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Vashon woman arrested after scratching police officer's face

This photo taken Friday night shows the two officers on duty that night. One attempts to arrest Islander Jessica DeWire, while the other officer places a knee on the chest of the man who was arrested for refusing to leave the Sportsmen
This photo taken Friday night shows the two officers on duty that night. One attempts to arrest Islander Jessica DeWire, while the other officer places a knee on the chest of the man who was arrested for refusing to leave the Sportsmen's Inn.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

A Vashon Island woman was arrested Friday night for assaulting a police officer after she scratched him in the face during an incident in downtown Vashon that drew an angry crowd.

Jessica DeWire is under investigation for third-degree felony assault of a police officer. She was held in jail all weekend before being conditionally released on Monday. No charges have yet been filed. She could not be reached for comment.

According to a press release issued by the King County Sheriff's Office on Monday, DeWire and a friend confronted two deputies as they arrested an intoxicated African-American man for refusing to leave the Sportsmen's Inn.

The release states that DeWire, 36, grabbed Deputy Mark Silverstein's arm and "began pulling on him" as he walked the arrested man down the sidewalk to a patrol car. As the deputy "tried to fend off the woman, ... she attacked him and sunk her fingernails into his face," the release states.

Three eyewitnesses to the high-profile incident, however, said she did not grab the officer before he initiated the altercation just outside Vashon Pharmacy and took her to the ground at about 10 p.m. Friday, May 7.

A fourth eyewitness said he saw a woman hit a police officer, after which the officer turned and put her to the ground.

According to a friend who witnessed the incident, DeWire — a chef who formerly co-owned Gusto Girls — was attempting to keep an eye on two sheriff's deputies arresting an African-American man, when Silverstein grabbed DeWire and threw her to the ground for not complying with his request to "stand back."

"We were walking across the crosswalk and said, 'Hey, you mind if I watch you walk him safely to the car?'" said DeWire's friend Katina Gabri, who was with DeWire when the incident took place. "They said stand back, and we did, and then he just came in and shoved her to the ground and was on top of her."

Islander Bill Lyell tells a different story. He was driving through town a little after 10 p.m. Friday when he noticed a "hostile crowd" gathering outside the pharmacy. He said he didn't see the beginning of the incident, but when he stopped to watch, he saw a woman "strike the police officer."

"I saw him jerk back away from her, then turn and grab her and put her on the ground," Lyell said. "He didn't slam this woman to the ground. He did a professional takedown."

Jared Middlecalf, another witness, said he saw no physical contact before the takedown. While DeWire did not take large steps away from the officer when asked to "stand back," she made no moves toward him and was approached by Silverstein, who took her to the ground when he believed she did not comply with his request, Middlecalf said.

"I saw Jessica follow the two officers to try to make sure that (the man being arrested) was being taken to the police car without being roughed up," said Middlecalf, who was less than 30 feet from DeWire and Silverstein when the incident took place. "She was told to stay back twice. She did keep distance from the cop. She wasn't threatening in any way. ... After she was told to stay back twice, that's when she was thrown to the ground by Officer Silverstein."

Islander David Oldham, another bystander, said he was not paying close attention to the events leading up to DeWire being subdued, but that he saw Silverstein bring DeWire down forcefully.

"I didn't see her grabbing him. I didn't see her grab his face or do anything. But she was being provocative, saying, 'Why are you arresting him?' Her ire was up," Oldham said. "I saw both of her feet go flying into the air, and she hit the ground pretty hard."

After being taken to the ground on her back, DeWire resisted arrest, Middlecalf and Oldham said, and began scratching the deputy's face, drawing blood. She was warned twice that Silverstein would pepper spray her, and when she continued to fight back, Silverstein did so.

Gabri disagreed, saying that DeWire only scratched the deputy instinctually after being pepper sprayed.

"I really believe that Officer Silverstein attacked her," said Middlecalf, who assumed a crowd-control role during Friday's incident, hoping to keep the situation from getting any worse.

