Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Morton police: Alleged Facebook shenanigans bring criminal charges

Thursday, February 11th, 2016
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Jennifer M. Mau looks toward her temporary defense attorney as her court hearing wraps up.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 36-year-old Morton woman was arrested yesterday, accused of creating a Facebook profile to make it appear her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend posted a threat.

Jennifer M. Mau was booked into the Lewis County Jail last night arrested for criminal impersonation and identity theft, however the charges filed today in Lewis County Superior Court were slightly different.

Judge James Lawler allowed her to be released on a $10,000 signature bond.

The information in charging papers gives the following account of what led to the arrest:

On Christmas Eve, an officer was dispatched to the 700 block of Main Avenue in Morton where Loren Hedge said Mau, his girlfriend, informed him Amber Osmanberg had put up a message on Facebook threatening Hedge and Mau.

The message included statements such as “Just wait till you are sleeping!!”; “You got nerves.”; “I’ll go to jail, I don’t care.”; and “I’ll get you when you least expect it.”

Osmanberg, 31, was the protected party in an order restraining Hedge and Mau from contacting her.

Morton police discovered two accounts for Osmanberg on Facebook, one which appeared to have been created earlier the same day.

Osmanberg denied the message and said she knew nothing about it.

Through a series of warrants served on Facebook, Verizon and Sprint, officers learned the second Facebook profile had been created using Internet Protocol addresses owned by Mau and associated with her cell phone.

When police spoke to Mau at her home yesterday, she denied creating the Facebook account and denied having an issue with Osmanberg.

Mau is charged with second-degree identity theft, a class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. She is also charged with the gross misdemeanor of malicious prosecution.

Mau is a former a criminal justice student, best known in the past locally for her private endeavors to search for missing children in high profile cases.

Her arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 25.

Defense attorney Joely O’Rourke told the judge this afternoon Mau is unemployed and qualified for a court-appointed lawyer.

Bail set at $150,000 for Randle man accused of sexual assaulting girlfriend

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The arrest of a 21-year-old Randle resident came after the White Pass High School principal came across “disturbing” postings on Facebook which seemed to involve students and notified law enforcement on Monday.

Charging documents filed yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court state a deputy responded to the school and then spoke to former girlfriends of Nickolas J. Hardman-Schmitt and then interviewed him.

The nature of the posts reportedly made by Hardman-Schmitt were not disclosed, but the investigation led to his Monday arrest.

According to charging documents, a 19-year-old who said they dated told the deputy of an instance where Hardman-Schmitt allegedly ignored her telling him no, she did not want to have sex.

A second incident allegedly involved Hardman-Schmitt’s request to role play a rape scene and although she refused, he allegedly went ahead, putting his hands around her throat and squeezing until she saw spots, the documents allege.

During his investigation, Deputy Tim English also spoke with a 13-year-old girl who shared Facebook posts from Hardman-Schmitt in which he repeatedly asked her to be “friends with benefits”, which the girl understood to mean he wanted to have sex with her, the documents state.

Hardman-Schmitt was charged yesterday with two counts of third-degree rape and one count of second-degree assault with sexual motivation as well as felony communication with a minor for immoral purposes.

Defense attorney Joely O’Rourke told the judge yesterday her client had absolutely no criminal history as a bail amount was discussed. She said he has a stable address where he resides with his father.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Sara Beigh said the allegations were serious and requested Hardman-Schmitt be held on $150,000 bail.

O’Rourke said Hardman-Schmitt had been working as a cook at a Randle restaurant but was currently unemployed and she believed he qualified for a court appointed attorney.

Judge James Lawler set bail as prosecutors requested and signed orders prohibiting contact with the alleged victims.

Third-degree rape is a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Second-degree assault with sexual motivation holds a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The defendant was initially charged in Lewis County District Court with communication with a minor for immoral purposes, a gross misdemeanor, but that charge was dismissed and re-filed as a felony in Superior Court.

His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 18 in Lewis County Superior Court.

Prosecutor uncovers alleged perjured testimony, from state’s own witness

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office says it learned an expert witness it used multiple times was untruthful about her credentials, including on the witness stand in court.

Toni Nelson has worked in Lewis County as a victim’s advocate, and has testified in at three least trials, primarily about delayed reporting in sex crime cases, according to Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.

Meyer said in the past Nelson had indicated she graduated from a specific college, but he now knows she attended there but left before earning her degree.

Meyer said she also had said she had a nursing degree and was a certified teacher, both of which she admitted to him were not true.

The prosecutor said he was given information tipping him off in early January, did some research and then two weeks ago met with her and asked her specific questions.

“We’re just trying to figure out how widespread this is, ” Meyer said today.

Nelson has worked for the White Pass Community Coalition, the Human Response Network and at one time was associated with Fresh Start, according to Meyer.

The statute of limitations for bringing charges of perjury is three years, and has passed, he said. The last time prosecutors had her testify was 2010, he said.

Meyer said so far they have found Nelson had involvement in approximately five dozen cases with the prosecutors office.

He said now he’s primarily working to contact and make sure victims and defendants are notified.

“She’s had training, but the problem is, once you’re not truthful on the stand, that taints everything you say,” Meyer said.

Centralia attorney Shane O’Rourke is representing Nelson, but indicated he’s restrained from saying specifically when or why he is hired in any client’s case.

“My function is to represent somebody who is presently having significant allegations brought,” O’Rourke said this afternoon.

O’Rourke said he understands how the prosecutor’s office, if they believe they have something like they say they do, would need to look back over cases to try to determine if it could have drastic consequences.

“I can’t talk about any of the particulars at this point,” he said. “There may come a time when I can not be vague.”

He said he’s known Nelson as a professional acquaintance for about eight years, as an individual working in social services, someone known for things such as getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning to give people rides to shelters.

“I think you’d be hard pressed to find many people who have anything negative to say about her involvement,” he said. “And people would attest to the fact that this is a person who has dedicated a huge chunk of her life and career and doing what she could to help other people.”

