Orting group's words and tactics cause alarm among teens, youth advocates

KARI PLOG; Staff writer

A group of about six citizens formed in memory of a homicide victim patrols the streets of Orting for several hours each night, watching for drug activity and other crimes.

The group pledges to keep monitoring suspicious behavior, especially by trouble-making teens in the East Pierce city of 6,700 people.

They are called Compton's Crew, in honor of Michael Compton - the victim of an unsolved homicide. Their leader says he's concerned about "rats" terrorizing the town. He says the group is putting pressure on criminals in order to solve problems the police haven't.

The goal is to get neighbors talking and let young criminals know they're being watched.

"Mike would be doing for me what I'm doing for him and his family," said Chris Hopfauf, a good friend of Compton's and the leader of Compton's Crew.

But some Orting residents are worried this citizen-organized effort has caused more problems than it's solving.

Kacie Nesby, executive director of the nonprofit Opportunity Center of Orting, said she's concerned tensions between teens and Compton's Crew could escalate, provoking violence out of fear or anger from those targeted.

She said she doesn't understand how kids became the group's primary target, because crimes in town have involved more than just teens.

Nesby works with teens in the city and has directed some to call police after they were followed by cars in town.

"I don't want my students to end up in trouble," she said. Compton's Crew is an example of "really good intentions gone sideways."

Some say the group resorts to profiling and "stalking" teens.

"They are being labeled when they aren't doing anything wrong," said Rachel Mendoza, an Orting High School senior.

Two incidents in the past several months have shaken the community.

In October, two teens were arrested after the attack of Trailside Cyclery owner Brian Backus.

The 15- and 17-year-old boys spent time in juvenile detention after they were found guilty of second-degree assault.

Community fears heightened Feb. 19 when 53-year-old Compton was fatally shot in his yard while interrupting a burglary in his garage. No arrests have been made in the case.

Mendoza said she understands that some residents are scared but believes Compton's Crew unfairly targets her peers. Teens frequently are called "rats" as they hang out around town, minding their business, she said. Some residents, she said, report kids in hoodies simply walking around and even follow some in their cars.

The Compton's Crew patrols started in late February. Hopfauf also uses the Compton's Crew Facebook page to rally supporters and warn young troublemakers in the city.

"I have seen a few known rats posting comments to shore up their credibility or innocence," one March 24 post states. "It's amusing how they appear to care and want to do good but they are definitely living on the dark side. Stay the course Orting, the rats are starting to feel the heat and are squirming."

Another post from Sunday said: "Weekend patrols were pretty quiet. And yes, those of you who don't like me or Compton's Crew. . . we drove by your homes while you were sleeping. We will continue to do so."

In a post about an alleged assault last week, Hopfauf wrote, "maybe (it's) time to go stalk teenagers again." Asked about the post, he said it was the result of "an emotional day" and was meant to be sarcastic. He said he isn't targeting all teens in the city. As a father, he wants only the good kids hanging around town.

"Ninety-eight percent of the kids in Orting are great kids," he said. But as for the few troublemakers, "people are scared to death of those kids."

As for the other Facebook posts, he was unapologetic. His remarks about driving by homes are directed at the "rats that run our streets at night," he said.

"It makes people sit up and pay attention," he said of his strong language.

Suzan Paschall supports Compton's Crew, which she says has inspired the community to take action. She said there is no profiling or stalking of teens in Orting.

"It is only intended for those criminals," Paschall said in an email to The News Tribune. "There is no stalking of children."

Police Chief Bill Drake said Compton's Crew isn't affiliated with his department, and he doesn't condone following anyone.

"There is no law against a young person walking on the street at night," Drake said. "If there are allegations of stalking, that is definitely not something we would advocate."

However, Drake said he welcomes observations of activity.

"If somebody sees something suspicious, we appreciate them reporting it to us," he said.

Hopfauf said he doesn't want to leave patrols to police because some residents don't trust officers to appropriately handle the problem of troublesome teens.

"Our police department has a huge lack of leadership," Hopfauf said.

Mendoza said her Orting High School peers are afraid to speak up about their fear of being profiled. She hopes to create a support system at school for students to talk about their concerns.

Mendoza also started a Happy Orting Facebook page, where people can post positive things about their community.

"I wanted to give some people hope through the good things going on," she said.

Mendoza said she tries harder to be friendly to strangers and has helped encourage people to participate in healthful activities in town, such as helping in neighbors' yards or playing pickup sports.

"I try to make myself a little bit more known now," she said.

Nesby is preparing to launch The Haven Teen Center this summer to provide safe and fun activities for kids who have little to do in Orting. She said giving teens adult-supervised activities could keep them away from crime.

As for Hopfauf, he said he supports these efforts but will continue to patrol the city to keep bad kids off the streets.

"I will never back down," Hopfauf said. "I will never let up."

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 kari.plog@thenewstribune.com @KariPlog