Police Beat: Good help hard to find, even with a hatchet

Staff writerAugust 24, 2013 

Editor’s note: Compiled from reports to Tacoma Police.

Aug. 22: The scrapper was shirtless. He carried a wicked-looking hatchet. The pockets of his shorts held $1,500 in cash. He said the lunchbox full of methamphetamine wasn’t his.

The original dispatch call said a naked man with a knife threatened another man in the lobby of a hotel in South Tacoma.

Officers drove to the 8700 block of South Hosmer Street and spoke to a 24-year-old man, who said a white U-Haul van had pulled up to him in the parking lot. A tall guy with no shirt stepped out of the van and yelled at him, brandishing a “hatchet-looking thing,” he said. A witness backed up the story.

Officers fanned out and found a white van matching the description a few blocks away. Two men were inside. The driver was 27. The passenger was 49, a tall guy with no shirt. The hatchet sat in the center console of the van: a Spec Plus Spax model, shaped like a medieval weapon with modern styling.

The passenger said he was a scrapper who sold metal to get by. He said he was carrying the cash to rent an apartment. Scrapper had no idea why officers were stopping him. He added that the driver was an addict who did meth and heroin; officers would find it in a lunchbox in the van.

Officers found the lunchbox and the meth – an ounce. They also found unused plastic bags and a scale.

The driver said Scrapper was his boss and a meth dealer. Scrapper told the driver to take the box and take the fall for the ounce of meth inside, the driver said.

What about the man at the hotel? Had Scrapper threatened him? No, Scrapper said – that guy had stolen from him, and they had a verbal confrontation in the parking lot. He thought the guy had a gun, so he stepped out of the van to confront him.

An officer said that didn’t make much sense. You think a guy’s got a gun, so you confront him with a hatchet?

“Well, he had a cellphone in his hand,” Scrapper said.

The man from the hotel didn’t want to identify his attackers and be a snitch, he said. Officers booked Scrapper and the driver into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of second-degree assault and drug dealing.

Aug. 22: Sparkplug was bad with names. He gave a false one with two syllables, and claimed it was the same as his real name, which had five.

A loss prevention officer spotted him in the automotive aisle at a store in the 1900 block of South Union Avenue. The guy pocketed three packs of Bosch spark plugs and walked out the door. Confronted by two loss prevention officers, he squared off for a moment, then gave up and walked inside to wait for police.

A police officer asked Sparkplug for his name. Sparkplug gave it, saying he’d never been arrested in Tacoma or Pierce County. He said he had ID from Ohio. He said his last name was Malec.

The name didn’t turn up any hits, but Sparkplug gave a Social Security number that turned up an active arrest warrant in Washington under another name with five syllables. The officer asked Sparkplug why he lied. Sparkplug said the Malec name was the same as the five-syllable version, which started with a C and ended with an A. The officer booked him into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of third-degree theft and the prior warrant.

Aug. 22: The two officers rode a bike patrol in the 400 block of St. Helens Avenue, a hot spot for drug traffic.

They spotted a green 1997 Chevrolet Suburban parked in angled space. Two men sat inside. The driver, 36, had a pair of laptops perched on each thigh, with an iPhone plugged into one of them.

The officers asked the men what they were doing.

“Oh, we’re just trying to fix a phone,” said the passenger, 32.

Did the men have ID? They didn’t. Would they give their names? They would.

The passenger’s name checked out. The driver called himself “Stephen Johnson,” but he stuttered and avoided the officers’ eyes as he said it.

The name didn’t check out. An officer confronted the driver and asked if he might be lying to avoid a warrant. The driver said he might be, and gave a different name. That got a hit – an active arrest warrant from the Department of Corrections. The officer asked the driver to step out of the car, but didn’t cuff him.

During that process, the officer noticed a small dog in the car, and a plastic baggie on the driver’s floorboard, full of white, flaky stuff. Methamphetamine, by the sight of it – a later test confirmed the impression.

Officers asked the passenger to step out. They asked the driver if they could search the car. The driver said the car belonged to his girlfriend. He asked if he could use his phone to call her and maybe have her pick up the dog.

Fine, the officer said – where’s the phone? In the center console, the driver said.

The officer found three phones, plus a scale and a baggie with more meth inside.

The girlfriend arrived. She was 19. She gave consent to search the car. Officers combed through it, and found pairs of jeans with store tags still attached, and bags with old cellphones, an iPod and an iPad. The girlfriend said she and her boyfriend sold phones on Craigslist.

The driver said he smoked meth, but didn’t sell it. The officer wondered why he had no pipes or smoking tools. The driver said he was on his way to get some. He said he bought the meth two hours earlier, not far from police headquarters on South Pine Street. That was where he got the jeans too, he said. No, he hadn’t noticed the security tags.

The driver said he’d bought a quarter-ounce of meth, and paid $200 for it. He said he was weighing it to make sure he hadn’t been screwed.

Officers wondered aloud if they’d stopped a drug deal in progress. The passenger said he wasn’t calling them dumb. He had $7 in his pockets.

Officers released the Suburban and the dog to the girlfriend and let the passenger walk. They booked the driver into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of drug dealing and the DOC warrant.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486

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