Sheriff’s high honors go to Corrections Officer Wood, Detective Seiber

Sunday, February 7th, 2016
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The audience rises to its feet as Sheriff Snaza speaks of detective Tom Callas’s career and retirement during an awards presentation at Bethel Church.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

NAPAVINE –  Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza honored two officers with an award for portraying the guardian spirit.

Corrections Officer Bill Wood was recognized for his heroic actions when he pursued and apprehended a just-convicted defendant who fled a courtroom last October.

“Basically he got into a fight,” Snaza said, of the chase that began on the fourth floor of the Lewis County Law and Justice Center, continued down a back stairwell and out onto the street in Chehalis.

Snaza spoke of Wood’s tenacious attitude when he presented him on Thursday with the Guardian Award.

“He wasn’t gonna let that guy go,” he said.

The high praise was offered during a gathering of members of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office at Bethel Church in Napavine. The annual meeting is held to recognize outstanding work by employees.

A second Guardian Award was given to detective Gene Seiber, a person Snaza said had gone unrecognized for too long.

Seiber was part of the command staff under former Sheriff Steve Mansfield. After Snaza was elected sheriff, he moved Seiber into a newly created position, a detective focusing on the east end of the county.

Snaza spoke of Seiber’s consistent dedication and outstanding performance in the daily execution of his duties.

“Exceptional service with an excellent attitude,” he said.

Numerous honors and awards were presented, including a Distinguished Service Medal for detective Tom Callas whose retirement began that afternoon. Callas started at the sheriff’s office in 1988.

Snaza, with Undersheriff Wes Rethwill assisting in the ceremony, called three civilians to the stage as well.

Cameron Church, accompanied by his girlfriend Skyler Grimes, was given a Citizen Service Medal.

On Nov. 14, when a senior citizen drove her car onto a flooded Forest Service Road 25 south of Randle, Church put aside his own personal safety and rushed in to pull  her from her water-filled car.

“They then kept her warm while waiting for aid to arrive,” he said.

Snaza then gave a certificate of bravery and courage to Aiden Readman, a young man who called 911 when his mother was being assaulted, and helped protect his mother and sister.

The sheriff spent some time during the meeting sharing the office’s priorities and goals during his first year in office and also for the coming year.

His list for 2016 contains 47 items.

“When I thought of running for sheriff, I want to make sure you guys are taken care of,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion.

In closing, the sheriff told the employees, there’s no “I” in their organization.

“I cannot be successful without you,” he said. “We can be successful together.”

Among the awards presented were also, Employee of the Year, which went to:

• Field Operations Bureau – Deputy Justin Rodgers
• Corrections Bureau – Corrections Sgt. Joyce McCoy
• Corrections Bureau Support Technician – Ramona Romine
• Services Bureau – Support Technician Debra Hensley

State patrol: Pe Ell man lost control of his truck, leading to deadly crash

Saturday, February 6th, 2016
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The light blue Mazda pickup and yellow Jeep rest on state Route 6 near Adna. / Courtesy photo by Washington State Patrol

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The cause of the collision on state Route 6 yesterday remains under investigation but the Washington State Patrol reports the pickup truck carrying two individuals who died was T-boned in its passenger side by the Jeep Wrangler.

Both vehicles had been traveling in opposite directions, about two miles west of Chehalis, according to the state patrol.

Firefighters from Chehalis and Lewis County Fire District 6 responding to the approximately 4:50 p.m. call near Highway 603 found the man and woman deceased and the driver – and sole occupant – of the Jeep in serious condition, according to authorities.

Glennon G. Stinson, 69, from Rochester, was transported to Providence Centralia Hospital.

The state patrol identifies the driver of the 1989 Mazda B2200 pickup as Joseph A. Schwartz, 23, of Pe Ell. His passenger was Katharina M. McKenna, 27, from Chehalis.

The investigating trooper describes the incident as Schwartz traveling eastbound and for whatever reason, he lost control of his truck and slid across the centerline into the westbound lane. The front of the westbound Jeep struck the passenger side of his truck, according to the state patrol.

The roadway was closed for nearly four hours, according to Trooper Will Finn.

All three individuals had been wearing seat belts, according to the state patrol.

It’s unknown if drugs or alcohol were involved, according to the initial information. No charges are expected.

Both vehicles were totaled, towed and impounded.

Live military mortar removed from under Pe Ell chicken coop

Friday, February 5th, 2016
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This might look a little bit like an ugly fishing lure, but it’s almost two feet long. / Courtesy photo by Pe Ell Marshals Office

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  The Washington State Patrol Bomb Squad was called to Pe Ell yesterday evening after a large military mortar was found under a chicken coop.

“The homeowner was putting in a fence, dug in close to the chicken coop and noticed something hard and tapped it a couple times,” Pe Ell Marshal Mike Hartnett said.

It turns out the nearly two-foot-long object was live, he said.

“It’s firing mechanism was intact and its safety pin was gone,” Hartnett said. “One abrupt bump on the nose of that, could have set it off.”

The marshal said he understood it would have a “kill radius” of up to 50 meters.

One meter is a little longer than three feet.

Hartnett said two of his deputy marshals were on duty, and they evacuated a couple residents and blocked off the area. It was in the backyard of a residence on East Pe Ell Avenue, near the edge of the city limits, he said.

It was about 5:45 p.m. and the bomb squad came out and ended up putting it in their bomb trailer and hauling it back to Shelton to dispose of it, he said.

Hartnett said he was told it was an 82 mm mortar.

“Probably an old Vietnam-era mortar, is our best guess,” he said.

How it got a backyard in Pe Ell, they don’t know. It’s an older home, that’s had a few owners, he said.

“Either somebody brought home a souvenir, even off a military firing range and thought it was a dud,” he said. “Maybe someone didn’t want it anymore and poked it under the chicken coop.”

Salkum man charged with rape, kidnapping

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Prosecutors yesterday charged 25-year-old Joel L. Kaech with multiple felonies in connection with weekend incidents involving alleged sexual assaults of a Longview woman.

The Salkum man was arrested on Sunday, brought before a judge on Monday and then made another court appearance yesterday afternoon.

