Port Angeles City Council hopeful says misdemeanors in past ‘minor instances’

Jake Oppelt

PORT ANGELES — Jake Oppelt, an Aug. 1 primary election candidate for Port Angeles City Council, has misdemeanor convictions for a hit-and-run unattended vehicle and making false statements to law enforcement officers, according to Clallam County District Court 2 and Port Angeles police records.

Oppelt pleaded guilty and was sentenced to community service.

“They were very minor instances,” Oppelt said. “Everybody messes up with something some time or other.”

“It’s a joke you’re even talking about it.”

An anonymous letter signed by The Committee to Keep Corruption Off P.A. City Council — which was not listed as of Thursday as a political committee on the state Public Disclosure Commission website — urged a Peninsula Daily News reporter to check Oppelt’s record. The question also was brought up in a KONP radio interview by a caller.

Misdemeanor convictions carry maximum sentences of up to a year in jail.

None of the other five candidates running for two Port Angeles City Council positions has Clallam County District Court misdemeanor convictions, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

None of the six people running, including Oppelt, has Clallam County Superior Court convictions.

Oppelt, 33, is running for Position 2 against Mike French and incumbent Lee Whetham.

Jim Moran, Todd Negus and Marolee Smith are running for Position 1.

Oppelt, the owner or co-owner of six businesses, including Next Door Gastropub and the Lefties baseball team, was 20 when he was involved in the 2:33 a.m. Aug. 22, 2004, hit-and-run mishap, according to Police Department records.

The “nature of call” was a “Red Toyota pickup truck off road on Cherry Hill,” according to police records, which said only Oppelt’s vehicle was involved.

The 300 W. Second St. location of the crash is on a steep, sharp curve on Cherry Hill.

Oppelt said Wednesday that the hood had flipped up on his truck.

He said his vehicle went onto the sidewalk and hit the do-not-enter sign at the bottom of a driveway.

Then he could not restart the truck, he said.

“My vehicle was left broken down, is basically what happened,” he said. “When they found it, I was not there. I had left.

“The only reason it was a hit-and-run was, I hit a street sign at the bottom of Cherry Hill.”

After pleading guilty Sept. 4, 2004, in District Court to hit-and-run unattended vehicle, Oppelt was sentenced by Judge Rick Porter to 90 days in jail with 87 days suspended and three days converted to community service.

Porter also imposed $500 in fines and court costs and ordered Oppelt to attend and complete traffic school.

Two witnesses interviewed by police who were listed on the incident report could not be reached for comment.

Oppelt was 24 when he was questioned for what police initially investigated as a driving-under-the-influence incident and ended up as a plea of guilty by Oppelt for making false statements, according to police reports and court documents.

The incident occurred at 2:15 a.m. July 19, 2008.

The police dispatcher listed the call from Jack in the Box fast-food restaurant, at 902 E. Front St., as a DUI, according to the incident report.

The nature of the call on the report was “had been drinking, subject in vehicle.”

It was investigated by officers as Oppelt allegedly making false statements to law enforcement officers and committing an open-container violation.

A witness interviewed by police could not be reached for comment.

Oppelt was charged with making false statements.

“I don’t remember what making a false statement was,” he said Wednesday. “I have no idea even what it’s referring to.”

Oppelt said a friend was driving his car when they went through the Jack in the Box drive-through.

“As owner of the vehicle, [the police] tried to write something to me,” he said.

“The cops called me and apologized that they charged me with something,” Oppelt added.

“I don’t remember what statement I made that was false.

“I was advised by my lawyer to take that plea because it made sense.”

After pleading guilty to the charge in District Court on Oct. 7, 2008, Oppelt was sentenced by Porter to 365 days in jail with 360 days suspended and five days converted to community service.

Police narratives of the incidents were not available.

The Police Department expunges its records after seven years, according to Chief Brian Smith.

District Court also only had court notes, not files, on the incidents.

The anonymous letter asserted that Oppelt had two hit-and-run incidents and two incidents of lying to police. A search of Clallam County court records found one incident of each.

A caller to Todd Ortloff’s KONP radio show July 11 asked the three candidates for the seat: “Is there anything … at all in your backgrounds — I’m talking about DUIs, I’m talking about contacts with police, misdemeanors, anything — that’s going to cause us to regret having elected you?”

Oppelt answered: “I also do not have anything on my record that I could ever see being an issue. Maybe an MIP [minor in possession] when I was in high school or something like that. But I absolutely would not think that would trump anything that’s been going on that’s what I’ve done in my life since those days.”

The other two candidates said they had no record.

Oppelt was 19 on Nov. 19, 2003, when he forfeited $150 bail in Forks-area county District Court 2 on a charge of use-possession of a loaded firearm.

He had been cited by a state Department of Fish and Wildlife officer.

The presiding judge was Erik Rohrer, now a county Superior Court judge.

Oppelt said he had been hunting on Crescent Ridge on the West End when he was cited by a Fish and Wildlife agent for having a loaded rifle in his vehicle.

“There isn’t anything in my past that is of any severity that [would] ever make any change in my ability to sit on the City Council,” Oppelt said.

“I’ve proven myself in my recent past with my work ethic and success.

“I think it’s petty talk to be talking about this stuff.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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