Council saves drug prosecutor position

A new weapon in the county’s battle against drugs will be kept through this year despite budget problems and a recent fear that a deputy prosecutor’s job focusing on abolishing drug houses would be eliminated.

The decision means proceeds from the sale of drug dealers’ property will continue to be used to help fight the drug problem.

The Snohomish County Council on Wednesday approved a motion allowing the prosecutor to continue focusing on drug houses through civil actions.

"We told them we support the position. We support what you’re doing," said Councilman Jeff Sax, who heads the council’s Law and Justice and Human Services Committee. "We said to keep at it, and we’ll find the money (later in the year) if you need it."

On a second issue, the council allowed the prosecutor to continue a pilot project aimed at getting quicker resolution of misdemeanor cases, something that has helped keep the jail population down and reduce court calendars.

Getting rid of chronic drug houses has been a county goal, and Prosecuting Attorney Janice Ellis last year took a stab at it by assigning a second deputy prosecutor to the Snohomish County Regional Drug Task Force. The task force concentrates on arresting criminals involved in drug trafficking.

The second deputy prosecutor has focused on civil procedures that have resulted in forfeiture of drug-house properties, as well as automobiles, cash and other items.

Funding for the deputy, staffed by veteran prosecutor Al Gehri, was about to run out.

"I’m very happy about what happened," said Mark Roe, chief criminal deputy prosecutor, who has scrounged for funds to pay for the second task force deputy. "These are worthwhile things that serve the county and the taxpayers — and they’re working."

"The criminal prosecution is one element, but justice is also realized by taking some of the personal profit out of drug dealing," Ellis said in a statement.

The county, state, sheriff and task force share proceeds of sales of seized property.

Roe compared the arrest of drug dealers to a beehive.

"You can swat a couple of bees, and unless you take out the nest, you’re still going to get stung," he said. "That’s what this task force job is all about."

In the past year, Gehri has gone to civil courts using state law to seize hundreds of thousands of dollars in property, including homes and land. He’s also led an effort to get landlords to clean up rented property where drug use has been frequent, encouraging criminals to move elsewhere.

More than $400,000 in cash seized from drug dealers is likely to end up fighting drugs, and the seizure of an Edmonds home is likely to bring $400,000 for the agencies to share. In addition, some 68 vehicles were seized, and some sold, Gehri said.

Under the plan approved Wednesday, the county will use about $28,000 from an anti-profiteering fund to start paying for the position in March. If the prosecutor can’t find any funds to add, the county may have to rely on a law and justice reserve fund later this year.

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or

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