Washington state Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, has called for a state investigation into Green Hill School, months after the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET) searched the state’s maximum security facility for juvenile offenders in an ongoing investigation into drugs and contraband found in the facility.
“I strongly support the call for an investigation of Green Hill School and the Department of Children and Youth Services (DCYF). School officials have a history of allowing serious security problems to create an unsafe environment,” Braun said in a statement Saturday. “Finding out they have been holding onto 114 bags of drugs, drug paraphernalia and weapons in violation of state law is deeply disturbing. Each one represents a possible felony against whoever brought it into the facility. Tucking them away in a laundry room demonstrates a staggering level of incompetence.”
The statement comes after local law enforcement officials have repeatedly asked Gov. Jay Inslee to direct the Washington state Attorney General’s Office to initiate an investigation into the facility through a series of letters to the governor's office. On Friday, KING 5 aired an investigation into the facility, where local officials again called for further investigation.
JNET served a search warrant at the facility on Aug. 31. Detectives, Centralia Police Chief Stacy Denham and Deputy Chief Matt McKnight, of the Chehalis Police Department, seized evidence related to the possession and distribution of illegal controlled substances, according to previous Chronicle reporting.
The search warrant was related to an investigation that alleged staff provided narcotics to a student inmate and that overdoses were handled internally.
Following the search, JNET said in a news release, “Detectives located lockers where Green Hill staff was storing contraband found within their facility dating back to 2017.”
“In these lockers, JNET detectives found illegal controlled substances, cellphones, vape pens, improvised knives (shanks), handwritten documents arranging illegal drug transactions, and hand tools,” the JNET statement read. “The illegal controlled substances include green leafy substance believed to be marijuana, crystal substances believed to be methamphetamine, powder substances believed to be fentanyl, and pills believed to be fentanyl.”
Braun said the search warrant “against a state agency to seize contraband illegally in its possession” raised suspicion that “the school’s officials are obstructing justice to hide something.”
The search came after a May 30 letter to the governor’s office signed by the Centralia and Chehalis city mayors and chiefs of police, which asked for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to investigate Green Hill School “for their ongoing practices and procedures.”
In response, Taylor K. Wonhoff, deputy general counsel from the governor’s office, wrote on Aug. 3 that the office “respectfully declined further investigation,” noting the state had “implemented changes to its security practices including the use of full body scanners and bag scanners.”
According to Wonhoff, Green Hill also increased employee screening protocol and enhanced employee training to include counseling and coaching skills.
“The Lewis County Sheriff has the legal authority to investigate Green Hill for criminal activity whether or not the state grants his request for an investigation,” Braun said in his statement. “I will support his decision to pursue his own investigation should he choose to do so.”
Gov. Inslee’s office did not respond to a request for comment before Monday’s publication deadline. In an email, an Inslee spokesperson said they would send The Chronicle comments Monday afternoon.
In a statement to KING 5 TV, Inslee said he thought “there was some miscommunication that occurred that was really unfortunate.”
“But I can tell you the good news is that out of that has come stronger measures to keep drugs out,” Inslee said.
In the report, Inslee and a Washington state Department of Children, Youth and Families spokesperson said a search warrant was not necessary.
“If they called a little higher in the food chain, I think that would have got resolved,” Inslee told KING 5.
For Braun, the increased security protocol isn’t enough.
“The governor’s dismissive comment that this is all the result of miscommunication shows a continuing lack of accountability on his part for the agencies he oversees,” Braun said in a statement. “He tries to put a positive spin on this by saying it has created stronger measures to keep drugs out of Green Hill, but mismanagement plagues many of the governor’s agencies.”
The letter to the Governor’s office included a series of recent events at Green Hill, though it said “we believe many other failures are regularly occurring in this and other juvenile justice facilities.”
Following the overdose of an inmate in November 2022, four student inmates were arrested in November 2022 and over 1,000 suspected fentanyl pills were seized. The inmate was transported to Harborview Medical Center for lifesaving care.
On June 8, 2022, a recently released Green Hill inmate allegedly stole a vehicle from a Green Hill employee in Seattle, drove it to Centralia and shot at a house, according to previous reporting by The Chronicle.
In January 2022 four people, including two former Green Hill inmates and a Green Hill security guard from the same housing unit, were arrested for alleged involvement in three drive-by shootings in Cowlitz County.
For more coverage, including a response from Inslee's office, visit: https://www.chronline.com/stories/after-braun-calls-for-investigation-at-green-hill-school-inslee-spokesperson-says-state-will,328889