by the city council, which then turned around and re-enacted the moratorium, she said.

“If you look at the votes, the council is split.” Murphy-Olson said. “It’s a very difficult issue.”

Nelson filed the complaint asking a judge for for declaratory, injunctive and mandamus relief regarding what it calls the city’s prohibition.

The court documents say he is a resident of Lewis County, but also give a “Tulalup” address for him. Hallock said she doesn’t know much about her client, but noted he had also put in an application in Everett, so he may have been jurisdiction shopping.

He turned to Hallock, who practices in Clark and Klickitat counties, because he knew she was very dedicated to the issue, she said. She currently running for District Court judge in Klickitat.

She’s already been involved in one marijuana battle in Cowlitz County Superior Court, she said.

Voters passed Initiative 502 in 2012, legalizing possession of small amounts for those 21 and over, and the Washington State Liquor Control Board has been issuing licenses to grow, process and sell.

But her client can’t move forward.

“He has also spent countless hours preparing his operating plans, business plans, employee handbook, filling out applications, and paying licensing fees,” Hallock wrote in the complaint. “Without permission to operate or even do construction on his site from the city, all of his time, money, and efforts will have been and will continue to be wasted.”

The suit claims the city has mis-used moratorium law – a land use decision-making tool –  saying the city’s rolling moratorium is essentially a permanent ban and a pretext for assuaging community opposition.

Nelson argues doing so based on the criminal illegality of marijuana at the federal level is wrong.

“The fear of federal enforcement of federal criminal law against a tightly-controlled, state-regulated recreational marijuana system is unfounded,” Hallock writes.

The lawyer goes into a great amount of detail about how the city’s ban encourages a black market, in contradiction to the Department of Justice directives which prefer a tightly regulated state controlled system.

Finally, she speaks of I-502 as exclusively a matter of state concern.

The state attorney general issued an opinion that local jurisdictions have implied power to zone out marijuana businesses, since that wasn’t addressed in I-502, Hallock said.

But they don’t, she claims.

It’s clear based what’s called a “pregnant silence,” according to Hallock.

“The law did not address the role of cities because it did not intend for cities to be able to ban it,” she said.

Murphy-Olson has filed a notice of appearance on behalf of the city. Olympia attorney Jeffrey Myers has filed a notice of association with the city.

Hallock and attorney Jerrie Paine have filed notices of appearance on behalf of Nelson.

Hallock said she’s charging non-profit rates, because the issue is that important to her.

“They can spend all the tax dollars they want,” Hallock said. “We think the best thing is the city should just adopt the ordinance that allows the state law to proceed.”

The city has not yet filed an answer to the lawsuit, something it had 20 days to do. Instead, on Thursday, it filed the notice the case is removed to U.S. District Court.

Read the initial filing in the lawsuit here

Stolen burrito leads to fatal shooting in Centralia

Sunday, June 29th, 2014
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A 43-year-old Centralia man lays dead in the Anchor Bank parking lot this morning.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A Centralia police officer shot and killed a man suspected of shoplifting a burrito from a gas station this morning as the subject reportedly reached for a handgun as he was being detained.

Police say an officer and his K-9 partner caught up with the suspect in the parking lot across the street and a fight ensued, during which the police dog grabbed the suspect’s arm preventing him from pulling his hand out of his pocket, but then briefly released his hold and the officer saw a firearm.

“The officer then drew his duty weapon and fired at least one round striking the suspect,” Centralia Police Department spokesperson Officer John Panco said.

A clerk at the Chevron service station on the corner of South Tower Avenue and East Cherry Street said she heard one gunshot and peeked outside to see someone laying on the ground outside Anchor Bank.

“The dog was still on him,” Rosie Lopez said.

The call to to the shoplifting incident at the Chevron mini mart came at 9:58 a.m. Firefighters arriving at 10:14 a.m. concluded the patient was deceased; he had a gunshot wound in the center of his chest, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

Across Tower Avenue, a clerk at the Shell station said she had gone out the door when she was told by a customer someone was getting arrested. Nicole Escalante said she watched as the officer struggled to handcuff a man.

