Son is busted for drugs, but it's mom and dad who lose the cars
As drug dealers go, Thomas Roos was not very crafty. During the summer of 2005, Roos, then 24, was arrested four times in four months, usually...
Seattle Times staff reporter
As drug dealers go, Thomas Roos was not very crafty.
During the summer of 2005, Roos, then 24, was arrested four times in four months, usually passed out behind the wheel in cars loaded with drugs, cash, cellphones and a drug-dealing ledger.
He was so blatant about it, in fact, that drug investigators in Snohomish County believed his parents should have yanked the keys to their cars. When the parents didn't, the officers seized the vehicles under drug-forfeiture laws.
That action led to an unusual question for the state Court of Appeals: Should parents be punished for the actions of a wayward son?
The three-judge panel this week said yes, rejecting Alan and Stephne Roos' argument that they were unwitting victims, and all but chastised them for not exercising more tough love.
The ruling cost the Rooses, of Bothell, their 2004 Nissan Sentra and a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle "muscle car," as well as more than $34,000 in attorney fees to fight what their attorney deemed a ruling that "stretches the bounds of logic."
"It says if you have a son or daughter that you suspect may be involved in drugs, you better start snooping around and following them around," said attorney Peter Mazzone, of Everett. "If you let them drive your car, you may very well lose your car."
There is no evidence the Rooses, who declined to be interviewed for this article, were involved in drug dealing. But they ignored too many warning signs to be victims, said Mara Rozzano, attorney for the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force, which moved to seize the cars.
The trouble for Alan and Stephne Roos — a butcher and a dental assistant — started in June 2005, a review of police reports and court filings in the parents' case shows.
Thomas Roos was found passed out in a carwash parking lot in Lynnwood in the Nissan with $21,406 in cash, methamphetamine, prescription painkillers and a ledger of drug sales. The car was impounded and Roos was arrested, but he intercepted a notice mailed to his parents, as well as a voice-mail message left at their house. The car was later released.
Roos, who has a 1998 juvenile conviction for drug dealing, was unemployed, living at home, and leading a "secret life" that included deleting voice-mail messages from his parents' phone over the past two years, his mother testified.
A month later, he was arrested while driving a friend's car, and officers again found drugs, cash and the ledger. His mother bailed him out and, after learning about the previous arrest, told him not to drive the Nissan. His father later testified he was "mad as hell" at his son, and bought steering-wheel locks for both cars.
Nonetheless, Roos was arrested twice more over the next two months, passed out at the wheel and carrying large quantities of drugs, once in the Nissan, once in the Chevelle. Officers found large stashes of drugs both times and moved to seize both cars. Thomas Roos was convicted of five drug-possession charges and served six months in jail.
His parents went to court to try to get their cars back.
Drug-forfeiture laws, which are intended to take the profit motive out of drug-dealing, exempt "innocent owners" from property seizures. But that exemption doesn't apply to people who "stick his/her head in the sand," the appeals court ruled.
"At a minimum, the information Alan and Stephne did possess, including Thomas' past and present problems with drugs and his unemployed status, would have led a reasonable person to further inquire into the Nissan's use," appeals judge Stephen Dwyer wrote.
"It's what a lot of parents fear, I know," said Rozzano, a deputy Snohomish County prosecutor. "It wasn't just that he had drugs, it's that he was using the cars to sell."
The cars sit in the Snohomish County sheriff's impound yard pending any further appeals. If auctioned, the cars could fetch about $18,000 for the task force, which uses forfeited property to fund its work.
Mazzone said the case should be appealed further, but is unsure if his clients can afford it.
"This is what this case stands for: Parents should be suspicious of their kids, because if they don't, they could lose their possessions," he said.
Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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