The Olympia Police Department investigated five homicides in 2012, more than in the past five years combined.
Olympia had no reported homicides in 2007, three in 2008, one in 2009 and none in 2010-11.
Sgt. Aaron Jelcick said the five homicides in 2012 are more than he can remember in years, adding that Olympia remains “a relatively safe community compared to other communities across the state.”
Olympia last had more homicides than this year in 2004, when there were six, FBI statistics show.
No common denominator links this year’s homicides; however, five suspects arrested in connection with four of the slayings were transients. Jelcick pointed out that being a “transient” doesn’t mean a person is homeless. Many people who list no fixed address live at another person’s home.
Three suspects in two of this year’s slayings lived on the streets. Both the victims also were homeless, police say.
Jelcick said that “the majority of the homeless aren’t typically violent. It’s unfair to label people in that respect.”
Lt. Jim Costa pointed to a number of factors, including an increased number of dangerous criminals getting out of jails and prisons, as well as a lack of supervision of released felons . Some freed felons “float from town to town” after they get out of prison, he said. The scarcity of mental health services also might contribute to lawlessness, particularly when mentally ill people take narcotics such as methamphetamine, Costa said.
“It’s a lot of things; it’s not just one thing,” he said.
John Masterson is the CEO of Behavioral Health Resources, the primary vendor of mental health services in Thurston and Mason counties. He said during a recent interview that there are gaps in mental health services to those who are not in an immediate crisis and do not qualify for Medicaid. He added that it would be inaccurate to say people with mental health issues have a greater propensity for violence than the population at large.
This year’s rise in homicides taxed the police department, Costa said. The department has five detectives and a full-time crime-scene investigator, Jelcick said.
“Of course it’s challenging,” Costa said of the long hours required to investigate violent crimes. “We’re pressured, too.”
Rob Richards, an advocate for the homeless who works as the housing program manager for the Capital Recovery Center, said he hopes people don’t look at the rise in homicides as a “homeless” issue or see it as a reason to cut services to the homeless.
“Every population has people that are predisposed to violence,” he said. Richards added, however, that he has heard from local homeless people that in 2012, a criminal element entered the city’s homeless encampments from outside Olympia, frightening many of the city’s homeless people.
As a result, many younger, law-abiding homeless people have moved downtown or started camping in front of City Hall, where they feel safer, Richards added.
“There’s really an unsafe culture that kind of settled into the camps,” he said.
In September, Olympia police broke up a homeless encampment between Interstate 5 and railroad tracks near the Wildwood neighborhood, responding to neighbors’ complaints about residential burglaries and car prowls. Costa said it’s difficult for police to track the criminal element that has moved into the camps.
Following are this year’s homicides:
• Disabled Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier Nathaniel Ollis, 29, was found March 9 in his apartment on Lilly Road; he had died of multiple stab wounds to his head, neck and torso. In September, 20-year-old transient Dwight M. Bradsbery was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in connection with Ollis’ homicide. At sentencing, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Jackson could offer no motive, other than that Ollis and Bradsbery had become deeply involved with the local drug culture. Bradsbery’s attorney, Alexander Frix, conceded that his client was high on meth when he killed Ollis.
• At 6:10 p.m. Oct. 12, 37-year-old Matthew Samlock, a homeless man, was found stabbed in the chest on a sidewalk off Cooper Point Road. He died at the scene. Two 21-year-old transients, Jakob Curtis and Jason Beeson, later were charged with second-degree murder. Their cases are pending.
One of them had been released from prison a week before the slaying, court papers state.
Samlock and the suspects were staying at an encampment under a Cooper Point Road bridge and had an altercation that led to the stabbing, court papers state.
Police identified one of the suspects after they found his ID at the encampment, where they also found paper towels covered in blood and a broken whiskey bottle that is thought to have been broken over Samlock’s head, court papers state.
• On Oct. 30, the charred remains of 17-year-old Forest Snow Bailey were found in a burn barrel in a transient encampment in the 900 block of Devoe Street, in a wooded area behind Desire Video. A transient, 19-year-old Christopher Harrison, later was charged with second-degree murder; his case is pending. Bailey’s mother, Robin Harrison, said her son had moved to Olympia from Aloha, Ore., to live with his grandmother two months before his death. She said that her son was not homeless, but police said their investigation revealed that Bailey chose to live on the streets.
Robin Harrison said her son cared deeply about the homeless, and befriended many homeless teens in Olympia. She added that he brought homeless teens to his grandmother’s home, including his alleged killer, “to do laundry, sleep and have a hot meal.” She said her son was an avid photographer, and was looking to turn his life around in Olympia after dropping out of high school in Oregon.
“He was just a kid with a big heart,” she said of her son. “He liked helping people.”
• On Oct. 19, a 45-year-old nude woman allegedly threw a chair onto a 76-year-old woman’s head at the Casa Madrona Apartments on Martin Way, then severely beat her. The victim, Cha Su White, died from her injuries Oct. 21. Suspect Corrin Kaufman, who lived at the apartment complex, is charged with second-degree murder. White, who also lived at the complex, was working on a jigsaw puzzle in a common area when she was attacked. Evidence suggests Kaufman might have been under the influence of meth, Olympia police said.
• Casey J. Heath, 32, was stabbed multiple times on the smoking patio at McCoy’s Tavern in downtown Olympia about 1:30 a.m. Dec. 4. Suspect David M. Henkleman, 34, was chased from the bar and arrested. Henkleman is being held at the Thurston County Jail with bail set at $1 million. He is charged with a count of second-degree murder.
Olympia police have been unable to determine a motive, and a prosecutor has called the slaying “a senseless act of violence.” Henkleman, who is listed as transient on his pretrial services report, “has suffered from mental health issues since he was a teenager,” court papers state. Henkleman’s sister has said her brother might have recently become involved with people using meth. She added that she and her brother had tried to access mental health services for him at BHR but were unable to do so. Masterson said he couldn’t comment on individual cases at BHR.
Heath’s death has brought an outpouring of grief. He was a skateboarder who worked at the Falls Terrace Restaurant and Olympia Glass. About 400 friends and family members attended his recent memorial at Olympia Ballroom. A recent benefit for Heath’s family at McCoy’s Tavern raised nearly $5,000.