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Joel L. Kaech

Kaech is charged with two counts of first-degree rape, one count of first-degree kidnapping and one count of felony harassment. Harassment has a maximum penalty of five years, but the other offenses carry a possible life sentence.

The 32-year-old woman spoke with police on Saturday night near the Goodwill store in Centralia, saying she had run away from Kaech at the skate park across the street.

She spoke of she and a mutual friend being picked up by Kaech in Longview, and Kaech kicking the friend out of the car and then an unspecified period of time in which the two drove to several places in Lewis County.

Charging documents describe the events as occurring on or about and between Friday and Saturday.

On Monday afternoon, a Lewis County Superior Court judge ordered the defendant held in the Lewis County Jail and continued his preliminary appearance one day while prosecutors made a charging decision.

Kaech mouthed off the to the judge, and was held in contempt Monday afternoon. Judge James Lawler ordered a no-bail hold and gave Kaech 60 days lock up as a penalty for his behavior.

Yesterday afternoon at the start of his hearing Kaech apologized to the judge for his attitude the day before.

Lawler thanked him, told him he had been way out of line, and then decided to reduce the contempt time to 10 days.

Temporary defense attorney Joely O’Rourke said Kaech is unemployed and she believed he qualified for a court appointed lawyer. Chris Baum was set to represent him.

Lewis County Prosecutor Sheila Weirth requested and was granted a sexual assault protection order for the alleged victim

Kaech is being held on $500,000 bail. His arraignment is scheduled for tomorrow.
•••

For background, read “Rape investigation: Salkum man held with no bail, no charges” from Monday February 1, 2016, here

Breaking news: Police investigating stabbing in Chehalis

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Police and aid were called at 7 o’clock this morning to a stabbing at the Chehalis Avenue Apartments.

The victim, in her mid-20s, was conscious and alert, and taken to the hospital, according to the Chehalis Fire Department.

Chehalis Police Department spokesperson Linda Bailey said officers are investigating and she didn’t have many details yet.

“I know they brought the K-9 out,” Bailey said. “It didn’t seem as though it was a life threatening injury.”

The apartments are on the 300 block of Southwest Third Street.

Chehalis 10th Street garage dweller charged with dealing meth

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016
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Russell S. Foster is brought into Lewis County Superior Court this afternoon to see a judge.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Prosecutors today requested a $5,000 unsecured bond for the Chehalis woman whose property was searched yesterday morning following a visit by a SWAT team and an ongoing drug investigation.

Fifty-one-year-old Mary K. West, also known as Mary K. Craig, was charged today in Lewis County Superior Court with one count of possession of methamphetamine.

Police reported finding a pipe with residue and three ziplock baggies with an unspecified amount of meth in her bedroom, according to charging documents.

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Mary K. West

Russell S. Foster, 46, who resides in a detached garage on the property on Southwest 10th Street was arrested as well and charged today with three counts of delivery of methamphetamine.

The Lewis County Regional SWAT Team and the Joint Narcotics Task Force yesterday morning served a search warrant and turned up items in Foster’s dwelling such as digital scales, numerous empty small baggies and what prosecutors described in charging documents as a receipt book with notations such as “T-shirt” and “Half T-shirt” which detectives say refer to “teeners” or 1.5 grams of meth.

They also seized a plastic bag containing approximately two “teeners,” according to the documents.

Foster allegedly sold meth to a confidential police informant back in early 2014 and then twice more sometime during the month that ended yesterday, according to the documents.

Chehalis Police Department Chief Glenn Schaffer said in a written statement yesterday the residence has been “an issue” for police and for its neighbors.

While yesterday’s news release reported the home was on the 100 block of Southwest 10th Street, it actually is on the next block east of that, in between South Market Boulevard and McFadden Street.

Foster and West were booked into the Lewis County Jail. At least one other person present was arrested on an outstanding warrant. The court documents relate Foster has a girlfriend who resided with him, but no mention has been made of the woman being arrested.

Police yesterday reported a stolen generator turned up during the search, from a December burglary on Jackson Highway.

West, who works part time at Burgerville, qualified for a court appointed lawyer. Her arraignment was scheduled for Feb. 11.

Police yesterday booked West for endangerment with controlled substance and subsequently added a potential charge of maintaining a dwelling for drug purposes, but those criminal charges were not filed today by the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.

Foster, who is unemployed and has prior criminal history about a decade old, was ordered held on $20,000 bail. Prosecutors had asked for $50,000. He is unemployed and likewise was given a court-appointed lawyer.

His arraignment is scheduled for Thursday.

 

Rape investigation: Salkum man held with no bail, no charges

Monday, February 1st, 2016
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Joel L. Kaech looks toward lawyers during his hearing in Lewis County Superior Court this afternoon.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County prosecutors held off on filing any criminal charges today against the Salkum man arrested yesterday for the alleged kidnapping and rape of a 32-year-old Longview woman.

Joel L. Kaech, 25, will be held with no bail at the Lewis County Jail at least until tomorrow when the state should be in a better position to make an informed decision, according to authorities.

The alleged incident came to the attention of police, who made contact with the alleged victim around 8:25 p.m. on Saturday at the Goodwill store in Centralia after she reportedly ran away from Kaech at the skate park across Harrison Avenue.

She told law enforcement officers Kaech earlier had picked up her and a mutual friend in Longview, but kicked the friend out of the car and said, “Now you are my hostage,” according to court papers filed today.

The alleged victim told of being driven to the Spiffy’s parking lot on U.S. Highway 12 and raped and then to Kaech’s home in Salkum where he would take a shower and pick up some clothing, telling his mother not to let her leave, according to the declaration of probable cause.

The document offers other details including the following:

The alleged victim told a sheriff’s deputy Kaech drove them to a state park where he wanted to pick up some hidden stolen items – which he allegedly wanted to sell to get money to buy drugs, but they were not found – and to a church parking lot to sleep. She reported she awoke to Kaech  breaking in to the building and he threatened he would kill her if she didn’t help.

She told the deputy he then drove to a secluded place off U.S. Highway 12 where he allegedly pulled her by the hair into the back seat and once again raped her. Then they traveled to the skate park in Centralia. She also said she was threatened with a metal pipe.

