2009 narcotics raid later thrown out stirs $20 million complaint against Peninsula drug enforcement agency

PORT ANGELES — The Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team and its member agencies have been slapped with a $20 million complaint for damages for an alleged cover-up of “egregious misconduct” surrounding a marijuana raid in 2009.

Unless the claim is paid or settled within 60 days, it will go to federal court.

The multijurisdictional drug task force known as OPNET is named along with 23 other defendants, both agencies and individuals, in the 35-page civil claim filed by Elma attorney Chris Crew on behalf of Steven, Timothy and Cynthia Fager; Kathleen Wheller; Gary Corman; and former Jefferson County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ted DeBray.

Copies of the complaint were sent to the named individuals and filed Sept. 19 with Clallam and Jefferson counties’ auditor’s offices.

In October 2009, OPNET agents raided the Discovery Bay property of Timothy Fager, who was subsequently charged with his brother, Steven Fager, with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and defrauding a public utility by allegedly diverting power from the Jefferson County Public Utility District.

The charges were dismissed in January 2013 after the late Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Craddock Verser suppressed the warrant that OPNET used to raid the property.

Verser found that detectives acted with “reckless disregard for the truth” in obtaining the search warrant.

“This ruling exposed the intentional, willful and/or reckless misconduct of defendants OPNET detectives, supervisors and policy makers,” the complaint reads.

“The ruling also exposed Clallam County’s corrupt procedures for handling search warrant applications, as well as defendants’ intentional, willful and/or reckless mismanagement of the discovery process including the intentional withholding of exculpatory evidence.”

Crew alleges his clients were “actively kept in the dark” about the actions of law enforcement officials and county prosecutors until Verser’s motion to suppress the warrant “exposed a pattern of well-coordinated and covered up egregious governmental misconduct.”

Steve Fager was previously represented by Port Townsend attorney Michael Haas in suits related to the raid.

Haas is challenging incumbent Scott Rosekrans to become Jefferson County prosecuting attorney in the Nov. 4 general election.

Steve Fager is the number one donor to Haas’ campaign.

“I adamantly disagree with the representations in the [complaint],” said Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict, who oversees OPNET.

“Investigations by the State Patrol as well as the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office have found no wrongdoing by OPNET.”

Those named in the complaint are OPNET, Benedict, Clallam County, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Jefferson County, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Port Angeles Police Department, Sequim Police Department.

Also, State Patrol Detective Michael Grall, Clallam County Sheriff’s Detective Jeffery Waterhouse, Sequim Police Detective James Vorhies, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Detective Mark Apeland, Port Angeles Police Sgt. Eric Kovatch, Port Angeles Police Cpl. Jason Viada, State Patrol Capt. Timothy Braniff, Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Peregrin, Clallam County Chief Criminal Deputy Ron Cameron, Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher.

Also, former Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly, former Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Juelie Dalzell and former Clallam County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols.

The law enforcement officers named in the complaint were working with OPNET at the time of the raid on the Fagers’ property.

The complaint alleges that OPNET used a registered sex offender and known drug addict as an informant in the Fager case and that the sole informant died of a drug overdose prior to the raid.

Crew’s complaint alleges that detectives used a thermal imaging device without a warrant on multiple occasions and attached a GPS device onto Corman’s vehicle without a warrant.

It alleges that Dalzell forced DeBray to resign because DeBray attempted to provide an in-camera review of court-ordered exculpatory evidence.

It further alleges that seized items were wrongfully held property for years and that Wheller and Cynthia Fager were subjected to emotional distress for being detained and interrogated by officers in SWAT gear.

“The larger issue was the cover-up,” Crew said in a Friday interview.

Crew alleges that 13 percent of the warrants and affidavits issued by Clallam County Superior Court between 2007 and 2011 were missing.

“It’s a pretty far-reaching cover-up that involved a lot of people,” Crew said.

“It involved elected officials in the county, the sheriff and the prosecutor.”

In particular, Crew said Benedict, Nichols and Dalzell took “specific actions to scare people.”

Benedict disputed Crew’s allegations in multiple interviews Thursday and Friday, and declined further comment on the pending litigation.

Crew concludes his complaint by demanding a jury trial in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

“I think they are going to be on the hook for millions in damages, and that will be the wake-up call they need,” Crew said.

The Washington Counties Risk Pool will investigate the validity of the claim and likely take it to court, where counties prevail in the vast majority of lawsuits, Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones said.

“It’s going to be a complicated thing,” Jones said, referring to the size of the OPNET claim and number of named parties.

“It will definitely be handled by the risk pool.”

Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley said the complaint will go before a risk-management committee before a case is filed.

“We’ll consider the assignment of a defense for any of the named parties as long as they were operating within the scope of their official duties,” he said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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