“I called 911 cause I thought oh my God, he can’t get this guy under control,” Escalante said. “The guy kept getting back up, the guy was all over the place.”

It seemed like a long 10 minutes, Escalante said.

“He was telling the guy to stop, he kept screaming stop,” she said. “(The officer) reached and pulled his gun and ‘boom’, that was it.”

The dead man is a 43-year-old with a Centralia address, according to police. Escalante said she recognized him as someone who sometimes panhandles outside her store.

The officer, whose name has not been released, has been with the department 15 years.

A group of detectives from outside police agencies arrived to investigate the shooting. Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and his chief criminal deputy prosecutor joined Police Chief Bob Berg at the scene.

The perimeter of the bank was blocked off with yellow police tape. Yellow markers were set next to items of interest, including on two patrol cars.

A blue tarp portable tent was in place before noon, to conceal the body from passersby.

Panco said the subject was belligerent from the start, when the officer exited his patrol car and that the officer called for backup as they fought.

He described the final moments as the police dog biting onto the man’s arm after the man pulled the handgun from his pocket. Panco said he was told the firearm was multi-colored, as in perhaps black and silver or “blue” and silver.


A team of detectives begins its investigation into an officer involved shooting in Centralia.

Stranger with knife walks into rural Centralia home

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Updated at 7:23 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A rural Centralia man grabbed his shotgun and pushed an intruder out the door this morning and held him at gunpoint until deputies arrived.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office was called about 7:30 a.m. to a home near the far end of Little Hanaford Road, roughly 10 miles east of town. They learned the residents, a man and woman, were sitting in their house when a stranger walked in with a serrated steak knife in his hand, according to Cmdr. Steve Aust.

The 62-year-old man grabbed his gun and shoved the stranger outside, and then pushed him a little farther out, Aust said.

“He held him at gunpoint until our guys arrived; he didn’t offer any resistance at that point,” Aust said.

The only injury was the intruder had to get a couple of stitches in his head because the resident hit him at some point with the butt end of the gun, Aust said.

The man, Sean M. Ferrel, 43, from Bremerton, was taken to Providence Centralia Hospital and then was to be booked into the Lewis County Jail for first-degree burglary, Aust said.

Aust said it’s not clear what he would have been doing in the area, or why he entered someone else’s house.

“The guy’s not local either,” he said. “It sounds like one of these high on drugs (things).”

Aust said that at some point there also may have been a machete involved, but further details weren’t yet available.

Judge: No crime for founder of House of The Rising Son

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Judy Chafin hears a judge proclaim her not guilty in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Chehalis woman accused of wrongly collecting more than $90,000 in benefits – supposedly working while receiving payments for a 2006 on-the-job injury was found not guilty today.

Judy Chafin, 62, wiped tears from her face as the judge announced his decision.

Prosecutors said the operator of controversial halfway houses performed landlord-like services for the newly released prisoners who lived in the various residences, part of her House of the Rising Son organization. Her attorney said the activities didn’t meet the definition of work from the state Department of Labor and Industries which paid out the funds.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler said the case came down to whether it was work and if she intended to commit theft.

“The witnesses were all over the board as to what work meant in this case,” Lawler said. “I simply cannot find that has been proven here.”

The trial that began on Monday was decided by the judge; there was no jury.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg had suggested that a 2010 investigation into her activities that went nowhere and her subsequent expansion of the number of homes indicated she must have known what she was doing was work.

Judge Lawler said defense attorney Sam Groberg’s argument was more reasonable, that Chafin continued what she was doing after L&I had knowledge of the House of the Rising Son.

Chafin’s benefits were stopped and then reinstated, he said.

“To put criminal liability on that once that question has already come up, does not make sense to me,” Lawler said.

Chafin was acquitted of 30 counts of forgery and two counts of first-degree theft; one count of theft was related to Social Security disability payments.

She was visibly relived and thanked the judge.

“I’m not guilty, and I never was,” she said outside the courtroom. “So I’m very happy about the decision that shows God is standing there.”

