Police to County Council: Gang violence needs solutions

EVERETT — Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies stopped the Chrysler near Discovery Elementary in south Everett and removed five people at gunpoint.

The 23-year-old driver was a known gang member with a history of illegal weapons. His passengers were fellow gang members. Three of them were 14. The other was a 17-year-old boy who has already survived being shot in the heart during a drive-by. He was 15 at the time.

He later bought a gun for protection and accidentally shot his 11-year-old brother, injuring the boy’s face. He’s been convicted three times of illegal gun possession in the past eight months, according to court papers.

Deputies seized that Chrysler in late April and found four guns inside, along with ammunition. Witnesses reported seeing the occupants with bandanas over their faces. The firearms are being tested to determine if they are connected to any of the dozens of shootings that have hammered Everett in recent years.

“We have a gang problem in Snohomish County, particularly in south Everett,” sheriff’s detective Brad Walvatne said Monday during a hearing of the County Council’s law and justice committee.

Walvatne and his partner Kendra Conley detailed several gang shootings in the county since 2015, including two homicides. Everett police also are investigating gang-related homicides. Walvatne and Conley were joined Monday by FBI agent Sara Blond who works with the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force. Everett police detective Jeff Nevin, who specializes in gangs, also provided input.

There have been at least 56 gang-related shootings since January 2015 in south Snohomish County. At least 14 people have been hit by gunfire. Most of the victims and the suspects are juveniles. In the last year, there have been 1,733 calls for service about shots fired reported to Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies and police officers in Everett, Lynnwood and Mill Creek.

Those calls don’t take into account reports of stabbings, assaults, gang graffiti and other crimes associated with gang members, Walvatne said.

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary told County Council members that he wanted to bring them up to speed on the scope of the problem. Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman also attended Monday’s presentation.

Templeman has given at least two different updates to City Council members about gang activity in Everett and the steps his department is taking to combat the gunfire, including assigning a detective to every drive-by shooting and stepping up patrols on Casino Road. They also are sharing information with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace the weapons used in the shootings.

Law enforcement believes the rise in violence can mainly be attributed to warring gangs primarily operating in the south Everett area. The drive-by shootings and assaults spiked after the 2015 death of Anthony Camacho. The 17-year-old was shot to death outside a house party near Mariner High School.

Three people, including two 16-year-old boys, were convicted in connection with Camacho’s murder. Since then gang members have been out for revenge. The suspects had been in custody for more than a year, but that didn’t slow the violence down, Walvatne said.

“You have 14-year-olds stepping in, wanting to prove themselves,” he said.

It can be difficult to keep the kids off the streets, particularly because the juvenile justice system aims at avoiding incarceration and instead focuses on rehabilitation.

Templeman has reported that he and his staff have been having conversations with folks at the Denney Juvenile Justice Center. There have been times when a juvenile gang member has been caught with a gun and officers haven’t been able to get the kid booked into the juvenile lock-up, Templeman reported.

Denney has booking criteria that is based in part on the offense but also the juvenile’s previous history.

Trenary said he met with the some Superior Court judges Monday to talk about the challenges facing law enforcement when it comes to young people and gangs. It also will be important to talk with school districts and other community partners, Trenary said.

Gang members in Snohomish County are generally between the ages of 14 and 23. Everett police investigated the shooting of a 13-year-old gang member last year. The boy refused to cooperate. A short time later his 15-year-old brother was also shot in the an apparent drive-by. He also declined to help police find the shooter.

Kids are being recruited as early as middle school, Nevin said. Gangs often go to parks to find new members. Most of the gang members are local but law enforcement is beginning to see some people from King County up here.

There is no evidence at this point that the gang members here are connected to gangs operating nationwide, Blond said.

County Councilman Sam Low asked what recommendations law enforcement had for the council to help.

Walvatne said that it’s crucial that police officers are proactive, getting ahead of the violence. “We need to get out there and knock on doors.”

His department doesn’t have anyone specifically assigned to gang violence, Trenary said. The shootings often fall to the homicide detectives. There may be a need for more resources, the sheriff said.

“I may be back to say we have ideas but we don’t have the bodies,” Trenary said.

There is a fear that an innocent bystander is going to get hurt “without more action on our part,” he said. “I think the problem is here to stay.”

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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