Drug dealer or medicinal marijuana provider?: Police and prosecutors pursue former Snoqualmie resident
January 5, 2011
By Dan Catchpole
For two years, the Snoqualmie Police Department has been pursuing a case against a former Snoqualmie resident who police say is a local drug dealer. The suspect, Bryan Gabriel, claims he is legally providing medical marijuana and is a victim of police harassment.
King County prosecutors have twice filed charges against Gabriel, but a key witness — and medicinal marijuana user — has died and the police had to return four ounces of marijuana seized from Gabriel.
The initial charges filed by King County prosecutors fell apart when their primary witness died from an injury sustained during an epileptic seizure. Prosecutors are now pursuing charges against Gabriel for selling marijuana based on an earlier incident. He has a hearing Jan. 7 at King County Superior Court.
When asked about the case, Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaffer said the department could not speak about the incident because of the possibility of a lawsuit.
Gabriel had long been on the radar of Snoqualmie law enforcement, according to police reports.
On April 14, 2009, Snoqualmie police say they saw him sell two pounds of marijuana to a man in Covington, according to court documents.
Police arrested Gabriel on July 2, 2009, in connection with the earlier incident, but county prosecutors did not file charges at the time.
Snoqualmie police next encountered Gabriel nearly five months later, after they arrested Jeff Roetter, a Snoqualmie Ridge resident.
Outgoing and affable, Roetter tended bar at Ana’s Mexican Restaurant. Police had obtained a search warrant for his home, where they suspected he was selling marijuana.
The 33-year-old had a bad back, for which he had a medical marijuana prescription written by Dr. Thomas Orvald, of Bellevue. Roetter also had epilepsy.
Nov. 28, 2009 arrest
Police officers searched Roetter’s home Nov. 28, 2009. He wasn’t home. His roommate told police Roetter was on his way back from Eastern Washington, according to police reports.
In the meantime, they searched the house, discovering more than an ounce of marijuana and paraphernalia for smoking the drug. They also took $1,095 in cash from the roommate, claiming it was drug-related money.
The roommate told police the drugs belonged to Roetter, who had a prescription for medical marijuana, according to reports. He also said Roetter sold him about $20 worth a week of marijuana, which if true, would be a violation of Washington’s medical marijuana law. It is illegal for medical marijuana users to sell to people who don’t have a prescription and haven’t designated them as their provider.
Snoqualmie police then arrested Roetter near the King Street Station in Seattle.
According to various police reports, Roetter was either offered a deal to avoid being booked for distributing marijuana in return for leading police to his supplier, or he offered to lead police to his dealer in return for not being booked.
The number he called on his cell phone belonged to Gabriel, who grew up in Snoqualmie and formerly owned three businesses there.
With police listening to the conversation, Roetter told him he wanted to buy four ounces of marijuana.
Roetter sounded different than usual when he called, Gabriel said.
“He didn’t sound like himself,” he said. “He didn’t sound Rasta.”
A fan of reggae music, Roetter regularly punctuated his speech with phrases from the music. But when he called this time, he spoke plainly, Gabriel said.
Despite the irregularity, Gabriel agreed to meet Roetter on the Ridge with four ounces of marijuana.
“It was a red flag, but I was like ‘It’s medical marijuana, and I know the law,’” he said.
Gabriel’s girlfriend drove him to meet Roetter. On the Ridge, Snoqualmie police stopped the car, arresting the couple.
Police found about four ounces of marijuana in the car and more at Gabriel’s Bellevue apartment.
When he was arrested, Gabriel told police he was a licensed provider of medical marijuana, according to police reports.
However, Gabriel’s story significantly changed three times while talking with police, according to their reports.
Roetter told police that “Gabriel is not his medical marijuana provider, nor does he believe Gabriel is one,” according to a police report written by Sgt. Chris Sylvain.
Contested charges and pot
Gabriel was later charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, according to court documents.
But the case against Gabriel was dismissed by a King County judge in June when he presented a form signed by him and Roetter that said he was Roetter’s designated provider. The form was dated Nov. 12, 2009.
King County prosecutors contested the document’s validity, but were unable to disprove it.
Roetter then also signed a notarized statement claiming Gabriel was his provider.
On June 10, Judge Sharon Armstrong ordered Snoqualmie police to return the marijuana seized from Gabriel.
But the department contested the order.
“Our knowledge of the investigation is that the medical marijuana process really doesn’t apply,” Schaffer said at the time.
On June 16, Armstrong told the department to either bring new charges by June 21 or return the marijuana to Gabriel by June 22.
Snoqualmie police talked to Roetter the next day and pointed out that he could be charged with perjury for telling them Gabriel was not his provider, according to a report by Sylvain.
Roetter told them that Gabriel and his girlfriend had been harassing him to provide documentation claiming that he was his legal provider, according to police reports.
“Roetter has never swayed from his original statement other than under duress from suspect Gabriel,” Sylvain wrote.
Gabriel denies that allegation.
The night of June 17, Roetter and his roommate drank heavily, the roommate later told police.
Sylvain and another officer saw Roetter again June 18, and they expected him to tape a statement the next day.
Roetter had an unrelated court appearance in Issaquah that afternoon, after which he went to work.
At work, Roetter was somber, according to Anna Sotelo, who then owned Ana’s Mexican Restaurant.
The next morning, June 19, Sylvain and another officer went to Roetter’s home. His roommate answered the door in a frantic mood and told them something was wrong.
They found Roetter dead in his bedroom. He had had a seizure that resulted in a fatal injury.
Without their key witness, King County prosecutors had to drop the case against Gabriel.
However, they had filed other charges against Gabriel on June 10. Those charges, still pending, are from the original alleged drug deal in April 2009.
Roetter’s friends and family are upset with police for putting what they said was unnecessary stress on him, which could have provoked his final seizure.
“I don’t agree with the way they handled it. They put a lot of pressure on him to change his story,” Karen Joy, Roetter’s mother, said in an interview with the Star.
A local blogger, Lee Rosenberg, who writes about medical marijuana and other issues, said that other friends of Roetter have expressed their frustration with the police to him.
But none of those people have been willing to comment publicly.
Stress is one factor that can encourage seizures.
“Stress alone can induce seizures,” said Dr. Souhel Najjar, chair of neurology and director of the epilepsy program at Staten Island University Hospital.
“Stress can be lack of sleep. Stress can be excessive drinking of alcohol. Stress can be many things,” said Dr. Jehuda Sepkuty, director of the epilepsy center at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.
However, both doctors, neither of whom were speaking specifically about Roetter, also said that many factors can increase the likelihood of seizures.
Entrepreneur in growing industry?
Gabriel claims he only provides marijuana to medical users, something he started doing after learning that his grandfather used it before he died in 2007.
He said in an interview that he has opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle.
“I’m an entrepreneur,” he said. “What other industry is growing right now?”
Still, he claims he is not making money off of it.
“It’s not about the money. I have no money. It’s no profit,” he said.
Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or email@example.com. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.