Warrant sweep combined with sex offender education

More than 90 felons, including 10 sex offenders, were arrested in a three-day effort spanning Grays Harbor, Pacific and Mason counties this week.

The U.S. Marshals Service led Operation Safe Harbors, an effort pairing federal officers with local agencies to check on more than 100 Level 2 and 3 sex offenders and arrest numerous violent offenders on outstanding warrants.

“The fact that we were able to do sex offender compliance checks on more than 100 sex offenders in a 24-hour period is amazing in and of itself, because it would have taken my staff two to three months to accomplish that same goal,” Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott said at a press conference with the other county sheriffs Thursday.

“I’m very proud to stand up here with each of the sheriffs and the U.S. Marshals Office,” Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson said. “In a financially strapped county like ours, we just couldn’t do this without the help that they’ve given us. … That would have taken our agency weeks and weeks to do on our own.”

Most of those arrested in the three-day sweep were wanted for parole violations, Scott said.

“Some of them had fled to avoid trial, but for the most part they were already convicted,” he added.

The public safety effort didn’t stop with the arrests. For the first time, a training session was held in Montesano for law enforcement officers and local school officials and counselors to educate them on identifying sex offenders, prosecuting them to the full extent of the law and supporting their victims.

“I started thinking about what happens when we leave the community,” said Raymond Fleck, supervisor of Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force. “You go in for three or four days, you do an operation, and that’s it. There’s no investment in the reason we’re out there in the first place.”

He approached the U.S. Attorney’s Office about providing a local training in conjunction with the enforcement effort.

“That’s something that’s saved us a lot of resources, money here by bringing the training to us as opposed to us having to commute to the Pierce and King county areas as we normally do to get that,” Scott said.

Kate Vaughan, coordinator of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Project Safe Childhood, said the training starts out by bringing school staff together with law enforcement.

“A lot of the training is about recognizing sex offenders, and once you’ve caught a sex offender, recognizing the breadth of their crimes,” she explained.

In separate sessions, school staff and victim’s advocates learned more about victim’s rights and methods of support, including restitution. Law enforcement officers learned more about federal penalties that may be used in prosecuting sex offenders, although most will likely be state cases, Vaughan said.

“I commend the leadership of the U.S. Marshals Service working with local law enforcement to remove wanted felons from the community,” U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan said in a press release. “Just one offender can have a significant impact on a smaller community. Sex offenders in rural areas, just like those in urban settings, need to know that law enforcement is watching. The training today will ensure that more adults will be attuned to the current threats to the safety of our children.”

In addition to the local arrests, officers were able to send leads to Idaho, Nevada, California and Oregon where sex offenders who should have been registered in Washington were arrested by local agencies.

“We were able to pick up a lot of guys that needed to be in jail, particularly those offenders who had fled the state to avoid the registration process,” Scott said. “They’re now where they belong and will be extradited back to Grays Harbor County to face their charges.”

The Hoquiam Police Department, the Squaxin Island Tribe and the Department of Corrections were particularly recognized at the press conference for their assistance.

“They provided a huge amount of manpower,” Scott said of local DOC staff. “And then toward the end, we were arresting people so fast I ran out of mattresses in the jail. So the Department of Corrections stepped up the plate and started helping find some jail space to put these folks in, because we were arresting them faster than I could get cells cleared to put them in.”


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