Meth-based Oak Harbor car dealer shutdown protested

The owner of an Oak Harbor used-car dealership that was shut down because of methamphetamine-contaminated vehicles two years ago has filed a lawsuit against Island County in federal court.

Mark Brown and his wife filed the complaint in U.S. District Court earlier this year and asked for unspecified damages. Brown, who’s not related to the sheriff of the same name, is a retired Oak Harbor school teacher and the owner of the former car lot, O&J Sales.

The lawsuit, written by Everett attorney Mitchell Cogdill, claims the county, the public health department and an environmental health specialist violated the couple’s constitutional rights and acted with negligence by conducting flawed testing and unfairly closed the business.

In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Marie Piper, the environmental health specialist, defamed the Browns and damaged their reputations in “written statements.”

Guy Bogdanovich, the Olympia attorney, said the county filed an answer denying liability.

“We certainly don’t think there’s merit or we wouldn’t have denied it,” he said.

Trouble started at the car lot when deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office raided the business in March of 2009. They arrested Brown’s son, who managed the car lot, for possession of methamphetamine and seized a large amount of the drug.

Everyone involved in the case agreed that Mark Brown and his wife didn’t know their son had meth.

After the arrest, Marie Piper led the health department’s testing of the small building and three cars for meth residue. The public health department temporarily shut down the dealership after tests came back positive.

During the shutdown, all 61 cars on the lot were tested and 29 came back as contaminated, including a car from a state patrol auction. Brown ended up having 22 cars, at a value of nearly $70,000, hauled away and crushed because decontaminated was too expensive.

The lawsuit claims that the testing was inaccurate and that there was no evidence that the contamination levels represented a health risk.

“The protocol utilized to determine the risk allegedly involved in the presence of methamphetamine was not accurate, not based upon a representative comparability of known risks, and was otherwise arbitrary,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also states that decontamination standard applied by public health officials was “arbitrary and without justification.”

In addition, the lawsuit claims that the public health officials invalidated appropriately obtained test results and refused to release uncontaminated property to the owner. The complaint alleges that Brown’s property was stolen and vandalized while it was in the county’s control, but health officials barred deputies from access to the property to investigate.

Bogdanovich explained that Brown’s attorney originally filed the case in Snohomish County Superior Court in 2009 as a request for an injunction against Island County public health officials, but the judge denied the motion.

A couple of months ago, Brown filed the amended complaint. Since it included allegations of constitutional and civil rights violations, it was transfered to federal district court.

The News-Times was unable to reach Brown for comment. His attorney didn’t return a call for comment.

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