‘Sting’ finds 14 living in Oak Harbor house, 7 arrested
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
June 12, 2012 · Updated 2:30 PM
Oak Harbor police conducted a drug sting operation early Saturday morning at a house that has been the source of scores of complaints from neighbors over the last couple of years.
Detective Sgt. Teri Gardner said police officers found 14 people living at the small rambler on the 1600 block of NE Fourth Avenue, including two in a camper and one person in a shed in the backyard. Seven people were arrested on suspicion of drug-related crimes, though the detectives found nothing more than a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
The city’s code enforcement officer posted an “unsafe to occupy” notice after raw sewage was found in a crawl space and “excessive garbage” littered the backyard.
Yet while neighbors say the noise and constant traffic at the house was a disturbance, they also have sympathy for the owner of the home. Brenda Elder, 44, was arrested on suspicion of unlawful use of a building for drug purposes and possession of marijuana.
Neighbor Marilyn Smith said that Elder gave refuge to homeless young people and others in need of help.
“There may have been mental illness going on,” Smith said. “Maybe this is someone who fell through the cracks and is vulnerable and being taken advantage of.”
“It’s basically a sad situation, I think,” she added.
Other neighbors didn’t want their names published out of fear of reprisals, but they offered stories of teenagers wandering the neighborhood, loud music, people screaming at night, graffiti, and cars coming and going.
One woman said Elder used to be a good neighbor, took care of the house and was raising kids, but then the children went away a few years ago and everything deteriorated.
Gardner said the police, with assistance from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, responded to neighbors’ concern about the house, which was known as a place where people would allegedly go to use drugs.
The detectives were able to get a warrant for the house based on drug buys conducted by an undercover informant. The police department’s High-Risk Entry Team served the warrant early Saturday morning.
They arrived in the armored “Peacekeeper” vehicle and threw a “flash-bang” diversionary device into the house. Aside from waking people up, Gardner said the device was meant to protect the officers in case there were weapons present.
Elder was arrested and released. Six others were arrested on possession of drug paraphernalia. Two people were picked up on warrants.
In addition, Gardner said officers recovered items taken in two burglaries within the city.
“Several neighbors stopped by to thank us,” Gardner said.
Dave Anderson, the city’s code enforcement officer, was called to inspect the house. He found raw sewage in the crawl space, possibly from a leak in the plumbing system. Also, he said the amount of garbage in the backyard was a health hazard.
Anderson posted the house with an “unsafe to occupy” notice, which means people aren’t allowed to live in the house until the sewage and garbage problems are fixed. People who’ve been living there are able to retrieve their belongings. The city turned off the water to the house.
Anderson said he understands that a plumber has been out to the house. He said he will inspect the house again once the sewage and garbage is gone and then determine whether to take down the notice.
Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.