On the morning of Saturday June 19, 2010, two Snoqualmie police officers showed up at the home of Jeff Roetter, a 33-year-old medical marijuana patient. The officers were expecting Roetter to help them in their attempts to prosecute a man who claims he was Roetter’s designated provider, a former Snoqualmie business owner named Bryan Gabriel. Instead, the police and Roetter’s housemate discovered him dead in his room. Roetter, an epileptic, had a violent seizure overnight, banged his head and died.
Even though the case involving Roetter and Gabriel had previously generated some local media attention, Roetter’s death went unreported. Roetter’s family and friends believe that the pressure being put on him by Snoqualmie Police led to his seizure and death, but their attempts to contact various media outlets led nowhere. Months later, they remain angry and frustrated about what happened to him, and they blame Snoqualmie Police.
The story of what happened to Jeff Roetter began in 2009. Roetter was a bartender in Snoqualmie who used marijuana to deal with back pain from a work injury he’d suffered in his 20s. And as an epileptic, he’d found that marijuana helped with stress, which is known to trigger seizures for those with epilepsy. He’d been authorized to use medical marijuana for several years. Over that time, he’d met Bryan Gabriel, who ran two nearby Snoqualmie businesses, a tanning salon and a fitness center.
Gabriel, who moved to Snoqualmie when he was 6 and grew up there, had become very familiar with the world of medical marijuana. He and his brother had seen their grandfather in California use it as he succumbed to cancer. When they discovered that they had friends in their own community who used it, they began supplying it for them. This fact – combined with the fact that Gabriel was a business owner in his 20s in a small town – eventually landed him on the radar of Snoqualmie police.
In July 2009, Gabriel was picked up by two undercover officers who claimed that they’d seen him conduct a drug deal in Covington several months earlier. Gabriel says that the accusation is ridiculous, and no charges were filed at the time. Following this incident – which he says made him feel unsafe in his hometown – he sold his businesses and moved from Snoqualmie to Bellevue.
In the meantime, he and his brother (who remained in the area) continued to be providers for a number of friends and acquaintances who had medical marijuana authorizations. On November 12, 2009, Roetter renewed his physician’s authorization.
On November 28, 2009, Snoqualmie Police arrested Roetter – allegedly for selling some marijuana to an informant – and he was offered a deal if he’d help them arrest Gabriel. Roetter complied and allowed the officers to use him in their sting. He contacted Gabriel and asked him to deliver four ounces of medical marijuana.
Gabriel found the request a little odd. It was more than what he usually wanted and the text messages he received didn’t seem right. They didn’t seem like they were written the way Jeff normally wrote text messages. Despite these red flags, Gabriel and a female friend drove from his new apartment in Bellevue to Snoqualmie to deliver the medicine. When he got there, he was apprehended by a SWAT team in what Gabriel referred to as “full-commando” gear. He then agreed to allow Snoqualmie Police to return with him to his Bellevue apartment. The officers were convinced that Gabriel had a large stash of money there, but all they found were six more ounces of marijuana and the money in Gabriel’s wallet – which they took. They also allegedly took Gabriel’s records as a medical marijuana provider, including proof that Gabriel was in possession of Roetter’s authorization card. And they confiscated his friend’s Ford Taurus.
Gabriel wasn’t immediately charged with anything, and over the next several months, he worked to get his friend’s car back and also hired an attorney, Kurt Boehl. In March, King County finally charged him with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Boehl met with Amy Meckling at the King County Prosecutor’s Office to show the documentation proving that Gabriel’s attempt to deliver marijuana to Roetter was perfectly legal. In addition, Roetter produced a statement affirming Gabriel as his designated provider and had it notarized. On June 10, King County officially dismissed the charges and Judge Sharon Armstrong signed an order for Snoqualmie Police to return Gabriel’s marijuana.
Snoqualmie Police refused to comply with the court order, and it was at this point that the story began to get some media attention. On June 16, Snoqualmie Police argued to Judge Armstrong that more charges were coming and that the marijuana couldn’t be returned (the Cannabis Defense Coalition took video of the court proceedings). Armstrong signed a second order saying that unless new charges were filed by June 21, the marijuana would have to be returned on June 22.
Two days later, on June 18, Sgt. Sylvain and Officer Moate of the Snoqualmie PD sought out Roetter, who happened to have a court case that afternoon for a previous DUI. It’s not entirely clear what happened when Snoqualmie Police contacted Roetter. A friend of Jeff’s (who fears retribution from Snoqualmie Police and asked not to be named) told me that the police escorted him to and from the Issaquah courtroom. When I spoke with Sgt. Sylvain, he denied that. Jeff’s friend also said that Jeff was threatened with arrest if he didn’t change his story. Sgt. Sylvain denied that as well, although that denial seems rather implausible considering the circumstances of the case. When Roetter showed up for work that evening, he was described as being despondent and “like a ghost”, and a co-worker advised him to find an attorney. That evening, he had his fatal seizure.
The next morning, the officers showed up at Roetter’s residence. His housemate answered the door and that’s when they discovered his dead body in his room. As word got out, police initially suspected that Gabriel may have poisoned Roetter. An autopsy proved otherwise. Roetter had died from banging his head on the nightstand while having a seizure.
With Roetter’s death, Snoqualmie Police were unable to file new charges against anyone. On June 22, Gabriel went to pick up his marijuana. Gabriel, Boehl, and a small contingent of Cannabis Defense Coalition volunteers showed up at the police station. Officer Moate met them and said that they couldn’t return it until Police Chief Jim Schaffer was there, arguing that they had until midnight to give it back. Boehl then drove to downtown Seattle to get another order clarifying that they had to return the marijuana immediately. Upon his return, Chief Schaffer was there and Gabriel was finally able to get his 10 ounces back.
The same day that they were forced to return his marijuana, June 22, Gabriel was then charged with a Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act (VUCSA) for the incident way back in 2009 that eventually led to him leaving town. When I asked Sgt. Sylvain about the interesting timing of this, he refused to comment. Both Gabriel and his attorney consider these charges to be completely baseless, and there will be a hearing on that case on December 3 at 8:30am.
When I spoke with Sgt. Sylvain about this case, he strongly disputed the characterization of Gabriel as Roetter’s provider. According to Sylvain, Gabriel and Roetter were never really friends, just acquaintances within a small community (Gabriel strongly disputes this and says that he considered Jeff a friend, but others did describe them as just acquaintances). He complained about the vagueness of the medical marijuana laws and even showed some sympathy for the argument to have marijuana legalized. But he was very unwilling to go into many of the specifics of the case, and with the level of anger and suspicion I encountered when talking to people, I wasn’t surprised. He told me that if I wanted to gather more specifics about the case, I’d need to file a public disclosure request, which I’m now in the process of doing with assistance from the CDC.
Roetter’s family and friends remain furious at the conduct of Snoqualmie Police, and several of them were so afraid of potential retribution that they were reluctant to talk to me at all. The ones who did talk to me accuse Snoqualmie Police of lying and intimidation, and believe that the pressure that was put on Roetter caused him to have his fatal seizure. They considered Jeff a good friend and a great person. First and foremost, they just want the truth to be told. Sadly, with the man at the center of this case now deceased, there remain a lot of unanswered questions in this sad tale.