MONROE — A well-worn path into the woods led Monroe police to a roughly 750-square-foot shelter, where a couple had hacked trees, churned up dirt and caused at least $5,000 in damage to private property, to build an illegal camp east of the Evergreen State Fairgrounds, according to police.
After a brief standoff Wednesday, officers arrested a woman, 42, for investigation of felony malicious mischief, criminal trespassing and obstructing law enforcement. She told police she’d been living in the structure built out of sticks for two months with a boyfriend who had “performed the work to build the shelter,” according to police.
The boyfriend wasn’t seen by police on the property this week, but officers plan to arrest him on similar charges.
Another man in the structure surrendered Wednesday, and he accepted an offer to get connected with resources through the police department’s embedded social worker program. Those services were not offered to the woman this week. She had been given the offer several times in the past, but always turned it down, Monroe police Sgt. Paul Ryan said. She has a felony record for possessing and dealing drugs over the past decade.
Officers first discovered the building in December as part of a homeless outreach program, where the police department seeks to connect unsheltered people with treatment for drug addiction, services for mental health issues and temporary housing. On a patrol before Christmas, the Community Outreach Team noticed a path and fresh bicycle tracks going up a hillside, in a greenbelt northeast of a state Department of Transportation office. A few hundred feet away, they saw a surprisingly large shelter covered in green tarp and blankets.
“The sophistication of the built structure was unlike any I have discovered in 15 years as a Police Officer,” Ryan wrote in a report. “I recognized the immense task at hand to remedy the land as close as possible to its original condition.”
Officers tracked down the owner of the property, a landlord and developer from Centralia who has property investments around the state. He agreed to meet up with police in early January, and on Wednesday, officers convened near the site. Police shouted into the structure. A man emerged. He told police he was a guest, and that the woman was still inside.
Over the next 15 minutes police announced that she needed to come out, but got no response. The sergeant called for a police dog, Tango, who responded to the scene with a handler. As soon as the dog barked, the woman walked out. She reported she and her boyfriend were the only two people living there, though they had guests over from time to time.
Tree branches had been collected to build the walls and roof of the makeshift shack. Inside were muddy floorboards, garden tools, hanging blankets and a tent. Officers noted they found a machete and a row of bicycles in various stages of being stripped apart, as well as a shopping cart, a ladder and a pile of garbage. A low wall of dirt and leaves marked the perimeter of the shelter.
Based on the owner’s estimate, Monroe police believe it could cost up to $10,000 to restore the land.
Officers asked people to call 360-794-6300, if they recognize any of the bikes posted on the department’s Facebook page.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.