When found sleeping in his car on Stowell Road in Salkum yesterday and questioned, Kaech denied knowing the alleged victim.

In Lewis County Superior Court today, Kaech talked back to the judge, and was told he would be held in contempt for 30 days, and then 30 more days when he did it again.

Lewis County Prosecutor Sheila Weirth had asked for bail to be set at $500,000, but Judge James Lawler made it a no-bail hold after the first outburst.

His temporary defense attorney Joely O’Rourke said afterwards, Kaech hadn’t known the details of the accusations being leveled against him until he got into the courtroom this afternoon.

“He was frustrated, as you can imagine,” O’Rourke said. “He didn’t have an opportunity to read though the probable cause statement until he got to court.”

Deputies saw a metal pipe in his car and applied for a search warrant to look for evidence in the vehicle, according to the court papers. The documents also relate that the alleged victim was taken to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia for evidence collection.

Prosecutors asked for and were granted the opportunity to keep Kaech in jail and bring him before a judge again tomorrow afternoon.
•••

For background, read “News brief: Kidnapping investigation leads to Salkum resident” from Monday February 1, 2016, here

Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Monday, February 1st, 2016
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•••

Updated at 5:48 p.m.

INDECENT EXPOSURE NEAR HIGH SCHOOL

• A 79-year-old Chehalis man was arrested for allegedly exposing himself from the doorway of a home near W.F. West High School to girls who drove by on Friday. Police were called about 11:45 a.m. after the high school students reported what they saw at the 500 block of Southwest 16th Street, according to the Chehalis Police Department. When they went by the first time he allegedly waved them over and when they passed again, they observed him through a glass door, according to police. Harold W. White was arrested for indecent exposure, department spokesperson Linda Bailey said.

BREAK-IN

• A deputy took a report of a residential burglary at the 200 block of Guerrier Road yesterday in which Xboxes and CDs were stolen, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

CAR PROWL

• Chehalis police were called yesterday to Southeast Third Street off Market Boulevard in Chehalis regarding a vehicle prowl in which someone broke a window and took a lunch box. The thief may have mistaken it for a purse because of its size and where it was located, according to the Chehalis Police Department.

• Police were called yesterday morning about a car prowl at on Southwest Fifth Street in Chehalis in which two CDs were stolen from an unlocked vehicle.

• Chehalis police were called to a vehicle prowl on Southwest 11th Street near Market Boulevard on Friday morning in which someone rummaged through a glove compartment during the night and stole an mp3 player. The vehicle had been left unlocked, according to the Chehalis Police Department.

DRUGS

• A 46-year-old woman arrested yesterday for driving under the influence following a single car rollover accident on U.S. Highway 12 in Glenoma was also arrested and subsequently charged with possession of a controlled substance, one and half pills of something called Alprazolam. Prosecutors alleged Candy A. Core had the drug without a prescription. According to charging documents, the Randle resident said her friend gave her the pills but she did not take them. She also told a trooper who asked about a pink straw with white residue from her pocket that she had used methamphetamine two days earlier, according to the allegations. Core and her passenger were reportedly uninjured. She was booked into the Lewis County Jail and after appearing before a judge this afternoon, allowed release on a $5,000 signature bond. Core has no prior criminal convictions, lawyers said today.

• A 25-year-old woman was arrested on Saturday for possession of a controlled substance after a deputy responded to Gee Cees truck stop near Vader to check on her because she was reportedly acting odd. A baggie of suspected heroin was found on the floor where she had been sitting and Samantha D. Weekly, from Eugene, Oregon, was booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

• A 35-year-old inmate who allegedly had tucked baggies of marijuana in his undershorts, found during a strip search, was arrested on Friday for possession of drugs by a prisoner. A deputy responded on Friday afternoon to the Lewis County Jail and arrested Aaron G. Stubbs, from Seattle, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. It appears from the jail roster he was brought to the Chehalis facility the day before for an outstanding warrant.

STEALING GASOLINE

• The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reported this morning that approximately 25 gallons of fuel was stolen from two trucks parked at Cardinal Glass on the 500 block of Avery Road outside of Winlock a week ago Sunday.

AND MORE

• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, shoplifting; responses for alarm, dispute, suspicious circumstances, misdemeanor theft … and more.

Losing candidate claims sheriff’s office rewarded reporter for election “hit pieces”

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A former candidate for Lewis County sheriff is contending a back room deal between the sheriff’s office and a local news reporter where assistance in obtaining a new job was given in exchange for news coverage that reflected badly upon him during his run for public office.

Brian Green claims the county concealed public records that showed evidence of a political pay off to Stephanie Schendel.

Schendel was a crime reporter at The Chronicle during the 2014 campaign. She was subsequently hired as a police officer by the city of Bellevue, with help from a formal recommendation from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, according to Green.

Green, an Onalaska resident who ran as an Independent, received less than 23 percent of the vote in the November 2014 election. Former Deputy Sgt. Rob Snaza got 77 percent and replaced outgoing Sheriff Steve Mansfield.

Green’s allegations come in a lawsuit he filed alleging a violation of the state public records act by Lewis County.

Eric Eisenberg, one of two Lewis County attorneys who submitted the response to the lawsuit, says there was no deal to get Schendel to write anything about Green.

“No, of course not,” Eisenberg said. “The county doesn’t do business that way.”

It was an honest mistake in which the sheriff’s office didn’t realize until Green sued, that he wanted other records beyond just the copy of the job recommendation, he said.

The suit was filed Nov. 17 in Thurston County Superior Court. The details of Green’s suspicions of a “politically motivated quid pro quo” are presented in a motion he filed earlier this month, in which he asks a judge to find in his favor, claiming there are now no disputed material facts.

Green writes in his court documents that after Schendel “orchestrated a series of prejudicial media hit pieces” that were “instrumental in ensuring” his campaign would be unsuccessful, he was surprised to learn she obtained a job as a police officer.

So he set out to determine if her career change from a small town newspaper reporter to a big city law enforcement officer was related, he wrote.

