A four-month undercover law enforcement operation is culminating this week with state and federal arrests of more than 95 defendants whose drug dealing and related criminal activity has plagued downtown Seattle, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. The Seattle Police Department, FBI, King County Prosecutors Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are coordinating a strategy aimed at removing what has become an open air drug market at Pike/Pine and Third Avenue in downtown Seattle. Thirty-seven people have been indicted federally –primarily those drug dealers with the most serious criminal histories. The defendants will appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle over the next few days.
“This operation is about much more than locking up offenders. It is about taking back a key part of our city by addressing the range of factors that allowed it to become a one-stop shop for drugs,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “We are pleased to be working closely with the City and our federal and local law enforcement partners who all bring important tools to bear to this problem. In our case, we will be asking judges to ban these offenders from coming back to the Pike/Pine area and will hold those who do to account, so that we can return the area to everyone who lives, works and visits our great city.”
The detention motions filed in the federal cases detail the crime problem in the Pike/Pine corridor. In 2014, there were over ten thousand calls for police service in this area alone – an average of twenty-seven calls per day. Four of the seven most dangerous blocks in the entire city fall within this area, as measured by the number of violent crimes. For a three-year period beginning near the end of 2010, there were over 500 violent crimes that occurred on these blocks. Although not all of the violence is directly linked to the drug trade, the open drug market in the area has contributed to a sense of lawlessness, and appears to have brought a number of people to the area with serious criminal histories. Some of the violent incidents include: the March 2015 shooting of a man at 3rd and Pine resulting in serious injuries; the January 2015, shooting of a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-five-year old when more than a dozen shots were fired near Third Avenue and Pine Street; robberies and beatings of citizens in summer 2013; and the March 2013, injury to a twenty-three-year-old woman who was walking just outside of Pike Place Market and was hit by a stray bullet.
“The FBI partners regularly with the SPD Major Crimes Task Force in stopping individuals who violate the law and endanger our community,” said Special Agent in Charge Frank Montoya, Jr., of the FBI’s Seattle Division. “In this operation, it was our intent to make an immediate, positive impact on a drug market operating brazenly in the heart of our city.”
“The successful operations this week underscore the value of collaborative enforcement efforts with our Federal and regional partners,” said Chief Kathleen O’Toole. “We will continue our collective efforts to promote safe and healthy neighborhoods, Downtown and throughout the City.”
Defendants who have been charged federally sold a wide array of drugs in the Pike/Pine area. Undercover officers bought heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription drugs and marijuana from offenders whose criminal histories include convictions for attempted rape, robbery, burglary, assault, drug trafficking and illegal use and possession of firearms.
“Seattle residents and visitors should not be forced to navigate a dangerous open-air drug market between the downtown retail core and Pike Place Market,” said Mayor Murray. “Our comprehensive nine-and-a-half block strategy will help break the cycle of addiction by expanding LEAD diversions, while removing violent repeat offenders from our streets. My thanks to the men and women of Seattle Police Department, as well as our federal and local law enforcement partners, for their success in one of the largest criminal investigations in Seattle history.”
“Downtown Seattle is a regional jewel that belongs to all of us,” said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. “Drug dealing, and the misery, violence and crime that follows in its wake, has no place in our downtown. We will shut it down with every tool we have.”
“Legalizing and regulating marijuana and using harm reduction tools to address hard drug addiction does not mean standing by as the heart of our downtown continues for years to house a large-scale, outdoor market for illegal drug sales,” said City Attorney Pete Holmes. “Smarter public policies on drugs never meant that we have to accept open-air drug markets. The approach we’re taking today is an effort to strike the balance necessary to enforce the law and clean up downtown without falling back into the wasteful and counterproductive cycle of the War on Drugs.”
This initiative is jointly led by the Seattle Police Department and the FBI. The federal cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Todd Greenberg and Thomas Woods. The King County prosecutions are being coordinated by Senior Deputy Prosecutor Mary Barbosa.