Sheriff Steve Mansfield wants the residents of a Nix Road home to live elsewhere, or at least not together.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A stranger knocking on your door after dark asking to use your phone. A stranger walking up your driveway. A stranger shining a flashlight onto your porch at night. Somebody “spot lighting” your house.
Neighbors on Nix Road west of Chehalis are wary, annoyed and scared.
The roughly half-mile long stretch off of Highway 603 is home to descendants of original homesteaders, families, and at least one rental house.
It’s the three-bedroom home just a few doors down that’s central to so many concerns the past few months.
Longtime residents gradually realized its tenants were a group of ex-convicts, some whose past crimes were sex offenses.
And the clash between the rights of citizens to live where they choose and of citizens’ desire to choose their neighbors is playing out in an increasingly intense battle.
Thirty-year-old Chris Hammond moved into the house at 110 Nix Road six months ago, and it’s been disconcerting to him, especially, the man across the street whose name he can’t remember.
“That guy walks around at night shining a flashlight,” Hammond said. “He shined it on our porch.”
“That guy” he’s talking about is Bradd Reynolds, ex-cop, current block watch leader and a 26-year-resident of the neighborhood.
Hammond blames Reynolds for stirring up much of the commotion that he contends otherwise wouldn’t be extraordinary.
“It’s easier to blames the felons, cause we’ve already done something,” Hammond said.
As it turns out, it wasn’t Reynolds, but probably Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield who confronted Hammond in Hammond’s driveway.
Reynolds, however, a retired Centralia police officer, is doing what he can to keep the rural area safe, knowing some number of felons, some with violent pasts have moved in at 110 Nix Road.
In an invitation to the news media Reynolds sent out two weeks ago, he told of a registered sex offender arrested for trespassing when he was found in the brush wearing “camo” and watching young girls playing in the nearby softball field and other concerning incidents.
“Over the past several weeks these registered sex offenders and recently released violent felons have been found down private driveways and loitering in the street,” Reynolds wrote. ”One of the residents walked back and forth and sat down in the road this past week for over two and half hours on one afternoon.”
It’s no place for felons, according to Reynolds. And Sheriff Mansfield agrees.
Mansfield has implemented a zero-tolerance policy for any incidents involving the home and he’s made it clear he will do everything in his power to force the house to shut down.
His mission is to deliver a feeling of safety and security to citizens, Mansfield says.
What the sheriff calls “intense enforcement pressure” is making some of those citizens more comfortable and some much less.
The spotlighting was done by a deputy a few days before one of the now-former residents flipped out, Hammond said.
The 30-year-old said he went out on his porch to smoke a cigarette when he saw two patrol cars driving by.
“They proceed to shine their spotlights all over our house,” Hammond said. “You could hear (Bradd Reynolds) screaming, that Dave better stay off his property.”
His roommate Dave Mosteller was inside passed out in a chair on his meds, Hammond said.
Something both sides seem to agree, is they don’t think people like Mosteller and the man arrested at the Grays Field should be living there.
Mosteller was taken away by deputies three times, most recently for kicking a roommate in the leg and picking up a hammer, according to Lucia Spross who is the “house mother” at 110 Nix Road.
Her husband, Wes Holmes had to take away the hammer.
“His counselor calls it an episode of his dementia,” Holmes said. “He thought he was in the house he grew up in.”
Holmes said Mosteller sometimes got aggressive, and had a “helluva time” getting mental health services.
“Dave also with all these problems, has no family to fall back on, no friends,” Holmes said. The housemates did what they could, he said.
Mosteller is in the Lewis County Jail, after his arrest for misdemeanor assault.
The other former roommate won’t be moving back in either.
Eric Bilton-Smith, 49, was arrested for misdemeanor trespass after the September incident at the ball field, and for possession of marijuana.
Bilton-Smith is registered as a level three sex offender because of a 1987 conviction for rape of a 10-year-old girl and later for assaulting a woman. He got out of prison in 2006.
Judy Chafin-Williams, who manages the house, won’t let him come back. But his sex crimes are not the reason.
His “issues” were too much, Chafin-Williams said.
“I finally told him I couldn’t keep him,” she said. “He’s a delusional, paranoid, schizophrenic.”
He’s listed as living “transient” in Lewis County now.
Hammond is fine without those kinds of roommates.
“Those people causing problems shouldn’t be out there on their own anyway,” he said.
Chafin-Williams opened the Nix Road house last July to men transitioning out of prison.
