MONROE — The story went viral online. Then it turned sinister.
Around 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, Monroe police got a call from the Goodwill on Chain Lake Road. There were questions about a cooler that had been donated.
Officer Jake Eriks went to check it out.
When he got back, “All of the officers went, ‘Are you kidding?’,” said Debbie Willis, a police department administrator. “They came and got me right away. ‘Debbie, you won’t believe what we just picked up.’”
They walked her outside and lifted the lid. Inside were 3.75 pounds of processed marijuana, separated into clear plastic bags. Monroe police estimate the stash had a value of $24,000.
The department’s Facebook and Twitter posts about the find reached tens of thousands of people. Willis received calls from CNN and “Inside Edition.”
The story caught the attention of the north Snohomish County property crimes unit, a regional team of detectives. They have been working a long-term investigation with Seattle police into a series of home-invasion robberies and pot dispensary holdups and burglaries. They suspect a group of armed bandits are working together. The group reportedly tried unsuccessfully to break into a state-licensed cannabis farm in north Snohomish County on March 2.
On Thursday, the detectives served a search warrant along 160th Street SE in Monroe. They were joined by Monroe officers, a SWAT team and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They recovered about 10 pounds of marijuana along with guns, said Marysville police Sgt. Jim Maples, who was part of the investigation.
When they learned about the pot that had been donated to Goodwill two days earlier, “that is just too coincidental,” he said.
The Goodwill pot and the pot recovered through the search warrant appear to have similar markings on the bags, he said. Police have not confirmed the connection or determined exactly how the cooler ended up at the secondhand store.
An 18-year-old Monroe woman was arrested Thursday as part of the case, Maples said. A 20-year-old man had been arrested previously in Lynnwood and was charged last week with robbery and burglary. Prosecutors allege that he and others wore masks while pointing pistols at staff inside a Seattle pot store on Feb. 21, according to the King County charges. A heist reportedly involving the same suspects happened days later in a Seattle home where a 4-year-old was sleeping.
Details on other incidents believed to be the group’s handiwork were not provided Thursday. Additional arrests are expected, Maples said.
The new developments provided some possible answers for Monroe police. However, they’d still like to understand how and why the pot got donated. ”You always want to know the rest of the story,” Willis said.
On Wednesday, officer Eriks was following up on the surveillance video from the Goodwill. He learned that the donations during the time period in question included a load from a drop-off trailer in Snohomish. There was no video of the trailer donation site.
Usually, any unclaimed marijuana in Monroe police custody is destroyed in a fire, about once a year.
“We have not seen anyone walk in the front door and say, ‘That’s my cooler,’” Willis said. “We really don’t expect anybody to do that.”