April 23, 2014

Sheriff’s Office looking for owner of stolen firearms

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office is requesting the public’s assistance in locating the owner of a gun collection that is believed to be stolen.

Detectives would like to determine who the owner (or owners) may be of nearly fifty stolen rifles recently recovered from a residence on Old Marine Drive, Bellingham WA. The rifles appear to be a collection, with most manufactured between the late 1800s and during the World War II era. Countries of origin include France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Egypt, and the United States.

On February 19, 2014, at about 9:30 PM, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office responded to a reported Domestic Violence call in the 1100 block of Old Marine Drive, Bellingham, Washington. During the course of that investigation, deputies discovered a large “job box” normally used for storing tools, filled with firearms. Information gathered at the scene led deputies to believe that the firearms were stolen. Deputies took the firearms and they are being held for safe keeping pending further investigation.

Additional information developed during the investigation suggests the guns were stolen from “the valley” (this may be Sudden Valley) sometime within the last few months, though none of the guns appear to have been reported stolen, and there are no local law enforcement cases involving similar guns. Anyone with information is requested to contact the Sheriff’s Office Detectives at 360-676-6650, reference case number 14A03306.

Information may also be left on our confidential tip line at:
(360) 715-7459 or toll free 1-866-456-2157

Another Serial Burglar Investigated and Arrested

A prolific burglar, thief and previously convicted felon was arrested by Sheriff’s Deputies for a series of burglaries and thefts that occurred in unincorporated Whatcom County and the City of Ferndale. Deputies did not need to look too far for the suspect as he was already incarcerated in the Whatcom County Jail on burglary and theft charges in relation to crimes that occurred last December.

The Sheriff’s Office received a series of reports of burglaries and thefts that occurred in the areas of Ferndale and Lynden. Sheriff’s deputies arrested Kevin Gorsuch (date of birth 5-23-86) who most recently was living in the 6800 block of Enterprise Road (Ferndale) for a burglary that had occurred in December 2013 at Veenhuizen Farms in the 1600 block of East Pole Road (Lynden) and for a theft that occurred in December 2013 in the 2100 block of Harskell Road (Ferndale). Deputies continued their investigation and linked Gorsuch to other crimes that occurred in the north county during between late 2013 and early 2014.

Multiple interviews were conducted and evidence collected that lead to the development of probable cause for the arrest of Gorsuch for additional crimes that occurred both in unincorporated Whatcom County and the City of Ferndale. Deputies arrested Gorsuch in the County Jail. It is suspected that Gorsuch may have been involved in other area burglaries and thefts and the investigation is continuing.

Gorsuch was arrested on February 20th for the following burglaries and thefts:

Burglary 2nd in the 6800 block of Enterprise Road. Kevin Gorsuch admitted he made entry into an unlocked shop and took welding leads.

Burglary 2nd in the 6900 block of Salashan Parkway. Kevin Gorsuch admitted to opening a window to the business but said he left without taking anything.

Burglary 1st, Theft of a Firearm – 3 counts, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm – 3 counts, Trafficking Stolen Property- 3 counts in the 5400 block of Aldrich Road, a residence and barn. Kevin Gorsuch denied taking the firearms, but admitted to being in possession of 2 of them and to trafficking them. An accomplice reported dropping Kevin Gorsuch off in this location and later picking him up when he had 3 or 4 firearms. All 3 firearms that were reported stolen have been recovered.

Vehicle Prowl in the 5500 block of Hovander Road. A utility trailer parked behind a building under construction was prowled and rolls of wire were stolen.

Burglary 2nd in the 7400 block of Enterprise Road. Kevin Gorsuch admitted to stealing Stihl chainsaw from a shed located near the residence.

Theft 3rd, Malicious Mischief 3rd in the 7400 block of Enterprise Road. Kevin Gorsuch admitted to cutting an electrical cord from a residence and later stripping it for the copper.

Burglary 2nd (Ferndale PD case) in the 5000 block of Pacific Hwy. A business was burglarized and power tools were stolen. Gorsuch was identified by a witness.