According to the allegations which Eisenberg does not dispute, Green made a records request on November 19, 2014 asking the sheriff’s office for any and all official correspondence endorsing, advocating, commending, recommending or otherwise recognizing Schendel.

And on the same day, Chief Deputy Stacy Brown responded, asking for clarification, Green replied back and Brown partially fulfilled the request by sending Green a copy of a letter of recommendation she had written for Schendel.

Green subsequently discovered in records he obtained from the city of Bellevue there were documents Brown had failed to produce, in the form of email correspondence between the two agencies as well as a questionnaire seeking Brown’s input for the police department’s background investigation in early August 2014.

In Lewis County’s answer to the lawsuit, a declaration from Brown states it never occurred to her the questionnaire might be a document falling within the phrasing Green used in making his request, and she hadn’t even recalled it existed.

Brown indicated to the Bellevue investigator she believed Schendel would make an excellent police officer and an outstanding addition to the Bellevue Police Department.

She noted that no one else from the media in the previous 18 years had been able to build such a positive relationship with the sheriff’s office as Schendel.

Brown wrote about how hard Schendel worked to prepare herself physically and mentally to become a police officer, having talked about wanting to be a police officer for over a year.

Green contends the materials Brown withheld are the smoking gun evidence of a payoff to Schendel.

He is asking the court to award him costs, attorney fees and penalties.

Eisenberg acknowledges Lewis County violated the public records act, but says the non-compliance was a good-faith mistake. And, as soon as the county learned there were other records he had wanted, it provided them to Green, he said.

He acknowledges Green is entitled to an award in the amount of costs he incurred, for his $240 court filing fee.

The next question is the penalty, according to Eisenberg, which the county is arguing against having to pay.

The public records act provides for, at the discretion of the court, an award to the requestor of up to $100 per day for each day a record was withheld.

A hearing is scheduled in April for each side to present evidence on its view of the case.

Jasper’s case ends with a second 34-year sentence

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016
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Brenda A. Wing, 28, and her lawyer finalize her sentencing documents in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A Lewis County judge yesterday decided that standing by and doing nothing while her husband inflicted abuse upon a toddler that led to his death merited the same lengthy prison sentence for Brenda A. Wing.

Twenty-eight-year-old Wing, a mother of three, was given 34 years and eight months for first-degree manslaughter.

The couple who are originally from the Vancouver area were taking care of a 3-year-old boy in their Vader home. Jasper Henderling-Warner died on Oct. 5, 2014.

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Jasper Henderling-Warner

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt called it the worst case of child abuse he had ever seen.

“The two months worth, over two months, of torture here,” Hunt said. “As I recall, no single incident was fatal; Jasper’s body simply gave up.”

“This is the reason accomplices are equally as guilty,” he said.

The court hearing yesterday afternoon in Chehalis brings to an end the case that began 15 months ago.

The family had been living in the Vader house about two weeks when the Wings called 911 to say the toddler was unconscious and not breathing. Jasper’s 21-year-old mother had given the couple temporary custody while she was homeless and looked for work out of state.

There was no trial to bring out all the facts and details of what transpired. Lewis County prosecutors entered into a complex plea agreement because they did not know what actually happened.

Among the autopsy findings was facial trauma, including two lower-front teeth missing, as well as scrapes and bruises and also that Jasper had contracted MRSA, a drug-resistant staph infection.

Some of the statements from the couple given to investigators, and tested with polygraphs, which have been revealed during numerous court hearings suggest it began on the return home from a beach trip to Oregon.

Brenda Wing told her husband Jasper had placed his hands over their infant child’s mouth, prompting Danny Wing to strike Jasper in the face several times in the back of their van.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead has said that the little boy was being hit and conditioned until he would say it was someone else who had been harming him.

The plea agreements offered the Wings an opportunity of recommendations they be locked up for about 16 years if they truthfully described what occurred.

Halstead, the judge and defense attorney John Crowley spent a great deal of time yesterday discussing what the language in the supplemental agreement meant and whether Brenda Wing held up her end of the bargain. The deputy prosecutor successfully argued she withheld material information from investigators.

Halstead read from some of her statements: “Sometimes I would hold him down, while Danny was hitting him; this was to keep him from getting hurt worse” and “I remember flicking Jasper in the mouth.”

It turns out, while Brenda Wing told her husband Jasper assaulted their baby in the back of the car, he hadn’t, according to Halstead.

Halstead told the judge Brenda Wing admitted the lie to one of her relatives in a phone call from the jail, and said she didn’t know why she had said that to her husband but said it was what started all of the abuse.

When Danny Wing was sentenced in September, his lawyer compared the couple’s treatment of Jasper to a “Cinderella affect.”

Brenda Wing’s convictions, from the pleas she made last year, also include third-degree child assault, two counts of witness tampering and two counts of possession of a controlled substance.

Halstead asked the judge yesterday to give her 55 years in prison, the same request he’d made regarding her husband.

“I’m not going to go back through all of the facts,” he said. “I think the court’s aware of what’s in the file.”

Crowley requested a sentence of 14 and a half years, contending his client had not failed in the requirements of the plea agreement.

“She feels great remorse for whatever role she did play,” Crowley said.

Brenda Wing declined to speak on her own behalf.

Jasper’s mother, flanked in the first row bench by four women friends, advocated for the maximum sentence when she addressed the judge.

Nikki Warner recalled her child’s amazing and silly laugh and told the judge she asked people she considered family to take care of him while she got back on her feet.

“I could not believe it when I found out the living hell my son suffered,” she said.

Jasper would have celebrated his fifth birthday next week, she said.

“Why did you lie about Jasper doing mean things to your son that never happened?” Warner asked the defendant.

Also speaking to the court was Ruth Crear, a 14-year volunteer for the fire department, who was the first to arrive to the Vader house that evening.

She urged the judge to put Brenda Wing away for as long as he could.

“He was 3 years old, he couldn’t defend himself,” Crear said.