The 59-year-old woman operates a similar house in a former church in Chehalis, called House of the Rising Son.
Her work is Christian-based, she said. The property owners are people who got tired of renting to drug addicts, she said.
The number one house rule is no drugs or alcohol, and most of the residents are under monitoring by the state Department of Corrections.
The rambler on Nix Road is where she places registered sex offenders, because it’s not near any schools, she said.
Currently, three level-two sex offenders live there.
It’s a 1,500 square-foot-plus modular home with a three-car garage on a little more than a quarter acre.
The maximum number of people who can live there is nine, she said, but she prefers to keep it at seven.
Chafin-Williams is disturbed about the outcry over Nix Road.
They’re simply people who need assistance getting back on their feet after prison, she says.
“They have the right to their constitutional rights and pursuit of happiness,” she said. “They have rights, they did their time.”
Spross, the house mother, offered the same sentiment earlier this week.
“I don’t get why everybody’s making a big deal,” the Winlock native said. “I understand their offenses are horrendous, but they’re not pushing their children’s swings.”
They live their “separate lives” and don’t ask the neighbors for anything, she said.
Spross and her husband moved in three months ago, and they took the converted room in the garage as their bedroom, until a county code enforcement person showed up recently and told them they couldn’t sleep there, she said.
She and Holmes pay $500 a month to share the master bedroom now. It’s what’s affordable, according to Holmes.
His income, after paying child support, from social security disability is small.
“I have to have a place where I have a roommate,” he said. “Trust me, you can’t find anything for $351. If it wasn’t for my wife’s income, I’d be a sunk duck.”
The 33-year-old finished 10 months in prison last April, following a conviction for when authorities seized his entire year’s supply of medical marijuana, he said.
“I didn’t read the fine print,” Holmes said.
The couple often does grocery shopping for the house, and Spross cooks.
Holmes comes across as an advisor and defender for his roomies.
“I tell them it is your God given right to walk down that public road, but do not, under any circumstances, cross that white line into somebody’s driveway.”
He knows they have to be careful, because they are ex-convicts but says his roommates have already paid for their crimes.
“All these guys, they’ve done their time,” Holmes said. “Their court-ordered programs – they’ve either done them or are in the middle of them. They’ve done what’s required of them.”
Not all the residents were as willing as Holmes and Hammond to share their stories.
Hammond said he tends to be the “taxi driver” since he has a vehicle.
He also is kept busy, earning a bachelors degree online and with his fledgling computer consulting business.
He’s only been out since September, after being incarcerated for identity theft, and possession of methamphetamine with a firearm, he said.
Affordability was key for him as well. He saw Chafin-Williams’ phone number on a bulletin board, and hers was the cheapest rent, he said.
Hammond said he doesn’t understand the intensity of the animosity from the neighborhood.
“I’d like to know how it hurts them, somebody who did five years in prison and has been doing good every day since he got out?” he asked.
Hammond didn’t talk about his juvenile sex crime conviction.
The neighbors are frightened. Mansfield says he’s got people who want to sell their homes. Reynolds says some have gone out and bought guns.
Mike Seago who lives right next door says he worries about his wife and daughter.
“I don’t sleep that well at night, because every little sound, I’m up looking,” Seago said.
The only problems he’s had directly are his daughter was kept awake by loud music from someone pulling into the neighbor’s driveway one night.
“And somebody said on of them was caught climbing our fence, but I don’t know that for sure,” he said.
Susie Reynolds spoke of how her husband gets nervous if she’s out working in her garden and doesn’t answer her cell phone when he calls.
“It used to be I could go work out there all day and it didn’t matter,” she said. “Now if I don’t answer, it’s panic mode.”
And Ken Gray feels like it’s putting a pack of wolves next to a herd of sheep. He owns the softball field adjacent to his home, where his family has lived for years.
“Two weeks ago, my granddaughter wanted to go play on the swing-set, and I had to tell her no, I was afraid to,” Gray said. “They’re making us prisoners in our own homes.”
A neighborhood meeting Thursday night inside Gray’s barn for the news media was organized around the elected official’s schedules. About 60 people gathered, including the sheriff, Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, County Commissioner Lee Grose and a handful of others who work for the county.
After making sure none present were residents of 110 Nix Road, Reynolds introduced the sheriff who described what he’s doing to help and answered questions.
Putting that many felons under one roof out in the county is a bad idea because of potential conflict among themselves as well as it’s not a good environment for them, according to the Sheriff Mansfield.
