A few weeks ago, I wrote about the death of Jeff Roetter, a medical marijuana patient who died of an epileptic seizure the night of June 18, 2010. His death came as Snoqualmie Police were putting pressure on him to assist in their efforts to prosecute Bryan Gabriel, the man who insists he was Roetter’s medical marijuana provider. Even after chatting with a couple of Jeff’s friends and acquaintances, as well as Gabriel, his attorney, and one of the Snoqualmie officers, there’s a lot still unknown about what really happened. Adding to that, several people were simply afraid to talk to me, for fear of retribution from the police. Trying to pin down exactly what happened has been a challenge, and my post ended up not drawing a lot of solid conclusions.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of this, I put in a public records request for the police reports on both arrests. This week, I obtained 22 pages of police records from the November 2009 arrests of both Roetter and Gabriel and some additional reports from the week in June when King County Judge Sharon Armstrong ordered that the marijuana taken during the initial arrest should be returned. It was during that week when Roetter died.
Even with this extra documentation, much of the disputed points of the story remain a he said/she said situation between Gabriel and the Snoqualmie Police. In my initial post, I left a number of these conflicts out or only briefly addressed them, partially because I felt I’d be able to get better information later with some additional documentation. Now that I’ve read through the more complete police records (as Sgt. Sylvain of Snoqualmie Police encouraged me to do), I want to elaborate on some of the points of contention.
Was Bryan Gabriel really the designated provider for Jeff Roetter?
This is the main point of contention in the case. What’s definitely known is that the relationship between Roetter and Gabriel was one of provider-patient, in that Roetter was a legally authorized medical marijuana patient and Gabriel was a person who provided him with marijuana. What makes this a little grayer is that Roetter was almost definitely getting his marijuana from multiple sources (and allegedly re-selling some of it) and Gabriel was providing for multiple patients. There wasn’t a 1:1 relationship where Gabriel was providing solely for Roetter and the law in the state just isn’t clear on that.
The police reports from November 28, 2009 don’t shed too much additional light on the events of that day or that key question. Snoqualmie Police showed up at Roetter’s home with a warrant they obtained after showing a judge that Roetter had re-sold some of his marijuana. Roetter’s roommate Trevor Sleeman – who is not a medical marijuana user – answered the door and the officers found over $1000 in cash in his pocket as well as bags of marijuana broken up into 1/8 oz bags that Sleeman said belonged to Roetter. According to the police report, Sleeman admitted to the fact that he gets his marijuana from his roommate. Sleeman was placed under arrest and Roetter was arrested a few hours later as he arrived back in Seattle after spending Thanksgiving weekend in Spokane.
At this point, however, Snoqualmie Police offered a deal (from Sgt. Sylvain’s report):
Officer Moate and I advised Roetter if he provided information leading us to the person who supplies him with marijuana we would consider not booking him into King County Jail under felony distribution charges.
It’s important to know that Roetter already had a criminal record (for a DUI), so he certainly recognized the gravity of his situation. He promptly agreed to comply and placed a call to Gabriel. Gabriel and his friend drove to Snoqualmie, where they were met by Snoqualmie Police. The description in the police report of what happened next is fairly similar to Gabriel’s retelling except for this section in Officer Moate’s report from after they went back to Gabriel’s Bellevue apartment:
Gabriel said he has 8 Marijuana plants that he uses to supply for one medical patient. Gabriel had more than an hour to come up with this story since I had informed him of the law pertaining to legal distribution of medical Marijuana. Gabriel could still provide no proof that he was approved to grow or distribute medical Marijuana to anyone, let alone the guy he only knows as Jeff. Nothing in the apartment had Jeffrey Roetter’s name on it.
According to Gabriel, he did have documentation at his apartment for the medical marijuana patients that he provided for and that the officers took it. He even claimed that he warned the officers at the time about potential privacy violations for doing so. And Sgt. Sylvain’s report does mention that Gabriel had some documentation, but that it was obsolete.
As for the idea that Gabriel “only knew” Roetter “as Jeff”, that didn’t seem terribly plausible after speaking with several people who knew both of them. They were described both as friends and acquaintances, but there’s no question they knew each other well enough to have developed a patient-provider association.
Gabriel was later able to provide two pieces of evidence to show that he was the provider for Roetter, a “Designated Provider Authorization” form dated 9/5/09 that Snoqualmie Police believes is inauthentic, and a signed notarized document from May 2010 that more clearly states that Roetter considered Gabriel his provider. Snoqualmie Police insist that Roetter only did that based upon extreme pressure from Gabriel, but it’s hard for them to argue that Gabriel had more leverage over Roetter than they themselves did. Roetter clearly took a huge risk by providing that form and having it notarized, as it left him once again open to a felony prosecution.