"I think she was terrified and I think her (scratching) was completely out of self-defense," he said. "I taught a self-defense class for four years, and that's the first thing I tell a woman to do — go for the eyes, nose, throat and ears."

Silverstein's injuries were not serious but cosmetically quite striking. He bled "profusely" at the scene, according to the sheriff's office's press release.

"His face was scratched up pretty good," said King County Sheriff's Sergeant John Urquhart, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.

But according to Gabri, who visited DeWire in jail on Saturday, she too sustained injuries from the altercation.

"She does have scratches on her nose and bruises, but she seems OK," Gabri said. "She did nothing wrong. I think her scratching him wasn't even wrong. I'm sure I would have done the same thing."

Gabri admits she was in shock and screaming hysterically while she watched her friend get pinned to the ground and pepper sprayed by a police officer. According to Urquhart, Gabri is also under investigation for assaulting a police officer, though the details of her involvement are unclear.

The 33-year-old man who had been led out of the Sportsmen's Inn and who also ended up on the ground with an officer holding him down was booked into the county jail on investigation of trespassing and obstructing an officer.

The incident was raucous. According to onlookers, a crowd of more than 20 people gathered in town to watch the two police officers arresting DeWire. Some started chanting, "Assault on Jessica! Assault on Jessica!" And according to Oldham, one of the two deputies drew his Taser to try to keep back the small crowd of angry onlookers.

The sheriff's department reported that crowd members made threatening comments; according to the department's news release, Islanders were yelling, "(expletive) pigs" and other epithets.

The sheriff's office also said an unknown person pushed one of the deputies to the ground, while another man stood over the deputy and made threatening comments.

Additionally, a small baggie of marijuana allegedly fell out of DeWire's pocket and was recovered by a deputy, but later someone in the crowd took the marijuana from the hood of a patrol car.

Kurt Lysen, an off-duty deputy and an Island resident who was called to the scene on Friday night to take eyewitness reports, called it "an intense situation."

"This guy was kicked out of the bar; he wouldn't go, so they arrested him," Lysen said. "He was African-American, and these two gals were thinking, 'We're going to follow him and make sure nothing happens to him.' They got in (the officer's) face, he told them to back off, they didn't, and the fight was on."

The Friday night incident affected other Islanders, as well: People waiting to catch the 11:40 p.m. ferry from Fauntleroy to Vashon had to wait until 12:30 a.m. for a boat. According to Scarlett Foster-Moss, an Islander coming home from a Mariners game, she and others were told that the sheriff's office "had commandeered a boat because of a drunken brawl on Vashon."

State ferry officials said the delay occurred after the sheriff's department said it needed a boat to return to Fauntleroy to pick up a sergeant who was being dispatched to the Vashon scene.

Urquhart said deputies Silverstein and Savage could be investigated because of the incident if a citizen files a complaint about the way the situation was handled. But according to police reports, Urquhart said, the officers did not appear to have acted wrongly.

Silverstein, 51, has been with the department for two years and has "a clean record," Urquhart said. Prior to coming to King County, he was a reserve deputy sheriff in Colorado for eight years.

DeWire "is lucky she got off as easy as she did," Urquhart said. "They did a pretty good job with her. This was a very volatile situation and someone could have been seriously injured, whether the deputies or the other people involved."

The last time tensions were so high between Islanders and the local police force was in 2003, when a deputy punched an Island man in the face and broke his jaw. Islanders protested outside the local sheriff's substation and wore "zero tolerance" T-shirts protesting the use of force by officers.

On Friday, Gabri said, "there was no warning" before Silverstein used force against DeWire.

"The guy just snapped. It was shocking," she said. "I still don't understand how that could happen."

Another of DeWire's friends, Kristin Baron, said she, DeWire and others involved in the incident are fearful as to what will happen next.

"We are really scared, and we're kind of being harassed by the story that the cops have come up with that is 100 percent untrue," she said.

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