Gorsuch was previously arrested by the Whatcom Sheriff’s Office on March 29, 2013 on a felony theft charge and was convicted of the same on April 25, 2013. He was sentenced by the Superior Court on these previous offenses to six months in Jail.

Local Elected Officials Attend Emergency Management Training

Disasters like Hurricane Katrina have shown us what happens to local communities when their local officials are not up to the task of governance during extreme events. Here in Whatcom County numerous newly elected officials are participating today in training that will ensure that they have the skills needed to assist their jurisdictions during a disaster.

Whatcom Unified Emergency Management is instructing an Emergency Operations for Elected Officials/ Chief Administrators today at 2-4PM, and another class from 6-8PM, in Bellingham. This two hour session helps to orient current and newly appointed/ elected civic officials to their role during emergency incidents. The elected officials who have committed to participate in the training will leave the course with the basic skills needed to lead and effectively assist their constituents in times of disaster.

Officials from Whatcom County, Port of Bellingham, City of Bellingham, City of Ferndale, Cemetery District 7, Columbia Valley Water District, Lynden School District, Columbia Valley Water District, City of Lynden, and the South Whatcom Fire Authority will be participating.

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office assists with locating missing Alzheimer’s Patient

Missing elderly man safely located with aid of technology
Posted: February 13, 2014 1:51:26 PM PST

Bellingham (WA) On February 7, 2014 at about 4:20 p.m. the Bellingham Police responded to a report of a missing 71 year old male from Columbia Place Retirement Center. The male subject walked away from the facility against the wishes of facility staff who stated he was not capable of caring for himself.
This elderly man was wearing a “Project Lifesaver” radio tracking device, which is a specially equipped bracelet. Project Lifesaver was introduced in Whatcom County in 2008 as a partnership between the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) and the Alzheimer’s Society of Washington.
The missing man was located at about 8:30 p.m. because of the Project Lifesaver equipment. A deputy with a receiving unit traced the signal to the area of Champion and Holly Streets. The man was physically okay but disoriented. Considering that the low temperature on this day was nearly 20 degrees it was critical that this man be located a quickly as possible.

According to WCSO Sergeant Scott Huso, Search and Rescue Deputies along with several trained Search and Rescue Volunteers maintain several receivers which track the transmitter signal and aid in the search. On a national scale, searches that used to last hours have been reduced to an average of about 20 minutes for those that are wearing the transmitter.

Utilizing WCSO Search and Rescue experts for urban searches is an excellent example of the collaborative nature of local law enforcement. Through sharing resources all of our local agencies are able to provide excellent service to our citizens while being fiscally responsible. It would not be cost effective for every local agency to maintain a search and rescue element. Another example of this is the Bellingham Police Hazardous Devices Unit (bomb squad), which is staffed and maintained by BPD but made available to all jurisdictions in Whatcom County.

Caregivers and family members are able to enroll clients in the Project Lifesaver program through the Alzheimer’s Society for a nominal fee. If there are additional questions on how to enroll a potential client into Project Lifesaver please contact the Alzheimer Society of Washington at (360) 671-3316.

Whatcom County puts 60-day moratorium on pot business applications

BELLINGHAM — The Whatcom County Council passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday night that places an immediate moratorium on any new applications for marijuana producers, processors and retailers under the state’s pot legalization Initiative 502 and also for medical marijuana facilities.

potrules2The moratorium, passed unanimously by the County Council, will stay in effect for 60 days — and could be extended — to allow time for the county executive’s staff, the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor’s office to produce an interim ordinance for council review and approval, County Executive Jack Louws said.

The moratorium was needed, Louws said, for the following reasons outlined in the ordinance:

“Marijuana related operations are vulnerable to robbery and crimes of violence, as evidenced by the actual robberies and violence that have occurred at state legal marijuana medical sites within Whatcom County and elsewhere. The current requirements for locating a proposed marijuana facility do not specifically address the potential risks that these operations pose for surrounding residences, including those residences within isolated communities with limited police protection.

“It is necessary to have this moratorium take effect immediately in order to prevent future applications for marijuana producers, processors, retailers, and collective gardens from vesting under current laws and thus subverting the purpose of additional regulations to protect the public,” it said.