Crowley said his client will appeal.
•••

For background, read ” Vader man gets 34 years for toddler death” from Friday September 25, 2015, here

How Nikki Warner lost Jasper

Friday, January 22nd, 2016
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Nikki Warner pets her son’s chihuahua and his companion as she reflects upon the short life of her son.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

KALAMA – She has her son’s small dog, Dexter.

She has one of her toddler’s slippers, that she dug out of a cardboard box from the shed at the vacated house in Vader.

Nikki Warner has toys, framed handprints and photos arranged in a shrine surrounding a tall ocean-blue glass urn next to her bed.

But she doesn’t have her son.

Jasper James Henderling-Warner was 3 years old when he died while in the care of a married couple, parents to three of their own children. The household moved to the south Lewis County town about two weeks before his short life came to an end on Oct. 5, 2014.

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Jasper Henderling-Warner

Danny A. Wing, 26, and Brenda A. Wing, 27, were arrested a month later. And last year, they pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. The coroner said the child died from ongoing abuse and neglect.

The husband is serving a 34-year term in prison. The wife is expected to be sentenced today.

While news coverage of the case has portrayed the single mom as handing her son over to the Wings for a year, because she was homeless and couldn’t care for him, that’s not exactly accurate, according to Warner.

The arrangement was intended to be temporary, she said, the initial plan was only for a week.

Warner has been waiting. Waiting for the trips to the courthouse in Chehalis to be over. In her pocket, she carries the page she read to the judge when Danny Wing was sentenced. With minor adjustments, she’ll read the same words to the judge this afternoon.

The now-22-year-old said she doesn’t mind speaking about her son.

“Some days, it will hurt too much to talk about him,” Warner said. “But other days, it makes me feel better.”

Warner grew up in Woodland, adopted into a large family when she was in grade school. At 17, she moved to a high school in Vancouver, because there was a teen pregnancy home and daycare to support students in her situation.

That’s where Jasper was born, she said.

It was going okay, until he was about a month old, she said, but then she filed complaints that his formula was being used by others at the daycare, and his diapers weren’t changed often enough, she said.

“I dropped out, to be a stay-at-home mom,” Warner said.

Then Jasper’s 21-year-old father went back to his old girlfriend.

“Jasper was super smart,” she said. “He was crawling pretty good by the time he was eight months, and by 10 months, he was running.”

Calm, a good listener, and definitely a cuddler, she said.

The two of them moved in with a friend and the friend’s mother. It might seem odd, she said, but the friend was Jasper’s dad’s ex-girlfriend.

“Me and her became good friends and Casey could visit his son,” he said. “That worked out for a few months.”

Then another girlfriend’s mother took her and Jasper in, she said.

Eventually, Warner made contact with her birth mother, who had an extra bedroom in her Vancouver-area trailer. They lived there a year, maybe a year and a half, she said.

Her son was a boy whose favorite foods were hot dogs – he could eat four at one sitting – and Gummy hot dogs.

Jasper loved water, she said.

“We had a routine, bath after dinner, a lavender bath,” she said. “Thirty minutes of relaxation and winding down.”

Also part of her child’s routine, was splashing all the water out of the tub and then racing to his closet to try to dress himself before she could even get a diaper on him, she said.

“He would pick out his own movies he wanted to go to sleep with,” she said.

Her little boy was super friendly, she said, good with other kids.

Then Warner’s mom ran off with a boyfriend, and there were bills to pay.

With no driver’s license, no car and having never held a job other than work study in school, she reached out to friends.

“I had to have a friend get me hooked up with a church, for help,” Warner said.

A roommate moved in, but then the rent was going to be due again, she said.

“I was hanging out with Danny and Brenda, they would come over and help with food,” Warner said.

The Wings were more like family than friends, she said, because one of Warner’s adopted brothers, Jeff Warner, is Danny Wing’s blood brother.

Jasper would go to their house, a motel, for sleep-overs with their kids on weekends, she said. The Wings were waiting for a house to open up in Longview, she said.

Warner said she got an opportunity of work for a week, cleaning and organizing a man’s barn for $20 an hour. It was in Chico, California, but a friend paid for her ticket, she said.

Brenda Wing told her they could take care of Jasper until she got back, she said.

“I didn’t see any warning signs,” Warner said on a recent day as she looked back to the summer of 2014. “They were clear of drugs, they seemed normal.”

Warner said she herself has been on and off drugs since she was 14 years old, but she was two weeks clean at that time.

And now, she has one year and two months behind her, she said as she reflected on the present.

“If I used again, Jasper would be mad,” she said.

Back to the summer of 2014: The day before Warner was set to leave for California, they all went to Taco Bell and then to a park where they played on the swings and slide.

“I said, let’s write a piece of paper, in case something happens while I’m gone,” Warner said.

The note they all three signed named the Wings guardian to Jasper, from July 31, 2014 to July 31, 2015.

It was in case he had to go to the doctor or anything, Warner said.

Jasper had a mohawk. Warner had got him a Ninja Turtle bubble machine. They went back to the trailer to get his stuff.

“I kissed him, I told him it’s okay,” she said. “Then he left, and that’s the last day I seen him.”

One week in California turned in to two.

Warner returned to find her friend had abandoned the trailer, somebody broke a window and the police showed up, she said.

“So I gathered up all my stuff and took it to my friend Josh’s in Oregon,” he said.

Warner talked to the Wings and told them she would be job searching there, putting in job applications at different places, she said.

The Wings told her to take her time, and do what she needed to do, she said.

“They said ‘oh yeah, we’ve been taking him fishing, he’s loving it’,” Warner said. “They’re telling me how good he’s doing, and he’s enjoying it.”

The friend in Oregon City lived with his parents, who didn’t know he was sneaking Warner in through the back door, or even that she lived there, she said. That didn’t last.

Warner’s sister brought her back to Washington.

“My ex-boyfriend took me in, I slept in a tent in his backyard for five nights,” she said. “Then I ended up living in a truck with one of his friends.”

Though she didn’t have her own phone, she was able to keep in touch with her son using other people’s phones, at first.

