Inside a drug task force raid in Felida

Acting on tips, detectives request warrant, search house before making three arrests

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

Published:

 

An undercover detective spit sunflower seed shells onto the pavement in the Salmon Creek Fred Meyer parking lot. Dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and a baseball hat, he looked ready for a barbecue, not a suburban drug bust.

He and his fellow undercover officers leaned over the hood of an old green Mercedes on Wednesday while flipping through booking sheets. That morning, they intercepted a purported drug deal involving the car and sent three people to jail. Detectives with the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force found 3 ounces of heroin and ½ ounce of methamphetamine inside the car, according to Cmdr. Mike Cooke. One man, Mario Barasa Jr., fled from police in a Jaguar during the sting, later ditching the car and running into a backyard, where police took him into custody at gunpoint.

But the task force’s work was only partially done.

The detectives were waiting at Fred Meyer on Wednesday for permission to search Basara’s Felida home at 13313 N.W. 39th Ave. As they waited, a couple of officers were staked out near the house to keep an eye on anyone coming and going.

For weeks, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office drug tip line was hounded with complaints about potential drug activity at the house. “When we can take a house like this down, we try as hard as we can to do that,” Cooke said.

Right to search

A detective spent about an hour at the Fred Meyer Starbucks typing up an affidavit for a search warrant — a document that was six weeks in the making. It was past business hours, so the detective had to find a judge who was at home and could sign off on the search. Eventually, he headed to Judge Kelli Osler’s house, down the street in Salmon Creek.

“Dang it, I can’t believe this is my Fred Meyer,” Osler said, as she initialed each page. Then, she asked the detective to raise his right hand.

“Do you swear the facts contained in this affidavit are true to the best of your knowledge?” After the officer answered in the affirmative, they got up from the table, and he collected the papers.

“Have fun with that, I guess,” Osler said as the detective headed out the door.

‘Demanding entry’

The detective then met up with the six other members of his team at the parking lot of the Family of Christ Lutheran Church, less than a half-mile from the target house. The detectives suited up in the parking lot, pulling ballistic vests over their T-shirts and strapping guns to their pant legs.

Using a sketch of the property, they planned their entry into the house.

A handful of detectives got into a truck retrofitted into a raid van. It was equipped with everything necessary for drug busts, such as tactical equipment, spotlights, drug testing kits and plenty of caffeinated beverages. While the van was in motion, a detective kept the back door cracked open with one hand on the handle for a quick exit.

The officers parked across the street behind the baby blue Felida house and filed out of the van.

Creeping along the fence line with guns drawn, they headed to the front of the house while another detective headed to the backyard. A home surveillance camera pointed toward the front door.

“Police! Search warrant! Demanding entry!” one of the detectives yelled as they knocked on the door. No one answered.

Arrest, evidence

The door was unlocked, so officers didn’t need to use their battering ram, known as “the key,” to get inside. They soon noticed a man lying on the couch near the door. The 24-year-old, Vito Fazzio, was handcuffed and taken outside for questioning.

Officers then used the battering ram to breach a locked door to a bedroom, where they found a table scattered with used hypodermic needles and glass smoking pipes. After determining no one else was home, they checked each room in the three-bedroom house. A stench of marijuana wafted through the house, and officers found pot plants in a closet.

The place appeared to be a “flop house” where users can stay and get high, Cooke said. A College World Series baseball game was playing on the TV in the living room, and the coffee table next to the couch was littered with used needles — some loaded with a brown substance — and smoking pipes laced with a white residue. Cooke said the substances appeared to be heroin and methamphetamine.

Houses can have lots of hiding spots, Cooke said, so detectives had to be careful where they put their hands. Turning over a couch cushion or lifting a paper bag could cause them to be pricked through their latex gloves by a needle. Among the belongings, the detectives collected scales, notes scrawled with alleged drug transactions, packaging materials and a cellphone. The cellphone was important not just because of the texts sent between people, but also the contact list, Cooke said.

Officers also found a wrinkled check for $300 belonging to a woman who recently had her car stolen.

Detectives documented the evidence and placed the items into plastic bags.

Eviction

Searching the house took about 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the homeowners arrived with eviction papers for Fazzio. He was booked into the Clark County Jail on suspicion of maintaining a drug dwelling, possessing heroin with intent to deliver, and possessing methamphetamine.

In total, detectives said they collected about 2 ounces of methamphetamine and 1½ ounces of heroin, Cooke said. Inside the Jaguar seized from the day’s earlier bust, detectives said they recovered about 1 ounce of heroin and about ½ ounce of methamphetamine, along with 18 unidentified pills.

Dealing with a suspected drug house in the middle of suburbia didn’t appear to phase the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force.

“It just happens all over the place,” Cooke said.