Regardless of everything else in this case, when Gabriel drove from Bellevue to Snoqualmie on November 28, 2009 to deliver four ounces of marijuana to Jeff Roetter, Gabriel believed that he was providing marijuana for a medical marijuana patient within the confines of the state’s medical marijuana law. Snoqualmie Police don’t see it that way, but King County prosecutors looked at the evidence and refused to press charges. And Judge Armstrong was left with no choice but to order that the marijuana taken from Gabriel that day be returned.
What happened to Jeff Roetter on the day he died?
Shortly after Jeff passed away on the evening of June 18, the story of what happened earlier that day was a subject of wide dispute. When the Cannabis Defense Coalition first heard the story, they’d heard that Roetter was picked up and interrogated by the police for 8 hours. This false account took on a life of its own, and before long, most of Roetter’s friends came to believe it. However, he had a court date that afternoon and was at work in the evening. There weren’t even enough hours in the day for that story to have been true.
A police report from that day states that Officers Moate and Sylvain stopped by Roetter’s house at 12:15pm to question him about the discrepancies between what they’d told him and the paperwork he later provided that exonerated Gabriel. There’s no evidence that Roetter was ever detained. One of his co-workers thought that the officers drove him to and from his court date in Issaquah, but they didn’t have any proof for that assertion. The officers dispute that they did anything other than talk to him.
What’s more certain is that Roetter was quite distraught at work that evening. A co-worker advised him to speak with an attorney. It’s impossible to know what was in Roetter’s mind that night, but it’s clear from the police report cited above that Snoqualmie Police had previously threatened him with felony drug charges, something that likely would have meant jail time. And Roetter was certainly aware that Gabriel would end up bearing the brunt for Roetter’s decision to re-sell the marijuana he was provided, and that they had a number of common friends who were aware of it too.
Despite this, Roetter apparently agreed to assist the officers, who showed up at his house the following morning only to find him deceased in his room and unable to make a statement. Some folks showed up in the comment thread of the original post to denounce Roetter for his decision, but I don’t think that’s quite fair. It was the police who put him in this very uncomfortable position, and it’s not clear what greater purpose there was for doing so. Roetter was the only person here who’d clearly broken the law, and what he was doing was extremely minor, re-selling small amounts of his medicine.
Why is Bryan Gabriel being targeted?
As I mentioned in the original post, Gabriel had been a business owner in Snoqualmie. He owned and ran a fitness center and a tanning salon. He was young for someone in that situation (he’ll be 28 in January), and he told me that he was helped along by a family friend who owned the properties and allowed him to lease the space and launch those businesses. He believes that the proposed opening of a YMCA near his fitness center and some wrangling with city government may have led to him being targeted. But the fact that he was providing medical marijuana in a small town was likely the bigger reason.
He was initially arrested in July 2009 for a drug deal that Snoqualmie Police accused him of conducting in April 2009. He was never charged at the time. Gabriel claims that the circumstances of the arrest were sketchy and that the person he’s accused of selling to is someone he doesn’t get along with. It was the first time in his life he’d been arrested, and it motivated him to sell off his businesses and move to Bellevue.
Snoqualmie Police see Gabriel in a very different way. They see him as somewhat of a drug kingpin, who’s making himself incredibly rich through marijuana distribution. Here’s a section of Officer Moate’s report:
Gabriel has a 2007 Acura TL, a condo in downtown Bellevue on the 22nd floor, which he says he pays $2200 a month for, and no job. Gabriel’s girlfriend makes $600 a month at a tanning salon. They both were wearing designer clothing.
He has no taxable income, but is living like a millionaire, and has been observed twice this year, by this unit, delivering large amounts of Marijuana.
According to Gabriel, when he voluntarily allowed officers to search his Bellevue apartment on the day of his arrest, the officers seemed very determined to find a large stash of money, repeatedly asking him where he was hiding it. But there was no secret stash. Gabriel says they only took the $27 that was in his wallet. The police report has no mention of finding any money at all.
Also not mentioned in the report is the fact that Gabriel had up until recently been running two Snoqualmie businesses, which is a slightly better explanation for why he had a nice car and a nice apartment. It’s clear that he was also making money from providing medical marijuana to authorized patients, but the 10 ounces he had in his apartment would’ve barely covered his rent payment. He told me that he’s now hoping to start up a non-profit dispensary in Seattle. If he’s living like a millionaire, I’m Warren Buffett.
Even more curious is the timing of his current prosecution. The charges were filed on the very day he came to retrieve the marijuana, June 22. It was for an alleged incident that occurred 14 months previously. The obvious question is why wasn’t he just charged for this at the time, and when I asked Sgt. Sylvain about that, he wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Both Gabriel and his attorney consider the charges to be without merit and they’ll be going to court to contest them on January 7. And I presume that there will be a handful of CDC members there as well.