OLYMPIA - Telling a Thurston County Superior courtroom "I screwed up," former Olympia City Councilman Joe Hyer was sentenced Monday to 10 days in jail with work release and 240 hours of community service for selling marijuana to a confidential informant.
Hyer pleaded guilty to one felony charge of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance as part of an agreement with prosecutors, who had earlier sought three felony charges. In a late addition to the plea deal announced Monday, Hyer agreed not to name the informant.
“I screwed up,” Hyer said in his remarks to Superior Court Judge Richard Strophy. “I want to spend the rest of my life making up for that” by “making atonement and making amends.”
Later, in an interview with The Olympian, Hyer said he has been a longtime marijuana user and intends to use his political skills to ensure that drug laws are changed.
It capped a fall from grace that saw Hyer go from being poised to serve in two offices – as city councilman and Thurston County treasurer – to being a felon forbidden from public office or from even voting.
“Will it mean I’ll never run for office again? I don’t know,” he said in an interview.
Hyer will report to the Thurston County Jail in the next couple of days, his attorney, Ken Valz, said. Under work release, Hyer can work during the day at his downtown businesses, including Olympic Outfitters and Alpine Experience. But he must spend the night in jail.
“Mr. Hyer’s political career, I think is over,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Jackson, who had sought that Hyer be sentenced to 60 days of work release.
“Mr. Hyer held a specific public trust as a public official to uphold the law and hold himself to a higher standard,” Jackson said.
Valz argued that his client should be sentenced to community service, which is what defendants with a first drug offense would get. “He’s not a drug dealer by any stretch of the imagination,” Valz said. “He’s no longer in public office.”
Strophy’s sentence fell somewhere in the middle. He noted that 21 people had sent letters to the court arguing on behalf of Hyer, including notable public officials such as state Sen. Karen Fraser and state Rep. Sam Hunt, Thurston County Commissioners Sandra Romero and Karen Valenzuela, and some members of the Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey city councils.
But Strophy said Hyer deserved jail time, saying that Hyer abused his public office. “What this proceeding is not is a referendum on whether marijuana” should be illegal. “It is illegal,” he said.
The judge instructed Hyer to spend his community service telling his story to middle and high school students, and to submit a plan to do so in three months. Within nine months, the service should be finished, he said. Hyer will also face 12 months’ supervision.
Hyer asked if he could also speak to groups outside of schools, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and Strophy said yes.
The Thurston County Narcotics Task Force arrested Hyer on Feb. 18 at his home in the 1000 block of Legion Way. There were about six to eight guns drawn on him, Hyer said in an interview.
The task force was acting on information that a confidential informant wearing a wire bought marijuana from Hyer twice during controlled buys at Hyer’s home in February, according to court records. Valz initially claimed Hyer was entrapped by someone he thought was his friend.
“This ‘friend,’ over a period of several months, lured and induced Councilman Hyer to commit a crime that Hyer would not otherwise commit except for the influence of this ‘friend,’” according to court papers.
Hyer said he knows the informant, that he was a friend, and that he is the only person he has sold to. But he said that six to eight years ago, “I would buy an ounce and I would split it between three of us or four of us,” he said.
He said he was prepared to tell the identity of the informant until the ban from doing so was added to his plea deal at 1:30 Monday afternoon.
“I should never even have considered transferring, selling, delivering to a close friend,” he said. “I still don’t know what I was thinking. It was just sheer stupidity.”
Hyer declined to identify the supplier when asked by The Olympian. He said investigators never asked him the identity of his supplier.
Thurston County Sheriff Dan Kimball has said two people told him that Hyer might be involved in drug activity. Kimball provided the name and number of the confidential informant to Lt. Loreli Thompson, who supervises the task force, during a Jan. 6 meeting, according to records obtained by The Olympian. It’s unclear if the informant is one of the two people who tipped off Kimball.
The buyer, identified as Confidential Source No. 759, according to the records, purchased $40 in marijuana from Hyer on the afternoon of Feb. 4. The buyer purchased $80 in marijuana during a second controlled buy Feb. 11. The buyer wore a recording device during both buys.
On Feb. 18 Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor signed a search warrant, and task force detectives executed it that afternoon. Hyer was placed under arrest. He was booked at the Thurston County Jail and released that evening after posting bail. Detectives sought the search warrant after they were unable to arrange a third controlled buy, records say.
The task force declined to release any records sought by The Olympian that would identify the confidential source, citing an exemption to the state public records act for documents “essential to effective law enforcement or for the protection of any person’s right to privacy.”
During a interview Feb. 2, two days before the first buy, task force detectives asked how the buyer knows Hyer. The buyer responded, “Ah, we served, he works in the business community and we serve together on a government body,” according to the transcript.
The name of the informant was blacked out on the transcript.
LONG HISTORY WITH DRUGS
Hyer has used drugs for years, he said in an interview. He used mushrooms and tried cocaine when he was 19.
“I think I first tried marijuana when I was probably 21 or 22,” he said.
Suffering from chronic insomnia since he was boy, Hyer said he started using marijuana in 1996 to help him fall asleep. He did so without a prescription. In 1998, voters approved a statewide initiative that allows the use of cannabis to treat specific debilitating and terminal illnesses.
Eventually, he said, he had it in his home all of the time and would use it three to four times a week – both to fall asleep, and occasionally, recreationally.
If he had it to do over again, he said he would have gotten a prescription for medical marijuana.
“It was just stupidity,” he said. “If I would have just put my head to it and done it, I probably could have had a prescription.”
Hyer said he offered marijuana to the informant in 2006 during Lakefair because “I was worried about his depression and I was worried about his state of mind,” but never sold to him in the meantime until the recent buys.
He said he doesn’t know why the person he considered a friend informed on him, and isn’t sure if it was politically motivated. “It’s been a question plaguing my mind,” he said.
It ended, for now anyway, what seemed like a promising political career. Days before his arrest, the Thurston County Commission had informally picked Hyer as the next county treasurer, filling a vacancy, and Hyer was mounting a campaign to be elected treasurer this fall.
But he resigned his council seat and ended his campaign for Thurston County treasurer before his attorney filing paperwork April 13 that he would enter a guilty plea as part of a plea agreement.
Hyer said he’d like to stay in politics, and indicated he would petition to get his right to vote back eventually. He would advocate for a change in drug laws, he said.
“I did something unlawful,” he said. “I don’t think I did something immoral.
“I think that marijuana has no greater health risk than alcohol or tobacco.”