The Chehalis woman suffered an on-the-job injury in September 2006, while working as a certified nursing assistant at  Tiffin House in Centralia. She founded the organization  between 2006 and 2007.

At its height, there were as many as 10 similar homes.

Chafin began to get a lot of attention from law enforcement and then city and county officials beginning about two years ago when residents on a rural Chehalis road complained they didn’t want multiple felons, especially registered sex offenders, living together under one roof in their neighborhood. Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield vowed to do everything he could to shut her down.

Earlier this year, she said she chose not to fight the various zoning actions and found places for her various tenants to live.

Attorney Groberg said it was a different kind of case, that no one alleged his client didn’t have a real injury, his client didn’t hide what she was doing, and she didn’t earn any money doing it. She lost money, he said.

“Judy’s a good person, trying to do good things,” he said.

He said the case was political in some aspects.

“Not on Eric’s (the deputy prosecuting attorney) part,” he said. “But with Brad Reynolds, the neighbor and another neighbor was Chehalis’ code enforcement officer.”

And he noted the politics in Olympia with a push for L&I to privatize, that the agency is looking harder to find fraud to justify such a change.

“And one example of trying to find fraud, Judy’s an example of that,” he said.

The L&I investigator who handled the case said he couldn’t say who made the initial complaint. It was anonymous, he said.


For background, read:

• “Discord on Nix Road: Newest arrivals unwelcome” from Saturday March 3, 2012, here

• “The backstory: Intelligence gathering, possible fines and code enforcement tools “not normally used” from Sunday March 4, 2012, here

• “The sun sets on House of the Rising Son” from Thursday March 20, 2014, here

Accidental free night out for jail inmate

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Updated at 1:13 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – An inmate was accidentally released from the Lewis County Jail last night, a 25-year-old man charged just yesterday with harassment, threat to kill.

Joshua E. Blankenship was arrested on Monday afternoon after allegedly pointing an imaginary gun at grocery store employees who detained him for stealing pre-packaged biscuits and gravy in Centralia.

Police said he mimicked shooting sounds at the same time, saying “Pow, pow, pow,” while staff held him down.

Jail Chief Kevin Hanson said he learned of the error this morning.

“We had law enforcement all over searching for him,” Hanson said.

Centralia police located Blankenship and returned him to the Chehalis facility at about noon today.

Blankenship has been described by local police as both a Chehalis resident and a transient.

He was arrested a week ago in Chehalis for allegedly stealing a backpack and attempting to steal a bicycle chained up on a porch. A caller to 911 said he seemed to be speaking in tongues.

On Monday, Centralia officers were called to Fuller’s Shop ‘n Kart on the the 500 block of South Tower Avenue where they were told he was seen walking into the restroom with a food item in his hand, but when he came out he didn’t have it.

He allegedly shoved an employee who tried to block his path and then during an ensuing tussle, the biscuits and gravy fell from his pocket.

Threatening the workers with his pretend gun brought him a charge yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court of harassment. The shove elevated what would have been a shoplifting charge to second-degree robbery.

A judge yesterday afternoon ordered Blankenship held on $10,000 bail.

Hanson said he was let go from the jail yesterday evening because his paperwork wasn’t properly processed.

“My staff read the paperwork wrong and released him,” Hanson said.

Jail staff thought Blankenship could get out on a signature bond, a promise to appear in court, according to Hanson.

Hanson said he didn’t know how dangerous Blankenship is or isn’t, as he hasn’t met him.

Mistakes are bound to happen, with a hugely convoluted paperwork system, Hanson said.

“What I can tell you is nobody’s perfect,” he said. “We process thousands of releases and bookings each year, and it’s not always easy to decipher.”

A Centralia Police Department spokesperson said he didn’t yet know the details, but believed Blankenship was found standing on a street in town and an officer spotted him.

His arraignment is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, when a judge may be asked to consider a lower bail amount, according to defense attorney Bob Schroeter who represented him temporarily at yesterday’s hearing.