Louws said Whatcom County began receiving notifications of proposed marijuana facilities from the Washington State Liquor Control Board in mid-December and has been informed that licenses are to be issued as early as late this month or early March.

Read more: http://q13fox.com/2014/02/11/whatcom-county-puts-60-day-moratorium-on-pot-business-applications/#ixzz2t8DsEObs

Serial Burglar Captured in Geneva Neighborhood

On Friday, February 7th at approximately 12:14 p.m. a resident in the 1500 block of Lakewood Lane (Geneva area) reported that a male suspect had pounded on her door and then attempted to open the doors and windows to her home. The resident was able to provide law enforcement with a good description of the suspect, his vehicle and direction of travel as he left the area.

Subsequently, the Sheriff’s Office received multiple reports of other residential burglaries that had occurred in the area including three additional residences on Lakewood Lane and the 1500 block of Geneva Street (total of four burglaries and one attempted burglary). One of the residents on Lakewood Lane whose home was burglarized came home to find the front door ajar and the suspect in her home. The suspect fled her home and she was able to provide a description similar to that provided by the other neighbor.

Items stolen during the course of burglaries included jewelry, computer equipment, United States and Canadian currency, prescription drugs, checks, and a credit card. Deputies located the vehicle that had fled the burglaries in the 4300 block of Columbus Street. Some tems believed to have been stolen in the burglary were located in the vehicle and in the residence following the execution of a search warrant.

A United States Department of Homeland Security Helicopter and Canine teams from the Sheriff’s Office assisted by canine teams from the Bellingham and Everett Police Departments initiated a search for the suspect. A Bellingham Police Canine team located Michael Johnsen hiding in a wooded area near the intersection of Parkstone and Overlook Drives. Deputies were able to match patterns on Johnsen’s foot ware with foot impressions left in the snow at the scene of the burglaries. Johnsen also closely matched the description provided by witnesses and was positively identified.

The suspect, Michael Johnsen dob 9/6/1978, was arrested and booked into the Whatcom County Jail on the following charges:
1) Attempted Residential Burglary (one count)
2) Residential Burglary (four counts)
3) Theft in the 2nd degree (two counts).
Johnsen is being referred to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for consideration of filing additional theft charges. Deputies will also be investigating to determine what other crimes Johnsen may have been committed in Whatcom County.

Deputies discovered that Johnsen was also wanted by the Washington State Department of Corrections for Escape. Johnsen was also arrested on the Department of Corrections warrant.

Sheriff Elfo said: “Alert citizens were instrumental in assisting law enforcement in solving Mr. Johnsen’s latest string of burglaries. Johnsen is a career criminal and a prolific burglar with a long and repeated history of victimizing the citizens of Whatcom County. He was previously arrested by the Sheriff’s Office for a string of burglaries in the central area of the County in 2008 and was subsequently sentenced to 7 years in prison. Prison officials released him July of 2103 to an out-of-custody program and he did not serve his entire sentence. Prior to Friday’s crimes, Mr. Johnsen had accumulated at total of 11 adult felony convictions for crimes including burglary, theft, escape, possession of stolen property as well as 12 adult gross misdemeanor convictions for vehicle prowling, reckless endangerment, possession of stolen property and drug related offenses and a series of other offenses including bail jumping. We are very pleased that he is off the streets.”

Homicide Suspect from Texas Living in Whatcom County Apprehended

On January 16th, 2014 the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by Officials from Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office in Texas regarding a suspect in a 2009 homicide case under investigation there, who they believed may be in custody in the Whatcom County Jail. The suspect, Billy Michael Dupree, 59 years of age had been in custody serving time on a commitment for harassment and assault 4th degree. He was released the evening of January 13, 2014.

WCSO Detectives placed Dupree’s residence under surveillance and determined that he had boarded a WTA bus. Dupree was apprehended without incident when he departed the bus in downtown Bellingham. He was booked into the Whatcom County Jail at 1420 hours, and is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow.

The Warrant, issued today by a Van Zandt County Magistrate lists the charge of Murder, 19.02(b)(1) Felony of the First Degree.

