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West Hill teens face charges in vandalism spree

Kent police arrested three West Hill teenagers last week on suspicion of starting a fire, shooting out windshields, slashing tires and planting crude pipe bombs over the last four months.

Police forwarded the cases to the Juvenile Court prosecutor’s office, where the teens –– two 14 and one 17 –– are expected to be charged with arson, making, possessing and detonating explosives, and many instances of malicious mischief carried out in Federal Way and Auburn’s West Hill area since last October.

But at least one parent says Kent police violated the teens’ rights during the arrests.

Kent Police Department Lt. Bob Holt was assigned to investigate the parent’s allegations last week.

Ray Zajaczkowski let his 14-year-old son stay home from school on his birthday last week. That day, Kent police arrived at their home, handcuffed the teenager and took him into custody for questioning as part of their investigation.

Zajaczkowski said he asked repeatedly what the charges were against his son, but he said police wouldn’t tell him. He said officers didn’t let him accompany his son to the police station and didn’t provide an attorney for his son during questioning.

Still, the teenager made a statement to police, Zajaczkowski said, and he now will serve as a witness against the other three who were arrested.

Zajaczkowski said other parents told him the other teens involved were pulled out of class, held in the principal’s office at Totem Junior High School and questioned without their parents present.

Zajaczkowski said his son was not involved directly in the vandalism. The teenager was released after he was interviewed by police, and he’s not wanted in connection with the crimes.

Zajaczkowski said Kent Fire Department investigator Mark Jones and police violated the teens’ civil rights.

“Teachers are getting their windows broken out and their tires slashed and they’re tired of it,” he said. “Now, they’re on a witch-hunt.”

Police and fire investigators began looking into the acts of vandalism — and a group of Totem students calling themselves Tek-9 — last October, when some of the teens started a fire in a portable toilet at the West Hill Skate Park.

A Tek-9 is a type of handgun.

On Halloween, the group of teens, who ranged in age from 13 to 17, decided to smash pumpkins. A homeowner caught one of the teens and called his parents, prompting on-going vandalism targeted specifically at that homeowner, police said.

Kent police spokesman Paul Petersen said a group of teenagers had been hanging out together and using the name Tek-9 for about a month — until the criminal activity started.

“One of the kids kind of wanted to be a big shot and gave them a name,” Petersen said. “As soon as the criminal activity started, most of them went away.”

Two teens stayed with the “big shot,” and another teenager, a 17-year-old Thomas Jefferson High School student, began hanging out with them, police said.

Petersen said once most of the kids left the group, the remaining four stopped using the Tek-9 name.

“One kid wanted to be (in) a gang, but it didn’t work,” Petersen said. “It boiled down to a gang of one very quickly.”

Federal Way Public Schools spokeswoman Diane Turner said the kids went to school together, but said there is no gang activity at Totem Junior High.

“The bottom line — there are no gangs at our schools. It’s three or four kids who got together,” she said. “Federal Way doesn’t have gangs. You have kids who are wannabes or kids with an affiliation in the community, but we don’t have gangs.”

Jones, the Kent fire investigator, led the investigation into the acts of vandalism because they involved arson and explosives.

Over the course of many interviews and by working with Kent police and Totem Junior High personnel, investigators connected the malicious mischief to the three students who were arrested, Petersen said.

From October 2001 until February, police said, the arrested teens took part in the arson of the portable toilet at the West Hill Skate Park, smashed pumpkins on Halloween, slashed tires on vehicles and a boat trailer, shot out windows on 50 to 60 vehicles with a pellet gun, broke windows in schools, vehicles and a house, and made at least 10 pipe bombs and one tennis ball bomb.

Four of the explosive devices were placed on vehicles and detonated, blowing out the windshields of three and damaging the paint on one.

Petersen said he didn’t have a damage estimate Thursday, but indicated it was significant.

Besides Kent police and fire officials, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also is investigating the crimes and is coordinating with federal prosecutors.

Petersen said the teens made extremely poor decisions that shouldn’t be attributed to the vagaries of youth, especially considering the teenagers who removed themselves from the group when criminal activity began.

“The students who left should be commended,” he said.

Holt said investigators were right to act quickly to apprehend the teenagers.

“I think this ought to be taken seriously,” he said. “Minor activities, if not stopped, soon could lead to other things.”

Still, Zajaczkowski maintains police and fire investigators violated the kids’ rights during the arrests.

The teens “need to pay the price, that’s being a good citizen,” he said. “But they don’t need to have their rights violated.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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