Many of them don’t drive, there’s no bus service and stores, jobs and other resources they need are in town, some five miles away.
“The reason I’m here is because you’ve lost your sense of security in your neighborhood,” Mansfield told the group.
He urged folks to keep in close contact with Reynolds, who is keeping in close contact with a deputy sergeant assigned responsibility for Nix Road.
The 911 center know any calls there are a top priority, they were told. And his deputies will be “real aggressive” every time they come out, the sheriff said.
Deputies have made four arrests there this year, he said.
“My whole goal is to remove that from your community,” he said. “If we can’t do that, we’ll work to make it as safe as it can be.”
Mansfield has parked a patrol car on Reynolds’ property to let the felons know they’re being watched and his office spent $9,000 on a new camera placed in a location he isn’t going to divulge, he said.
The sheriff described the various ways they can keep tabs on the house, for example using community corrections officers who regularly visit there monitoring those who are under their supervision.
Sgt. Rob Snaza is keeping a file on the house, he told the group. And the neighborhood will get flyers whenever any new sex offenders move in, he said.
Mansfield is working closely with other arms of county government to find if any code or zoning rules have been violated, he said.
“They may be a non-profit,” he said. “It will be so expensive, if their mission is compromised because they have so many fines levied on them, they’ll have to move.”
He conveyed the willingness to get new ordinances crafted if that’s what’s necessary and planning to write a letter when he finds out who in the prison system is working closely with house manager Chafin-Williams.
Mansfield praised Reynolds’ work as block watch captain, noting one of the current house residents is responsible for an on-the-job injury that ended Reynolds’ police career and a former resident was once arrested for fighting with Reynolds’ police officer son.
Mansfield advised restraint telling the neighbors to be concerned, but not scared. He doesn’t want someone to end up in jail for shooting someone they’re afraid of, he said.
“They know they’ve got a big target on their back, everybody’s watching them, so they’re trying to toe the line,” Mansfield said. “Some of them.”
DOC Community Corrections Supervisor Scott Albert spoke briefly about the residents of the house his office is responsible for, three of the six who live there now.
State law requires individuals released from prison to reside in their “home” county, he said.
“These are people from our county,” Albert said. “These are people who’ve been to jail and they have no where else to go.”
If they are homeless, it’s more problematic, he said.
“At least here, you know what they are about, and that helps us supervise them,” he said.
Albert noted that released prisoners have civil rights and can only be monitored for certain conditions. He’s working with county government however in the ways that he can.
“Last week, I went to the house and the code enforcement guys walked in behind me,” Albert said.
Elected Lewis County Prosecutor Meyer addressed the group only to praise the neighbors for coming together and assure that his office too would operate with a zero tolerance policy.
Meyer’s Chief Civil Deputy Glenn Carter shared the process the county uses for code violations – fines; and for zoning violations – prohibiting certain uses in certain areas.
The health code, for example, has rules about a septic system needing to be sufficient for a certain number of people, he said.
Among the questions they are pondering is what exactly is meant by “single-family” dwellings, do the occupants have to be related, Carter said.
It’s not black and white, he said.
One of the three elected county commissioners addressed the group, indicating their support for the sheriff.
Lee Grose said at last count, there were 400 code violations around the county.
“We can’t afford to deal with all of them,” Grose said. “Having said that, we’ve moved this issue to the very top.”
The commissioners are also looking to create a new rule, he said, not for just the Nix Road house, but for others like it.
It’s not a simple task, he said.
“We’ve got to be very careful it doesn’t affect the kind of business we don’t want to move out,” he said.
Nix Road block watch captain Reynolds thanked his neighbors for working together and calling when they see something suspicious, like when someone was prowling on his property not long ago. He thanked the sheriff’s office for its involvement.
“If we watch out for each other, we won’t need these guys, except to come and clean up the mess,” Reynolds told his neighbors.
Chafin-Williams has opened other similar houses in Chehalis, Centralia and out towards Onalaska.
There are currently 395 registered sex offenders throughout Lewis County. The number of other ex-convicts is unknown.
Disclosure: Bradd Reynolds has sometimes shot photographs for Lewis County Sirens.
Correction: This news story has been updated to reflect correctly when it was Reynolds invited the news media to come to a gathering of Nix Road neighbors and county officials.
Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield told residents he has implemented "intense enforcement pressure" on ex-cons living in Nix Road house