Posted November 5, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in News

Party Patrol Raids Student Fundraiser

Arrest of 51 Sparks Student Outrage

By Issac Scott

Just before midnight on Friday, Oct. 24, police vehicles descended on a Westside house, where students were throwing a benefit show featuring local bands. With a search warrant, the police entered the house and ordered everyone over the age of 21 to get out. Those who were under 21 or did not have their ID were made to take a breathalyzer test, and if they had been drinking were zip-tied and loaded into a white Sprinter police van.

“It was surreal,” said Hunter, a student who asked to be identified by only his first name. “I have been to a lot of parties that have been broken up in the past, and talked to a lot of police officers at them and never experienced anything like that.”

The house was packed with around 100 people for the benefit to support Books to Prisoners: Olympia, a group that donates books to incarcerated people. By the morning, a total of 51 people were arrested according to the police, mostly current and former Evergreen students.

The 49 people detained for underage drinking were ferried to the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services office in East Olympia, near Lacey. Officers processed them and took their photo and ID information. A health worker offered one-on-one drug counseling.

“I talked to her and it was very vague and obviously aimed towards high school students,” Hunter said. “The whole time I had a suspicion that everyone working there that night was not on the same page. It was a long and disorganized process.”

They were released between 4 and 6 a.m.

Students who lived at the house were arrested and one was released on $2,000 bail. Another student was arrested for allegedly obstructing the investigation.

It was the biggest raid yet by the Target Zero Party Intervention Patrol, a police task force that busts parties with underage drinking as part of a larger effort to prevent drunk driving. Police from the Washington State Patrol, Thurston County Sheriff’s Department, Olympia Police Department, and the Tenino Police Department participated in the operation.

Target Zero, unveiled in 2013, is Washington state’s ambitious plan to eliminate all traffic fatalities by the year 2030. Because drunk driving is a leading factor in traffic deaths, the state is stepping up DUI patrols and enforcement against underage drinking. According to the plan, part of the initiative is to “Conduct well-publicized enforcement aimed at underage drinking parties.”

Jerry Noviello, Thurston County’s Target Zero program manager, says the purpose of the Party Intervention Patrol is to intervene in situations with underage drinking in order to dissuade young people from engaging in risky behavior while also avoiding the criminal system.

Most people detained in the Oct. 24 operation will face drug diversion programs such as community service or drug classes. But those with previous criminal records may face Minor in Possession charges.

“Instead of just hauling kids off to jail, like what happened when I was at Penn State, they are taken to the Public Health office and meet with a licensed Chemical Dependency Officer,” Noviello said.

Over the past year, the patrol has hit five high school parties in Thurston County but this is the largest such operation to date, and the first time Evergreen students have been involved.

On Halloween, the task force broke up a party in Lacey and arrested 31 people.

This year, the program received $90,000 from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, roughly double the funding for last year. Noviello said the Party Intervention Patrol will be able to conduct about 10 operations in the next year.

Students expressed confusion and outrage following the incident because of the unprecedented nature of the raid within the Evergreen community.

“Out of town police turning up in force with a warrant in hand is completely unheard of for a house party, much less a benefit show,” said Kaigh Walsh, a student who organized the event. “Normally a local police officer comes and knocks on the door and tells the homeowner that they have to end the show.”

This was the third such benefit Walsh had organized for Books for Prisoners: Olympia, and raised over $200.

Walsh says he plans to organize more benefit shows, including ones to help pay for the legal fees of the 49 people detained. He also plans to organize a “Know Your Rights” training at Evergreen, to educate students about how to best respond to similar situations in the future.