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Island County settles meth car search

Island County settled a federal lawsuit this month with a former used-car dealer who claimed a health inspector improperly conducted tests for methamphetamine residue and forced him to destroy 22 cars.

Guy Bogdanovich, an Olympia attorney representing the county, said the case was settled for $112,500 after the parties went through a mediation process. He explained that neither side is admitting any liability or wrongdoing, but that the county settled to avoid litigation costs that would likely be in excess of the settlement.

“We were able to settle for a fraction of the original claim,” he noted.

Oak Harbor resident Mark Brown and his wife originally filed a claim with the county for more than $5 million in damages. Later, the lawsuit was filed in Snohomish County and then in federal court.

Brown, who is not related to the sheriff of the same name, owned the former car lot, O&J Sales, on Ault Field Road.

The lawsuit claimed the county, the county 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.

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

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

After the arrest, the health department tested a building and three cars for meth residue. Officials temporarily shut down the dealership after tests came back positive.

All 61 cars on the lot were tested and 29 came back as contaminated. Brown ended up having 22 cars, valued at nearly $70,000, hauled away and crushed because decontamination 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 states that the decontamination standard applied by public health officials was “arbitrary and without justification.”

The lawsuit also 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.

 

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