Valley man arrested after confrontation with county - problem started over a little 'moved dirt'

by Ben Cape
Snoqualmie Valley Record

April 21, 2005

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY, WA- A Snoqualmie Valley man was arrested at gun point at his home after he had already been arraigned and released for two counts of second-degree assault following a confrontation with county land-use officials.

The long, frustrating course of events for Charles Strouss and county officials started on Nov. 29 last year when the officials visited Strouss' home located between Fall City and Redmond. According to King County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) records, two officials from the county's Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) came to Strouss' home to investigate a complaint about clearing land without a permit. The report went on to say that when the DDES officials arrived, Strouss asked the men to identify themselves. After they did, Strouss told them they were trespassing and asked them to leave. One of the DDES officials said they had not seen any signs on the way in, but would leave a card on his porch and agreed to leave.

As the two DDES officials were walking back to their truck, Strouss came out, racked a pump action shotgun and pointed it at the two officials, again telling them to leave. The two men told Strouss they were leaving, returned to the DDES office and reported the incident to the KCSO that same day.

Strouss said, however, he never pointed a gun at anybody. He said he heard the DDES truck come up the driveway and looked out his bedroom window to see the two men get out of the marked truck. He said he asked them what they wanted and they told him to come down and talk to them. When the two men started to look around, Strouss said he told them they were trespassing and had to leave. Strouss said the men didn't leave and started to give him an attitude about their right to be there. Strouss said it was then he got a shotgun from his room, went downstairs to the patio, pumped the shotgun and told the men again that they had to leave. Strouss said the gun was loaded, but that he never pointed it at the DDES officials.
"I know basic gun safety," he said. "You never point a gun at someone unless you intend to use it."

John Urquhart, a KCSO spokesman, said the report is clear, however, that Strouss pointed the gun at the DDES officials. According to KCSO records, the KCSO reported the incident to the King County Prosecutor's Office and was advised by a deputy prosecuting attorney to file second-degree assault charges. In the weeks and months following, many phone calls were made back and forth between Strouss and a KCSO detective about the incident. Both Strouss and the KCSO report stated that Strouss and the detective played phone tag about the detective coming out to take photos of the property and get more information about the incident. Strouss said it would be useless to come out and take photos because he had purchased and erected a bigger no trespassing sign soon after the incident and put up a security fence. Strouss said he also told the detective he didn't really trust him anymore to come out since so much time had passed from the original incident.
On March 11, KCSO reports show the detective again interviewed the two DDES officials who went to Strouss' property and presented a lineup of seven mug shots, one of which was Strouss. One of the DDES officials positively identified Strouss as the man who pointed the gun at them.

On April 2, Strouss said he got a regular letter from the county saying that he was charged with two counts of second-degree assault and was required to make an appearance in court on April 7 to be arraigned. Strouss hired a lawyer on April 4 and the lawyer told Strouss he would most likely be arrested and booked at the arraignment.

Strouss and his wife headed down to court on the morning of April 7. Strouss pled not guilty to the charges and was handcuffed, photographed and finger printed. The prosecutor asked for $50,000 bail, but Strouss' lawyer, citing Strouss' lack of a criminal record, got bail waived and Strouss was released just after 11 a.m. on his own personal recognizance. Another hearing was scheduled for April 28 and Strouss was ordered to turn over all of his firearms for the duration of the trial. If convicted of both charges, Strouss would face up to 20 years in prison and a fine. After a long day following a night with little sleep, Strouss and his wife got back home at 1 p.m. and went to bed.

At about 3 p.m., Strouss said he heard something outside his home. He looked out his window to see an unmarked white truck and an unmarked blue sedan with four men in civilian clothing milling around. Strouss yelled out for them to identify themselves and the men told Strouss to come down. Strouss said the men never showed any identification or said whom they were with. He thought they may have been DDES officials, but he said the men never identified themselves.

Strouss said the men got more agitated when he didn't comply with their demands to come down and talk to them. Eventually, the men came in through the front door, went upstairs and entered the bedroom with pistols aimed at Strouss and his wife. The men yelled at Strouss to get on his knees with his hands behind his head and face the wall. Strouss said he thought he was going to die.

Once the men were upstairs, they told Strouss they were acting on an existing warrant for his arrest. Strouss said he explained to the men what had happened earlier that day at court and the more he talked, the more sense he may have made to them. One of the men got on a cellular phone and made some calls. Once they realized Strouss' warrant was cleared by his appearance in court that morning, Strouss said the men uncuffed him, apologized and left. Strouss said the men never identified themselves the whole time they were there.

Urquhart said it was true that the group did show up in unmarked cars, but he said that Strouss' claim that the men didn't identify themselves the whole time is ludicrous. He said the group members identified themselves by name and showed badges; doing otherwise is just too risky for any law enforcement officials serving a warrant.

"I have been in law enforcement for 30 years and did a lot of undercover drug work," Urquhart said. "Once you make a move to arrest, you always identify yourself. It's just too dangerous [to do otherwise]."

The four men were with the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force. The group was comprised of two federal agents, a King County deputy and an officer with the Washington State Department of Corrections, Urquhart said.

Strouss called his lawyer after the incident but was unable to reach him, so he went to the KCSO station in Kenmore. Once there, he found out his warrant was still active and talked to the detective who was investigating the case. Strouss said that conversation didn't go too well and he was shown the door.

Urquhart admitted the event was unfortunate, but said it was not the KCSO's fault that Strouss was arrested since the arresting group checked for an outstanding warrant and it was still listed as such. He said sometimes warrants take a long time to clear and that while it was tragic the mistake had been made, such things happen. According to Washington state law, the men also did not have to show a warrant, said Urquhart. He added that the officers were acting on what they knew, which was that a man with two second-degree assault warrants who could have been armed was not coming downstairs and was acting strangely.

"None of this would have happened if he would have just come downstairs," Urquhart said.

King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert said the incident points out the difference between rural and urban areas since a man with a gun on his patio is perceived a threat in an urban area more than in the rural area. She said a person should have the right to stand on their patio with a gun and that the whole incident was so tragic because it stemmed from something as small as a clearing and grading permit.

"You know what's sad," Lambert said. "All of this happened over a little moved dirt."

Strouss admitted that coming down with a gun was not the best way to react to the DDES officials coming on his property, but he said it didn't warrant the treatment he received, and he believes others would feel the same way.
"I've talked to other officers about it and they are stunned," Strouss said.

Strouss' trial date is supposed to be determined at the hearing on April 28.



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