It is believed that Dupree has lived in Whatcom County for the last several years and has been booked into the Whatcom County Jail for arrests that occurred in 2012, 2013 and on this date. He has a number of arrests and criminal convictions on his record, the most serious of which is a 15 year sentence for Aggravated Robbery out of Dallas Texas.

Detectives will be working with Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office regarding the 2009 investigation and with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to determine extradition.


Guest Editorial to Local Media – October 19, 2013

As Whatcom County seeks citizen input on the proposed 521-inmate jail, it is important to highlight the process used to determine the size of the facility and measures taken to offer alternatives and reduce the growth of future jail needs.

After nearly two years of research, community input and consultation with national experts, the 13-member Council-created Jail Planning Task Force unanimously reported on “critical life-safety” issues requiring that the jail be replaced; concluded that a 500-700 inmate facility operating at 80-85% of its design-capacity was needed; emphasized including space for expanding mental health, educational/ vocational/work programs; highlighted the need to plan for future long-term expansion; and recommended that the County retain a jail planner to refine projections and facilitate recommendations.

The County hired a leading jail planning firm who assessed that Whatcom County needs a jail to accommodate 521 inmates with a long-term expansion capacity to 649 inmates. It further recommended the inclusion of space for all of the educational/mental health programming recommended by the Task Force.
Despite legislation that continually shifts responsibility for housing felons from state prisons to county jails and that mandates arrests and sets minimum sentencing requirements for misdemeanor offenses (primarily domestic violence/ DUI), components of our local law and justice system implemented programs that successfully reduced the growth in our jail population and lowered previous projections on jail capacity needs.

The Prosecutor’s “Fast-Track” program expedited the process of bringing felony cases before the courts and contributed to reducing the average length of pre-trial detentions from 26 to 20 days. Drug court offer eligible offenders the option of treatment rather than incarceration.

District Court Probation has enjoyed phenomenal success with mental health specialists that work with the mentally ill (including veterans suffering PTSD) who otherwise would occupy a disproportionate amount of jail space. Success rates increased from 28% to 75%. One person with schizoaffective disorder and a long history of DUI was booked into jail 53 times. Since entering the program he has been clean, sober and out of jail for 18 months. At the Sheriff’s Office, mental health professionals now work with offenders to diagnose, treat and connect them with community based services upon their release – reducing the likelihood of returning to jail.

The Sheriff’s Office operates the most robust jail-alternative programs in Washington that include the use of electronic home monitoring in lieu of incarceration, the option of avoiding jail time by working on community projects and jail work crews that perform thousands of hours of public service work. Jail work and education programs allow eligible offenders to retain their jobs or continue their education.
Despite successes there many challenges and opportunities remain.

The number of dangerously violent mentally ill offenders held in Jail has dramatically increased as state funding for Western State Hospital has decreased. Resulting backlogs for diagnosis and treatment can now take months. In the interim, the jail is ill-equipped to house, treat or effectively supervise these offenders. The proposed jail will provide 14 rooms to more effectively and safely facilitate these services.
Many minor offenders could be diverted from the criminal justice to the mental health system if a fully functional mental health triage facility were available. While state law provides for diverting persons suspected of committing certain non-violent misdemeanor offenses, it provided no funding. The County has appropriated $3 million for such services and the Health Department continues to explore options for operating the facility.

People should not have to be arrested to access mental health services. Dramatic reductions at state and federal levels have reduced options for community-based treatment. The County has filled some of these voids by funding a variety of programs that include behavioral health services at all seven School Districts; community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment; and services for the chronically homeless and chemically dependent.

Evidence-based research demonstrates that juvenile detention alternative programs can successfully reduce the number of incarcerated juveniles and enjoy enormous success in preventing adult crime. Initiatives at the state level are proposing to restore funding for these programs and I am serving on a committee that is working on a series of recommendations to the Legislature and counties.

The law and judges determine “who” is in Jail. The Sheriff and the County have the responsibility to operate the jail in a safe and constitutional manner. While various programs have achieved success in changing lives, most function on a “carrot-and-stick” model and it is necessary to maintain a facility where those representing risk to the community can be safely held.

