Lawsuit blames county and weed inspector in man’s death

  • Thu Nov 12th, 2009 10:38pm
  • News

By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer

VERLOT — Three times Daniel Wasilchen asked a Snohomish County weed inspector to leave his property, a witness said.

When the weed inspector came back a fourth time, Wasilchen, 44, reportedly got a gun.

By then Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies had been called. The final confrontation on May 29 ended when deputies fatally shot Wasilchen.

Now, the man’s family says the county and the weed inspector — the man they blame for instigating the confrontation — need to be held responsible.

Wasilchen’s family on Thursday filed a $5 million claim for damages against Snohomish County and H.F. “Sonny” Gohrman, the county’s noxious weed abatement coordinator.

“This can’t happen to anybody else. That’s why we’re doing this,” Wasilchen’s stepfather, Marvin Verlinde, said. The Seattle man, 65, was with Wasilchen when Gohrman arrived that afternoon. He left prior to the shooting.

The investigation into the shooting continues. Gohrman reportedly had tried to talk to Wasilchen about weed eradication, officials have said. Wasilchen refused and an argument ensued. Gorhman called 911 and Wasilchen reportedly threatened police with a weapon before being shot.

The Snohomish County deputies involved in the shooting have been returned to patrol.

The claim accuses Gohrman of trespassing, being hostile and maliciously and deliberately violating Wasilchen’s constitutional rights.

“If Sonny Gohrman had simply followed Washington law, Daniel Wasilchen would be alive today,” the claim said. Raymond Dearie, a Seattle trial attorney and former Snohomish County deputy prosecutor, filed the paperwork.

County rules require county workers to be professional and courteous, Dearie said. State law requires weed-abatement officials to seek a warrant if homeowners refuse to allow them onto private property.

“Instead of doing that, (Gohrman) came back … and incited a tense situation,” Dearie said.

Verlinde said Gohrman was enraged, yelling and refused to back down.

“I wouldn’t let this guy on my property the way he was acting,” Verlinde said.

Gohrman has been with Snohomish County Noxious Weed Control Board since 1999 and remains employed there, said Steve Thomsen, the county’s public works director.

He’s faced no disciplinary action as a result of the May 29 incident.

Gohrman’s salary is paid by the county, but he reports to the countywide weed control board, a separate government entity.

In an e-mail Gohrman wrote days after the incident, he said he felt threatened by Wasilchen. The message was obtained by The Herald under the state’s public disclosure laws.

County officials wrote that Gohrman apparently did the right thing by backing off and calling for help, records show.

The Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, or SMART, is investigating the shooting to determine whether anyone broke the law. The team is a group of homicide detectives trained to look into incidents when police use deadly force.

The detectives will forward their case, once complete, to Snohomish County prosecutors, who will determine whether the shooting was legally justified.

Verlinde said he and his brother-in-law had been looking for gold up the Mountain Loop Highway the day Wasilchen was killed.

Driving home that afternoon, the two men saw Wasilchen in his yard near Granite Falls and stopped to visit.

“We were actually enjoying ourselves,” Verlinde said.

Wasilchen was talking about a car he’d recently purchased. The Boeing crane operator had a great love for cars, especially World War II-era Jeeps, Verlinde said.

Wasilchen grew up in Everett and played football and wrestled at Mariner High School. John Lovick, now Snohomish County Sheriff, was his boxing coach, Verlinde said.

Wasilchen joined the Army after high school and served in the 82nd Airborne as a paratrooper.

After military service, he started work at Boeing and purchased the property along the South Fork Stillaguamish River.

Before working at Boeing’s Everett plant, Wasilchen commuted more than 80 miles a day to Renton, his stepfather said.

“The guys at work really enjoyed him,” Verlinde said.

Gohrman confronted Wasilchen. The weed inspector insisted on interrupting the three men, Verlinde said.

Wasilchen asked not to be bothered because he was entertaining guests. He also said he was worried about the impact of weed control on his three dogs, Brandy, Teddy and Freeway Joe, a mutt he’d rescued from the side of the freeway.

“I take care of my own weeds,” Wasilchen said, according to Verlinde.

Gohrman insisted the conversation take place then and there, Verlinde said. He wouldn’t give up.

He was yelling, “You have to listen to me,” Verlinde said.

Wasilchen placed his hands on Gorhman’s shoulders and physically pushed him off the property. Still, Gohrman continued.

Gohrman shared his side of the story in an e-mail he sent to more than 50 people around the state, according to county records.

“There really wasn’t an argument,” he wrote.

Gohrman wrote that he had stopped at the property because there were people outside and he believed it would be a good time to talk to the owner.

The conversation started with light-hearted jokes about weeds, Gohrman wrote. One of the people reportedly said there weren’t noxious weeds. Gohrman disagreed.

“That’s when he went off on me and got aggressive and threatened to get a gun,” Gohrman wrote.

Gohrman said Wasilchen pushed him. “If I had stood my ground, there would have been a fight,” he wrote.

Verlinde remembers the encounter differently. He said Gohrman was outraged.

“He was right in Danny’s face,” Verlinde said.

Wasilchen wasn’t fazed or angry, his stepfather said.

“I couldn’t believe he was as calm as he was,” Verlinde said.

Verlinde and his brother-in-law left. While driving out of town, they saw police cars rushing past the other way.

Gohrman reportedly left Wasilchen’s property and drove to where he was able to dial 911.

“We led the sheriff in,” Gohrman wrote in the e-mail.

That’s when Wasilchen got a gun and pointed it at Gohrman and his assistant, according to Gohrman’s e-mail.

Multiple shots rang out and Wasilchen died, police officials said.

Verlinde learned of the fatal shooting watching the news on television that night. When a reporter mentioned noxious weeds, Verlinde knew the boy he’d raised was dead.

“It’s been really rough,” Verlinde said. “I dream about it every night.”

In addition to his stepfather, Wasilchen also leaves behind a sister of Marysville, a brother of Gold Bar and his mother, who lives in Everett.

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, jholtz@heraldnet.com.