Victims’ Voices of Josephine County – Story #4
By K. David Smith
This column is the fourth in a series that aims to give the human perspective behind the crisis in criminal justice funding in Josephine County, Oregon. For further information about this series, the background behind it, and the stories of other people who have been affected by the loss of public safety funding in the County, please click here.
This is going to sound like something out of gangster fiction. Inevitably, there will be some who will scoff and say I made it all up. That’s fine. There are folks out there who firmly believe that there isn’t any serious crime in the county. There are others who are convinced that all this talk about crime is just scare tactics. The naysayers will no doubt have a field day with this story. So be it.
All I can tell you is that I didn’t make it up. I can’t prove the absolute truth of it, but I’ve checked around enough to believe that the basic outlines of the story are accurate, and that the suppositions and guesses that my sources have made are at least plausible.
Aside from that little issue, I’m facing a dilemma that I’ve never had to deal with before as a writer. Although I’ve taken on essays, non-fiction, and even journalistic pieces before, I’m primarily a novelist. I’m writing these pieces now because I care about the future of our county, because I believe the people who are being hurt most by the crisis we face deserve to have their stories heard, and, frankly, because I was asked to do it by people I care about and respect. But I’m not by nature or training an investigative journalist. This is the first time I’ve had to wrestle with a story that, if I write it carelessly or give too much precise information about the people who told it to me, could put someone in serious danger.
My primary source for this story is worried about coming forward, and rightfully so. The only reason this person is willing to talk is out of a belief that others need to know what’s going on, that things are changing in ways that are real, and dangerous – and the public needs to know about it.
That takes courage. When I raised my concerns about writing this story, and about how to do so in a way that did not put anyone at greater risk, my main source said, “When it’s my time, it’ll be my time. I pray every day. I could die in a car crash tomorrow, or from a heart attack, or from a bullet. I know God will take care of me.”
With that spirit, here is the story as I understand it.
Starting around the beginning of 2013, there were reports of two men in their mid-30s harassing patrons and wait staff in bars and taverns in the little towns around the fringes of Grants Pass. They would drink heavily – enough to spend several hundred dollars a night, between alcohol and tips. Big money around here, these days. It attracts notice. They’d also attract attention with the trouble they caused. They made passes at waitresses, offering to make their husbands or boyfriends “disappear” to clear the way for these guys. They pushed other customers around and, when told to back off, would show off the handguns stuck in their waistbands. In at least one case, they actually fired off shots, though it is not clear whether the idea was to actually hit anyone or just to intimidate.
They also bragged about being connected to the mob back in Chicago. This, frankly, is probably just bluster. As my primary source put it, rather wryly, “People who are really with the mob don’t run around saying they’re with the mob.” It’s likely that these guys are wanna-bes who are trying to impress and intimidate. Dangerous, but not exactly Al Capone.
Still, there’s some core of fact behind the bragging. Some digging into their backgrounds reveals that they are indeed from the Chicago area. One of them was dealing cocaine, apparently coming to this area when things got a little too hot at home. Once here, these two and somewhere between six and eight other Chicago boys got hooked into the marijuana business, growing, buying, and stealing it here, selling it back in Chicago, and bringing in cocaine to Josephine County. In one case, it appears that they arranged to fake a robbery with a friend who ran a licensed growing operation, hogtying him and making off with more than a million dollars in “medical” marijuana. The grower got off without suspicion – perhaps taking a cut? – while the “thieves” were overheard bragging about their score at one of their drinking holes.
Quite a haul, for sure. Plenty of cash from that one to fund some good drinking sprees.
Their brawls during these bar nights, when they would spend enough money on drinks to convince the bar owners to turn a blind eye, have landed them in hot water with what is left of law enforcement in Josephine County. In at least one case, there was enough trouble – shots actually fired, a sort of a siege going on – that county dispatch actually called in the State Police to help. Although it took OSP nearly an hour to arrive, when they finally did apprehend these two, they found two handguns and a loaded AR-15.
There’s nothing illegal about this, or even uncommon. Still, shooting at people is frowned upon, even here.
They were taken in, charged with menacing. It’s not clear, at least to me, whether or not either of them did any jail time. What is clear is that they’re free today. And on the ride in to the jail, they told one of the Troopers what they would do to anyone who “disrespected” them. They’re seasoned warriors, they reportedly said. They don’t have any problem killing animals. They won’t have a problem killing people, either.
There have been enough reports, from enough people around the perimeter of Grants Pass, to lend credibility to the idea that these guys at least think they are bad news. They also do indeed appear to be part of an organized ring involved in exporting marijuana and bringing cocaine into the county. How organized they really are, and how serious a threat they really pose, is not yet clear.
Still, they’re threatening enough that the people they’ve harassed have gone to ground, trying to lay low. One changed jobs, went to work somewhere else, because these guys had become such a menace. Another, more directly and personally targeted for retribution, has begun examining the faces of pretty much everyone on the street, wondering if this person, or that one, or that other one, is part of the group, come to keep an eye out for any sign that there’s talk that might get back to the cops, or just to take revenge.
“I don’t like living like this,” this person says. “It gives me a better idea about how cops live every day, watching everyone and wondering. I don’t like having to live in fear, having to scope everybody out because I don’t know who these guys’ friends are or what they look like.”
It’s especially worrisome because none of this is happening in the city. “There aren’t any cops out here to respond, if there is trouble. These guys know it. That’s why they’re so brazen.”
The author, K. David Smith, graduated from Harvard College cum laude in 1991. A former management consultant and healthcare policy analyst, he currently resides in Grants Pass – outside the city limits. He is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at Pacific University while taking care of three young boys. He is also an active member of Securing Our Safety. You can contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org