News

One less meth lab

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

For months, Federal Way Police have been watching a house situated at the end of a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood off Military Road South in Federal Way.

On the surface, it looks like any house in any neighborhood. It’s a white, two-story, woodframe home with steps leading up to the front door. It has big front windows and there’s grass in the front and around the sides and children’s toys in the yard.

But there’s also a four-foot, chain link fence surrounding the entire property, blue tarps and surveillance cameras aimed down the street.

Police have been concerned about what’s going on inside the home for some time. Last week, confidential informants exchanged leniency for “awesome information” that allowed police to get a warrant to search the home for items used to manufacture methamphetamine, detective Casey Jones said.

Police conducted a raid on the house Friday morning, initially taking five adults into custody and escorting two girls, 7 and 11, to Child Protective Services.

Police are recommending a man and a woman — the mother of the two girls and her boyfriend, both 28 — be investigated further for manufacturing methamphetamine. Two other men were arrested for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, and the second woman at the house was let go.

King County Sheriff spokesman Kevin Fagerstrom said methamphetamine is a serious drug problem, both manufactured in and imported into the county. He said deputies busted 147 meth labs last year.

While police didn’t find any weapons in the Federal Way residence Friday, Fagerstrom said weapons and drug dealing almost always go hand in hand.

“It’s the most serious drug-related incident we encounter right now,” he said.

The search Friday turned up a hydrochloric gas generator, acid, rock salt and a one-foot length of plastic tubing with a cakey, white substance on one end that tested positive for meth.

Police had been following activity at the residence, gathering information and taking neighbor complaints for several months. When they finally had enough evidence to secure a search warrant, the department called on the State Patrol’s SWAT team, which has methamphetamine training, to raid the home.

During a police briefing before the bust, State Patrol detective Jeff Kershaw described the residence and explained the plan for entering and securing the premises. The top three priorities of the mission, he said, were to serve the search warrant, escort the children to safety and process any evidence related to methamphetamine production.

Police considered what to do about an aggressive pit bull alleged to be on the property (try to stun it with a pepper ball, first, then kill it if it kept attacking) and how to get onto the property if the fence was closed (drive an armored truck over it).

As the girls were getting ready to go to school, the SWAT team made their final preparations in the parking lot of a church nearby.

Officers, with weapons hung over flack vests or strapped to their legs in holsters and black helmets covering ear pieces held in place with electrical tape, held onto the sides and back of the armored truck as it drove slowly through the neighborhood and down the cul-de-sac, followed by a line of marked and unmarked police cars.

The fence was open, so the armored car rolled up to the front steps as the officers driving the marked vehicles turned on their flashing lights. SWAT police jumped off the truck and ran up to the door to order the residents to come out as Federal Way officers fanned out across the yard, weapons ready, to cover the sides and back of the home.

Within 10 minutes, police began bringing out the residents, their hands secured behind their backs with plastic restraints.

Police also brought out the two girls, who remained at the scene while their mother was searched and placed in a police car. A neighbor brought two little teddy bears for the girls to hold while they waited in a police vehicle to go to CPS.

Kershaw said police found everyone mostly awake in the basement.

While police were able to turn up enough evidence to send to the county prosecutor for charges, most of the methamphetamine production equipment had been disposed of before police got there.

“They anticipated our search warrant and moved stuff out,” Casey said.

A few days ago, one of the residents at the house was arrested on an unrelated offense, he said. Because meth users and manufacturers are notoriously paranoid, the rest of the residents got scared and took most of their equipment to the dump, he said.

Still, the evidence was enough to refer four of the five people arrested for charges.

The meth lab remnants were located in the room across from the bedroom shared by the girls, Kershaw said.

“The worst part about all this is the kids,” he said.

Following the search, Casey called the state health department to inspect the home to see if it can be occupied because of the harmful chemicals used in meth production. In addition, he notified the state Department of Ecology, which is called to clean up meth labs, though there was nothing at this site to clean, and he called a Federal Way code enforcement officer.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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