Puyallup Herald

Puyallup business owner helps pay attorney fees for defendant in homeless harassment case

A Puyallup business owner and vocal critic of the city’s response to homelessness is helping to pay the attorney’s fees for a man charged with stalking a homeless couple.

Tim Mellema told The Puyallup Herald recently that he gave up to $1,000 to Gary Wyatt to help pay his defense attorney.

Prosecutors charged Wyatt with two counts of gross misdemeanor stalking in September following a social media campaign and alleged menacing threats against a couple living in a motorhome across the street from Shaw Road Elementary School.

Wyatt drove by Brian Heath and Samantha Blackwell’s motorhome, cursed at them, banged on the side of the motorhome and said they would “feel the wrath,” according to police reports.

When a Puyallup police officer went to the motorhome to talk to Heath and Blackwell, a black Jaguar drove down the street, the reports showed. Heath and Blackwell said the driver was the person who’d been harassing them.

The driver, identified as Wyatt, denied harassing the couple and allegedly pointed at the officer and said, “If something happens to any of the kids at this school ... if those people (Heath and Blackwell) get over the fence and kidnap a kid and rape them, it will be on you!”

Court records show no allegations of child sex crimes against Heath and Blackwell.

After the confrontation, Wyatt allegedly made social media posts about the couple living next to the Puyallup elementary school and his interaction with the city officer and called it a “Mexican standoff.”

Mellema told The Puyallup Herald the charges are ridiculous because it was one interaction. Asked about the posts on the social media site Nextdoor, Mellema said he was unaware of any provocative posts.

“He flipped them off while driving,” Mellema told The Puyallup Herald. “That may be mean, but it’s not a threat.”

Mellema, a local business owner who is active with the Clean Up Puyallup Facebook group, said he was motivated to get involved in combating Puyallup’s homeless issue after his brother-in-law died from a heroin overdose.

“People are being helped to destroy their lives,” Mellema said.

Mellema said he had never met Wyatt before the incident.

At some point, Wyatt reached out to Clean Up Puyallup’s Facebook page, and the two connected online.

Clean Up Puyallup is for “concerned citizens and concerned business owners,” according to its Facebook page. The group has more than 4,900 followers and has posted comments on Puyallup’s council members’ pages complaining about policies they feel do not address the homeless issue hard enough.

Ted Brackman, a longtime advocate for Puyallup’s homeless population, said Mellema’s contribution to Wyatt’s attorney’s fees raises serious concerns about the treatment of homeless people in the city.

“This seems like there is an issue that it’s OK to mistreat homeless people, that the mistreatment is okay,” Brackman said. “It’s clearly wrong to support someone who is harassing an innocent homeless person.”

Wyatt’s trial is scheduled for next month.

Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.