Politics

Stewart suspicious VPD treated CRC opponent unfairly

Vancouver resident Steve Herman, who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city and the speaker Councilor Jeanne Harris once wanted gaveled down, asked the city council on Monday to dismiss a criminal charge filed against him for owning a junk-strewn property.

Herman was told the council doesn’t have that authority, but the discussion continued to the point that both City Attorney Ted Gathe and City Manager Eric Holmes told councilors they should not be talking about a pending criminal case.

Warnings from Gathe and Holmes weren’t enough for Councilor Jeanne Stewart, who went on to suggest that maybe Herman was only given a criminal citation because he opposed the Columbia River Crossing and sued the city.

Herman said several people have told him the same thing.

To start, Herman told the council he owns a rental property and his tenant was busted for having drugs. Herman was cited for the amount of garbage on the property. Herman expressed frustration that since being cited, he spent money to clean the property and on an attorney to evict the tenant, but nobody he talked to from the city attorney’s office or the police department would dismiss the charges.

He asked the council to dismiss the charges, which Herman said carry a penalty of two years’ probation plus fines and court fees.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt asked Gathe if the council has the authority to dismiss criminal charges, and Gathe said no.

According to court documents, Herman was cited for violating city code. He was charged with “failure to dispose of solid waste” and “open storage.”

Here’s a photo of the residence from Clark County property records, taken in 2009:

Marklehome

According to a police report filed by Vancouver Cpl. Drue Russell, Russell has been receiving complaints from neighbors about activity at 2300 Markle Avenue. “These complaints detailed activity that is consistent with the sale of narcotics at this location,” Russell wrote. “This includes reports of dozens of vehicles that show up at the location, stay for a short period of time, and then leave.”

On July 12, detectives from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at the residence and wanted a city code enforcement officer to respond due to the disgusting conditions. Russell said he knew the code enforcement officer wasn’t working, so he responded.

Renters Lyle and Cynthia Westbrook, who had been living at the residence with their two children, were arrested. Lyle Westbrook was arrested for possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, and Cynthia Westbrook, a convicted felon with a lengthy booking history at the Clark County Jail, was arrested for violating a restraining order, as she was not supposed to be in contact with her husband.

“Upon entering the property, (deputies) discovered that people were living in multiple tents in the back yard, including a shed,” Russell wrote. “Power cords were seen running from the residence to the tents and shed. They also told me that there is a large quantity of rotting garbage being stored in the yard, as the Westbrooks do not have garbage service.”

Russell wrote that he photographed “the large quantity of solid waste being stored on the property. The yard smelled of a strong rotting odor and there were numerous flies swarming the yard and landing on the detectives as they conducted their investigation.”

The Westbrooks, according to an inmate intake questionnaire, said they live off the $700 they receive each month in Social Security disability payments for their son, plus $200 a month in state assistance. According to Russell’s report, Cynthia Westbrook said they’ve lived at the house for two years and pay Herman $525 a month in rent. Lyle Westbrook said they owe Waste Connections $40 to reinstate garbage service.

Herman, according to Russell’s report, told Russell that he had received a notice that garbage service was “about” to be discontinued, but was told by Westbrook that he would take care of it.

“Herman told me that he has not checked on the residence. He stated that the checks for rent come in the mail and he has not been by his property,” Russell wrote.

Russell — who Herman refers to as “Randall” in the video — issued Herman the criminal citations

Gathe told the council that most junk property cases are resolved with civil citations, but this case was “fairly serious,” given the “significant drug activity” and code violations.

Councilor Bill Turlay asked if the case was going to court, and Gathe said it will be heard in Clark County District Court.

Then that’s where Herman should be pleading his case, Turlay said.

Stewart said, “I have a little bit of a heightened concern that …” and then she paused. “I’m hoping, and I’m going to have communication about how this came about,” she said, adding “it seems really odd” that someone without a criminal record would suddenly find himself in trouble with the law.

“I know what you are thinking, and more than one people have suggested that maybe this is some payback,” Herman said.

“It doesn’t feel very good,” Stewart said. She said she wants details, “and I’m going to be merciless.”

Leavitt finally ends the conversation. Listen closely, and you can hear him mutter “never ceases to amaze me.”

Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at stephanie.rice@columbian.com or 360-735-4508.