Sheriff Bill Elfo
Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office
311 Grand Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98225

(360) 676-6650

Updates regarding the Skagit I-5 Bridge collapse

Please go to http://www.whatcomready.org/blog/ for current updates. Provided by Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management and our partners at Skagit County.

Thank you!

Update from the Sheriff on the Jail Planning Process

March 13, 2013

As Whatcom County prepares to replace the Jail, it is important to update citizens as to the processes followed, decisions made to date and plans to proceed.

In April 2011, the County Council sought recommendations for replacing the Jail. It enacted a Resolution establishing a “Jail Planning Task Force” (JPTF). Council tasked the 13-member JPTF with making recommendations that included the size, location and programming needed
to replace the current Jail. The Resolution provided for JPTF members be appointed by the Executive and confirmed by Council. Citizen and government leaders with expertise in corrections, mental health, rehabilitation, law enforcement, county finance, architecture, construction, business, labor and experience in environmental, land use and neighborhood issues served on the JPTF.

The JPTF held 16 public meetings, solicited community input and received comments from citizens and stakeholders from throughout the criminal justice and behavioral health systems. It received professional assistance from the National Institute of Corrections and other experts. A very transparent process was followed. All agendas, minutes and reports were published on the County’s website. Media were invited to attend all meetings.

The JPTF presented its unanimous conclusions to the Council in a public Council meeting last April, reporting: “due to overcrowding, life/safety and physical plant concerns in the main jail facility, Whatcom County needs a new jail.” It described the need as “critical.”

The JPTF reported that “while it was beyond its expertise to determine the precise capacity needed for a new jail, it concluded that the jail should operate at 80-85% of its design capacity and have capacity for 500-700 inmates.” The JPTF recommended that the County retain an experienced jail planner to conduct a needs assessment and refine inmate capacity projections. The current jail system holds up to 470 inmates and offers little flexibility to adjust housing to meet fluctuating security and special housing needs.

The JPTF recommended that the jail be sited reasonably close to both I-5 and the Courthouse and be especially able to accommodate future expansion; designed to maximize operational efficiencies; and expand existing jail work programs.

Executive Louws consulted with the Council and me before implementing recommendations. Proposals were solicited from nationally-recognized jail planning firms. DLR-Group, a leader in modern jail planning and design, was selected. Council accepted DLR’s proposal and unanimously approved a contract to assess jail housing needs; recommend system changes to reduce future jail needs; and estimate costs. This work is proceeding consistent with national standards and best practices.

The Executive also convened a group of professionals and citizens with expertise in public facilities, land use, corrections and law enforcement. He tasked this group with establishing site selection criteria. Criteria were established and proposals were solicited. Eleven proposals were received, reviewed and evaluated. All proposals and evaluations were published on the County website and released to the media.

A 40-acre industrially-zoned and fully serviced site near I-5 in Ferndale was identified as most consistent with the selection criteria. DLR and other professionals are now conducting a preliminary assessment of the site to determine its viability. Prior to recommending Council authorize purchasing any site, there will be a comprehensive review of environmental impacts and opportunities for public comment.

Jail needs are influenced by population growth but are more heavily affected by factors such as decisions of the Legislature transferring incarceration responsibilities from state prisons to county jails; laws mandating arrests and minimum jail sentences; and large-scale resource reductions at the state and federal levels that dramatically limit evaluation and treatment options for mentally ill offenders.

Replacing the jail is a major undertaking that cannot be avoided. Life-safety issues, human conditions, potential taxpayer liability and extraordinary repair costs dictate this process move forward. If the Ferndale site is ultimately selected, neighborhood safety, aesthetic and traffic concerns must be responsibly addressed.

Decisions regarding the location, size and financing for the replacement Jail ultimately rest with the County Council. As your Sheriff, I will continue to recommend a facility that is “right-sized” for our community’s needs; designed for cost-efficient operations; and located at a site flexible enough to meet future requirements. I also will continue to advocate for improvements in our justice and mental health systems that can humanely and effectively reduce future jail needs.

Bill Elfo,
Whatcom County Sheriff