CAO clashes go beyond talk - Guns brandished in two
incidents as landowner faces off with authorities
by Dean A. Radford
REDMOND -- Former Microsoft engineer Charles Strouss doesn't feel like a
poster child for the property-rights movement.
If he could turn back the clock to just before 3 p.m. Nov. 27, he
probably would decide to put on his pants and leave his shotgun in a safe
He wouldn't be facing 20 years in prison.
But he has spent about 20 frustrating years trying to develop his 40
acres near Union Hill on the rural side of the growth line.
``It's a political fiction that it's a rural neighborhood,'' he
The final straw for him and others in the rural area was the county's
critical areas ordinances.
That fall afternoon, about a month after the CAO was adopted, he was
What then happened, as described from the varying perspectives of Strouss
and King County authorities, was either a case of a private citizen defending
his land against unwarranted intrusion by government agents, or a cowboy-like
threat by a shotgun-wielding homeowner who endangered the lives of two county
employees doing their job.
Underlying both accounts is the growing divide between King County
government and many rural residents convinced the former is their enemy.
Strouss recounts the incident this way:
A white county-marked pickup was parked on the gravel in front of his
house. Two code-enforcement officers were walking toward his front door.
Someone had filed a complaint that he was grading a wetland.
Strouss had used a bulldozer to bury a pipe he hoped would fix a drainage
problem he said was caused by an adjoining development. His research showed he
didn't need a permit.
He confronted the officers from his upstairs bedroom window.
You're trespassing, he says he told them.
They identified themselves and said they didn't see a no-trespassing
The two men turned to leave, but Strouss asked for their names. They
offered to put their business cards on his porch. But Strouss said they seemed
to take their time and were ``poking their heads around.''
He has researched his rights protecting against illegal searches.
He picked up his shotgun and opened the front door.
A big man, Strouss was wearing only an unbuttoned shirt. He says he had a
choice: put on his pants or get his shotgun. If the two code enforcement
officers were armed, they would get the drop on him, he said.
He chambered a round.
The two men froze. One was a new hire who was being trained.
They told a detective he pointed the shotgun at them. Strouss says he
Charged with two counts
On March 31, Strouss was charged with two counts of second-degree
Code-enforcement officers are never armed. If they believe they're going
into a hostile situation, they'll bring a sheriff's deputy with them.
``I really didn't pick this fight,'' said the 46-year-old Strouss. ``They
came to my land in the first place.''
Because the officers couldn't get access to the property to investigate
the complaint, the case was closed.
``The burden of proof is on us,'' said Paula Adams, a spokeswoman for the
county's Department of Development and Environmental Services.
The fight came again to Strouss' doorstep earlier this month.
The morning of April 7, he appeared before a Superior Court judge.
Prosecutors were asking for $50,000 bail, but he was released on personal
recognizance. First, he was fingerprinted and photographed, a brief and
He went home, exhausted, and headed to bed with his wife.
About 3 p.m., four men got out of an SUV and came to his front door. He
asked them repeatedly to identify themselves. He said they didn't.
His weapons were still in the house.
``They slammed open the front door,'' he said, and ordered him to kneel.
He describes his feeling in an e-mail to Sgt. John Urquhart, a spokesman for
the Sheriff's Office:
``To force a man to kneel naked on the floor, with his back to four armed
unidentified thugs, in the style of 3rd World death squads, expecting to have
his brains shot out in front of his wife, is simply not forgivable.''
Urquhart said the four officers, members of the U.S. Marshal's Office
Fugitive Task Force, did identify themselves. To do otherwise would put them
at deadly risk, he said.
``That's how you get shot,'' Urquhart said.
Urquhart said the officers asked that Strouss come downstairs after they
identified themselves. Had he done so, Urquhart said, he would never have been
arrested at gunpoint.
``I don't know where he gets his information,'' Strouss said.
Eventually, Strouss explained that he had appeared in court that morning
and was released. His story rang true and the officers called their
Clerks had not yet had a chance to remove the arrest warrant from the
system, following the court action that morning.
The officers apologized and left. They were part of a task force that was
arresting those with warrants for an assault with a weapon. Two were sheriff's
Later, Strouss went to the sheriff's Bothell precinct to file a complaint
against the four, but he said he was thrown out.
Urquhart said that's not the case. ``He didn't have a legitimate
complaint,'' he said. ``The warrant was served in good faith.''
Police can arrest someone without a warrant in hand, but they must show
the person a facsimile of the warrant at a jail, Urquhart said.
Strouss' attorney told him to call the newspapers.
The Sheriff's Office is concerned about the high level of rhetoric and
hysteria that is fueling what has been dubbed rural rage against county
workers and policies, Urquhart said.
``You have DDES workers performing their jobs and someone pulls a shotgun
on them,'' he said.
It's an emotional subject, he said, but ``everyone needs to take a deep
Urquhart had a heated exchange of e-mails with outspoken county critic
Ron Ewart of Fall City, who complained Urquhart wasn't responding fast enough
to his inquiries about the incident involving Strouss.
In an e-mail to officials and the media, Ewart offered his take on
Strouss' arrest by the fugitive team:
``They produced no warrant, or any identification. That, folks, is a
police state and that, folks, was caused by your government writing too many
Ewart is not in the leadership of the Citizens Alliance for Property
Rights, which is watching the Strouss case closely. Strouss has participated
in some of the alliance's protests but is not a member.
``We don't have anything in the works other than encouraging him,'' said
Rodney McFarland of May Valley, the alliance's president. But it may use some
of its money to help defend those cited by the county. So far, Strouss is
paying his own defense bills.
McFarland doesn't think the rural rhetoric has much to do with the
``The rhetoric from the vast majority of us has been quite reasonable and
not inflammatory,'' he said.
He said the alliance may put out a pamphlet to explain what a property
owner should do if ``DDES knocks on your door.'' It also may get some
no-trespassing signs made up.
Adams, the DDES spokeswoman, said code-enforcement officers won't enter
property that's posted no-trespassing or where there's a closed gate. If
necessary, the county will take photographs from the air or from the
If the property isn't posted, an officer will walk up to the door and
knock, she said.
``We aren't going to walk around the property unescorted,'' she
Strouss' next court appearance is Thursday, but he said that might be
delayed. There's also talk about behind-the-scenes negotiations that could get
the charges dropped, he said.
He has had plenty of time to think about what happened last November. He
wants his story told. He has posted no-trespassing signs on his
``It was unwise of me to step out on that porch with my shotgun,'' he
said. But, he said, he believes his act was protected by the Constitution's
To another rural mind, he said, carrying a gun isn't unusual. But to
someone from the city, the person is ``a whacko,'' he said.
``I am as gentle as a lamb,'' he said.