“I would talk to Jasper and he would tell me how he loved me, he went fishing, he had fun with rocks and stuff,” she said. “And I would tell him, ‘Mommy’s still trying to find a place and then you won’t ever have to leave my side again’.”

Brenda Wing told her she would bring Jasper to see her but that never happened, Warner said.

They often wouldn’t take her calls and when they did, they would make excuses, she said.

Warner said news accounts of the case keep repeating that the Wings brought Jasper to visit her in mid-September, but they didn’t. It was a telephone conversation on Sept. 21, she said.

“After that, they wouldn’t answer their phone for like two weeks,” she said. “That’s when I found out Danny was in jail, for fighting a cop or something.”

Warner got the phone call on Oct. 6, and learned her son had died.

The evening before, police and firefighters responded to the house on the 400 block of Main Street in Vader, told that a child was unconscious and not breathing. He was rushed to Providence Centralia Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

In person, Warner doesn’t mind answering questions, but she doesn’t speak of what the police say Jasper endured in the final weeks of his life.

“I already feel guilty I put trust in Danny and Brenda,” she said.

Today, she’ll go the courthouse in Chehalis, hopefully for the last time, and see the end of the court case. She’s prepared to tell the judge what sentence she believes is appropriate for Brenda Wing.

“I don’t want her to be able to see or smell daylight, or touch a kid again,” Warner said. “She’s a monster.”

The hearing in Lewis County Superior Court is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
•••

For background, read “Sentencing delay looms again in Vader toddler death case” from Tuesday January 5, 2016, here

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Jasper’s shrine.

Convicted drug dealer threatens lawsuit over confiscation of defense documents

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A $1.5 million claim has been filed against Lewis County, by a former inmate who said he was left with no option other than entering into a plea agreement after his attorney-client-protected documents were removed from his cell before trial and handed over to a prosecutor.

Forrest E. Amos says the actions rendered his fair trial rights meaningless, violating his rights under the federal and state constitutions.

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Forrest E. Amos

Amos is serving a 12-year sentence in connection with trafficking in prescription pain pills.

Law enforcement estimated that in 2011 when Amos was aggressively dealing Oxycodone, he was the main supplier of the synthetic opiate within Lewis County, possessing and dealing thousands of pills a month.

Amos was held in the Lewis County Jail from December 2013 until the following August.

He writes in his claim that at the request of his lawyer, he prepared case notes, narratives, witness synopsis and questions, along with trial strategies and other materials intended to assist in preparing his defense.

He states that on June 18, 2014, two corrections officers stood by as a pair of Centralia police officers with a search warrant unlawfully went through all of his documents and seized them.

Amos contends that rather than place the materials into an evidence locker at the police department, the officers gave them to Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead.

His lawyer, Don Blair, attempted to view the documents so he could continue to prepare to interview witnesses prior to trial but was denied access by both the prosecutor’s office and the police department, according to Amos.

Amos filed a similar claim against the city of Centralia on Nov. 23. The city has turned the claim over to its insurer, according to its personnel director Candice Rydalch.

Lewis County Risk and Safety Administrator Paulette Young indicated today the county has taken no action on it yet.

She received Amos’s claim last week, mailed from Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen.

Amos, formerly of Napavine and Chehalis, was 30 years old in December 2013 when he was brought before a judge in Lewis County Superior Court, charged with organized crime and a multitude of other offenses. Centralia police contended Amos’s illegal activities dated back to 2011 and continued while he was in prison.

New charges of witness intimidation filed June 18, 2014 – which were subsequently dismissed – included allegations that while in the Lewis County Jail, Amos used his”legal mail” to continue his criminal intentions without detection.

Amos’s claim against the county states that Centralia Officer Adam Haggerty secured the search warrant for his jail cell from Judge R.W. Buzzard, but it omitted a fact which would have caused Buzzard not to grant the warrant.

Amos writes that Haggerty had earlier persuaded jail officials to copy all of his incoming and outgoing mail, and forward them to the Centralia Police Department.

In August 2014, he entered into a plea deal involving far fewer charges that gave him a dozen years behind bars and included a promise not to appeal his convictions or sentence in any way.

Amos writes also that he plans to file a lawsuit for invasion of privacy and abuse of process. He is representing himself.

•••

For background, read “Local oxycodone dealer goes back to prison” from Thursday Aug. 21, 2014, here

Juvenile administrators speak out on arrest of Green Hill counselor

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The state agency that oversees Green Hill School issued a statement yesterday in response to the arrest of one of its counselors who is accused of having a sexual relationship with a juvenile resident, calling such behavior inexcusable.

Thirty-six-year-old Erin L. Snodgrass, who also goes by Erin Stiebritz, was charged this week with first-degree custodial sexual misconduct.

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Courtesy photo DSHS

She was arrested on Monday at the juvenile incarceration facility in south Chehalis. Snodgrass has worked there since June 2013.

“We are disturbed by the actions of this individual and have done everything we can to hold her fully accountable,” Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration Assistant Secretary John Clayton stated in the press release.

Green Hill is run by the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, which is section of the Department of Social and Health Services. It’s a medium to maximum security fenced campus that provides older, male offenders education and vocational training.

According to authorities, staff members reported the alleged inappropriate behavior that triggered the investigation.

Snodgrass was immediately placed on an alternative assignment and was not allowed to have any contact with juveniles while the investigation was ongoing, according to DSHS.

She’s now on unpaid leave and not allowed back at work while the administrative process is wrapping up, according to DSHS spokesperson Chris Wright.

Wright indicated Snodgrass has not had any other disciplinary problems.

Charging documents filed in Lewis County Superior Court state that in February of last year, employees at Green Hill intercepted a letter suspected to be from Snodgrass to the student-inmate, detailing a sexual relationship.

A detective with the Washington State Patrol over the next few months gathered evidence, concluding just before Christmas when the alleged victim said in an interview the two had had sex a few times in her office at Green Hill.

The activities are alleged to have taken place between June 1 and November 12, 2014. The alleged victim turned 18 in July 2014, according to Lewis County prosecutors.

Snodgrass, described in the charging papers as a resident counselor, was placed on the alternative assignment on Nov. 22, 2014.

