Court documents shed more light on an apparent fentanyl ring busted this week in Spokane Valley.
Law enforcement patrols and surveillance of HomeTowne Studios and Suites in Spokane Valley netted 52 arrests between June 13 and Sunday, according to court documents. Police received more than 780 calls for service to the property between June 2021 and June of this year.
The arrests include felony and misdemeanor warrant arrests, assaults on hotel staff and guests, possession of fentanyl pills with intent to distribute, trespassing, possession of stolen motor vehicles and domestic violence assaults.
The Spokane Valley SWAT team on Monday served search warrants on two rooms of the hotel, located at 12803 E. Sprague Ave., according to a Spokane Valley Police Department news release. Detectives recovered fentanyl pills and pills believed to be laced with fentanyl, dozens of mostly empty fentanyl vials, methamphetamine, scales, packaging used for the sale of drugs and drug sales ledgers.
Eight people were arrested on drug and trespassing charges and warrants during the searches, the release said. Several others were detained, trespassed from the location at the hotel management’s request and released without charges.
Joshua L. Bernal, 34, of Spokane Valley, and Katie A. Buzzell, 27, of Otis Orchards, were each booked into the Spokane County Jail on suspicion of unlawful use of a building for drug purposes and possession of fentanyl with the intent to deliver, documents said. Buzzell was also booked on a Washington State Department of Corrections felony warrant, the release said.
The arrests stemmed from a lengthy and ongoing investigation into criminal activity in the area, police said.
A district manager for HomeTowne Studios provided a list of 10 rooms she believed responsible for much of the criminal activity, according to documents. She told police two of the rooms were used to deal drugs.
She and staff witnessed people lined up outside the two rooms, enter for short stays and immediately smoke pills off tin foil upon leaving, documents said.
Bernal started renting one of the two rooms starting in March 2021 and he stopped paying rent, the district manager told police. The hotel offers rooms for rent from single-night stays to long-term room rentals.
She said in documents that Bernal is over 429 days behind on rent and owes $21,874.
The district manager told police the hotel’s attorneys have been trying to evict people from the 10 rooms for more than a year, but they have been unsuccessful until recently because of Washington’s eviction moratorium brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Jay Inslee lifted the moratorium Oct. 31.
Buzzell told a detective she sold fentanyl pills from one of the two rooms. That room’s tenant, Dale Smith, is more than 500 days behind rent and owes HomeTowne Studios $25,995, documents said.
A confidential informant bought fentanyl pills from Buzzell in the room, documents said. Nearly a dozen people were waiting in and around the room during the controlled buy.
Bernal told police he “slings a little bit of pills here and there” to friends. He said he purchases pills from a woman named “Katie Ann,” who also lives at the hotel, and “Steve.”
A sergeant with the Spokane Valley Investigative Unit said in court documents it is normal for people to park out front of the hotel, text on their cellphones, and for Bernal to come out and either exchange items at an open vehicle window or sit in the vehicle for a brief time before going back into his room.
Many people knock on Bernal’s room, are let inside and then leave within a few minutes, the sergeant said. On some occasions, a line forms outside Bernal’s room where one person at a time enters the room and people in line move forward. Some of the people are seen going into the room holding money and leaving holding what appear to be fentanyl-laced pills.
The sergeant said one driver parked in front of Bernal’s room and entered the room for a couple minutes before returning to his vehicle where he smoked a substance off tin foil. Another male entered the vehicle and also smoked a substance off the foil.
A detective said he contacted a person parked in front of Bernal’s room and confirmed the person was smoking a small blue pill suspected to be fentanyl on a piece of foil.
Bernal and Buzzell remained in jail Wednesday night with $5,000 and $5,500 bonds. They are each scheduled for an arraignment Tuesday in front of Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tony Hazel.
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