A man who’s been called Vashon’s top methamphetamine dealer had a significant drug charge thrown out last month, frustrating islanders who had long hoped his conviction would rid their neighborhood of suspected drug activity and related crime that centers around his home.
“We’re just kind of at the end of our rope,” said Frank Shipley, who lives by the house.
Richard Arthur Grant, a 47-year-old who authorities say is frequently arrested for drug possession and other crimes, now faces three additional drug charges and is scheduled to appear in court today.
“I can’t predict what the court is going to do after this last time,” said Shipley, who has paid close attention to the situation. “The more times he is arrested, the more likely it is he’s going to be convicted.”
Grant came to the attention of many on Vashon last fall, when the body of a missing woman was found near his house. But residents of the quiet, wooded neighborhood east of the Vashon Airport say that for years they’ve been bothered what appears to be frequent drug activity at Grant’s home, a modest split-level on 109th Avenue.
Neighbors have had regular confrontations with visitors to the house, who they say come and go at all hours, sometimes drive recklessly, are aggressive, trespass on other property and have siphoned fuel from cars. Police have often gone to Grant’s home to search for stolen property and criminal suspects, and multiple neighbors report that people from Grant’s home once killed a local dog.
“I literally leave my house as little as possible to not have to deal with it,” said Kelly Wald, who also lives by Grant’s house with her husband, Joe Wald.
While the neighbors have complained about Grant and periodically called police on the house for years, heightened attention fell on Grant last November after the body of islander India Castle, 27, was discovered in a shallow pond behind his home. The King County Sheriff’s Office ruled her death an accident resulting from an overdose of methamphetamine, and no criminal charges resulted.
At the time of the incident, Grant faced a drug charge from an August arrest where he was found to possess nearly 10 grams of methamphetamine with the intent to sell.
For months while the case moved through the court system, some of Grant’s neighbors followed its progression, hoping for a conviction that would send Grant to prison for as many as five years. When he’d gone to jail for longer periods in the past, they said, Grants off-island brothers came and cleaned out house, which is owned by their mother.
“We want to get him out of this neighborhood and where he belongs, in prison,” said Shipley, who noted that his daughter knew Castle and was traumatized by her death.
According to charging papers, Grant was pulled over in August on the north end for driving with a suspended license. As sheriff’s deputy Jeff Hancock approached Grant’s vehicle, he reportedly saw Grant turn in his seat as if throwing an item into the back of the car. During a search of Grant’s vehicle, sheriff’s deputies found almost 10 grams of meth.
Grant, who reportedly laughed while talking with the deputies, admitted that he purchased the drugs in Seattle and planned to sell them on Vashon. He said he sold methamphetamine “to get by,” according to the charging papers.
Last month, however, a King County Superior Court judge dismissed the case. Judge Mary Yu ruled that the traffic stop was pretextual, meaning that Hancock stopped Grant on a traffic infraction but then searched for evidence of unrelated criminal activity. The search of the vehicle, the judge ruled, was therefore invalid, and the case was thrown out.
Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County Prosecutor’s Office, said the office was considering whether to appeal the ruling.
Hancock, a regular Vashon deputy, said he understood there were legal reasons for the dismissal, but he was still frustrated. He said Grant — who has a lengthy criminal record that includes nine felony convictions — is known as Vashon’s most active methamphetamine dealer. A year ago, he said, Grant’s home was the first place some deputies would search for criminal suspects.
“Everybody involved in crime on the island would in some way be association with this residence, and we would go search there,” he said. “We’re not targeting him. We’re going after crime in general, and it so happens he’s in the middle of a lot of criminal activity on the island.”
Since so much police attention has fallen on Grant in the past year, Hancock said, some are now avoiding him, and Hancock believes activity at his house has quieted down.
“I think people got tired of always being arrested there,” he said.
As for Grant, Hancock said, he never seems to go to jail for long, despite his frequent arrests for warrants, drug possession and other crimes.
“It’s very frustrating, because here’s a guy who admits he sells dope to people on the island, he knows what he’s doing is illegal, and nothing ever happens to him,” he said.
Neighbors, too, say they’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the situation, and at least three who live near Grant’s home say they think there’s as much activity there as ever.
Cynthia Pollock, who lives several blocks away from the Grant’s house and often walks on his street, says she’s seen more and more people who appear to be under the influence on foot in the neighborhood. She suspects a prowler at her house last year may have come from there.
“It’s not like I feel personally threatened; I feel like it’s more of a sad state for the whole community,” she said.
Meanwhile, Grant currently faces three new drug charges.
In April, he was arrested on a warrant after failing to appear in Renton Municipal Court on theft charges. During a search, he was found to possess 3.5 grams of meth and a small amount of cocaine, according to charging papers.
Grant was arrested twice more last month, on May 23 and 25. Both times he was arrested on warrants, and both times he was found to possess small amounts of methamphetamine.
Ian Goodhew, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said Grant was released from jail after the first arrest to seek medical attention. He is currently released and enrolled in CCAP, a probation-like program for non-violent offenders, and is scheduled for a court appearance today.
Shipley said he and others who live by the airport have looked into possible legal options for addressing the situation, such as using a civil lawsuit or nuisance ordinance, but so far they haven’t found a route they were hopeful about.
“We’ll always be looking for what can be done. … If there’s any way we can help law enforcement find a solution, we will help them,” he said.
Wald on Monday praised Vashon deputies’ work but struck a less hopeful tone about the house. There was still lots of traffic there, she said, and the situation seems “devastatingly hopeless.”
“It just feels ugly down here,” she said.