Clayton in the press release describes a zero tolerance policy for such behavior.

The agency is committed to the standards set forth in the Prison Rape Elimination Act, also known as PREA, he said. The federal law prohibits misconduct and harassment at correctional facilities.

“As new knowledge and research about ensuring appropriate boundaries and behavior in institutions becomes available, we train and share that information with staff,” he stated. “We also educate our youth about how to spot and report misconduct.”

First-degree custodial sexual misconduct is a class C felony, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Snodgrass denies the allegations.

A Lewis County Superior Court judge on Tuesday allowed her to be released from jail with a $25,000 unsecured bond.
•••

For background, read “Counselor-inmate sex alleged at Green Hill School” from Tuesday January 12, 2016, here

Lewis County 911 manager terminated

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Lewis County Board of Commissioners have fired their 911 manager and his supervisor.

The reason for the terminations are linked, but also included non-disclosure agreements signed with both men, Commission Chair Bill Schulte said today.

Schulte said only: “We felt there was some changes needed at 911.”

The Lewis County E911-Communications Division is responsible for providing and maintaining the communications center which serves as the primary answering point for all 911 calls placed in the county. The center dispatches calls for all local police, fire and emergency medical services.

Craig Larsen has been the 911 manager since Michael Strozyk moved out of the role and was promoted to director of central services for the county.

Strozyk oversaw facilities, information technology services, the Southwest Washington Fair and the 911 center. He reported to the three-member board of county commissioners.

Schulte said both were terminated yesterday morning.

While he would not discuss the reason, he said the move followed a meeting the commissioners had last week with a half dozen leaders of fire and police agencies in Lewis County.

“It was nothing we hadn’t heard before,” he said. “What surprised me was how strongly they felt.”

The commissioners appointed Lewis County Budget Administrator Steve Walton yesterday to serve as the interim director of central services.

Today, county personnel were drafting a contract with a Chehalis area man to work as the interim 911 manager, he said.

For now, Walton is in charge of the 911 center, according to Schulte.

“None of the dispatchers have been terminated, and I’m not aware of any who are going to resign,” he said. “The day-to-day operations are all in the hands of qualified people.”

Counselor-inmate sex alleged at Green Hill School

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016
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Erin Stiebritz waits her turn to go in front of a judge this afternoon at Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 36-year-old woman accused of having sex in her office at Green Hill School with a student-inmate was arrested yesterday and charged today with a felony.

Erin Stiebritz, who also goes by the last name of Snodgrass, worked as a counselor at the state institution in Chehalis.

Prosecutors allege the two had a sexual relationship during the latter half of 2014, before Stiebritz was placed on an alternative assignment based on allegations of inappropriate behavior with students, especially the alleged victim.

A detective with the Washington State Patrol investigated the case during 2015.

Stiebritz denies the allegations.

She was booked into the Lewis County Jail yesterday and brought before a judge late this afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court. She is charged with first-degree custodial sexual misconduct.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Nelson asked she be held on $25,000 bail, citing community safety concerns.

Defense attorney Joely O’Rourke told the judge she didn’t see that as an issue, as the alleged victim was 18 and the relationship alleged was consensual.

Judge James Lawler set bail with a $25,000 unsecured bond.

It’s not clear if Stiebritz is still employed at Green Hill.

Her court documents show she resides in Centralia but court documents in another case describe her as living in Cinebar with her husband in early 2015.

Charging documents give the following account of the investigation:

In February of last year, employees at Green Hill intercepted a letter suspected to be from Stiebritz to the student-inmate, detailing a sexual relationship.

A detective contacted the postmaster in Chehalis and confirmed the return address was a post office box she had rented two days after she was reassigned to a new position.

The student-inmate’s room was searched and approximately 30 letters and cards were found, with the same return address, discussing their relationship.

“A few of the letters describes how there is a pregnancy and (the student-inmate) is the father,” Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead wrote in the court documents.

In July, the detective interviewed her and she denied a relationship, writing the letters and renting a post office box.

The detective was able to listen to phone conversations made by Stiebritz to a different inmate at Walla Walla State Penitentiary during 2015 in which she allegedly spoke of the relationship and the post office box. The other inmate knows the alleged victim.

Two days before Christmas, the detective interviewed the alleged victim at Green Hill School, and he stated they had sex a few times in her office inside the Green Hill facility.

He told the detective initially she was helpful and concerned about him, but once he turned 18, she began to pursue him in a sexual manner.

Green Hill is run by the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, which  is part of the Department of Social and Health Services. It’s a medium to maximum security fenced facility that provides older, male offenders education and vocational training.

First-degree custodial sexual misconduct is a class C felony, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Stiebritz’s arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 21.

Children safe after man tries to steal van with them inside it

Monday, January 11th, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A stranger nearly drove off with a vehicle occupied by four children while their parents were unloading groceries at their Centralia home yesterday evening.

The 28-year-old father jumped into the passenger side of the vehicle and yelled at the man, who apologized and ran off, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

It happened about 4:50 p.m. at the 1600 block of Windsor Avenue, at the north end of town, Chief Deputy Stacy Brown said.

Deputies searched the area and a dog track was conducted, but the subject was not found, Brown said.

According to Brown, the family had just got home from grocery shopping and planned to head to the laundry, so the parents were taking their purchases inside and bringing laundry outside, while the children waited.

The father saw the man and thought he was coming to the door, but saw him get into their van instead and start driving away, Brown said.

He didn’t get very far.

The father ran and caught up to the vehicle and climbed into the passenger seat, she said.

When he asked the man what he was doing, he responded by saying he was not right in the head, and he didn’t want any trouble, Brown said. Then he fled.

The children were not harmed, she said.

The suspect spoke Spanish and was described as heavy set, with a mustache and wearing a hat and blue shirt and probably between 40 to 50 years old.

Brown said it’s not clear if the man was just attempting to steal the van and didn’t realize it had kids in it, or what.

The K-9 track did turn up some evidence, she said The sheriff’s office continues to investigate, she said.

The man is now wanted for attempted vehicle theft and kidnapping, according to Brown.