Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Joe Hyer's blossoming political future appears to be in jeopardy after he was arrested Thursday afternoon on suspicion of selling marijuana, two days after his informal selection to become the next county treasurer.
Thurston County Sheriff Dan Kimball said the arrest of Hyer, 37, is the culmination of an investigation by the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force in which a confidential informant purchased marijuana from Hyer twice in the past month during controlled buys.
The task force served a search warrant at Hyer’s home in the 1000 block of Legion Way Southeast. He was arrested at 5:20 p.m. at the house and booked at the county jail Thursday night on suspicion of two counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, with an enhancement for both counts because they occurred within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. Hyer also was booked on suspicion of illegal use of a building for drug purposes. Unlawful delivery of marijuana is a felony, Kimball said.
Kimball said detectives found small amounts of packaged marijuana in Hyer’s home. Detectives still were searching Hyer’s home Thursday evening.
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Hyer posted $20,000 bail and was released from jail at 8:30 p.m. Lights and a TV were on at his home shortly before 9 p.m. Thursday, but no one answered the door. He didn’t return calls Thursday evening.
Kimball said the investigation began after he heard from a confidential informant, whom he declined to identify, that Hyer might be involved in drugs. It was unclear Thursday night whether that informant is the same person who purchased the marijuana.
“No one is above the law,” Kimball said.
Hyer has not been charged. Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Holm said Thursday night that a prosecutor has yet to review the information to decide whether criminal charges will be filed.
“We’ll treat him like anybody else,” he said.
The arrest couldn’t come at a worse time for Hyer. County commissioners on Tuesday informally tapped him to succeed on an interim basis Thurston County Treasurer Robin Hunt when she leaves office March 1 to take a new job. Hyer said Tuesday that he planned to meet with Hunt later in the week to be introduced to the staff and begin to learn the details of the job.
The commissoners' decision is not legally binding, and his formal appointment and swearing in is scheduled for March 1, after Hunt leaves office. If appointed, Hyer would serve in that role until Nov. 23, when the results from the general election are certified and the new treasurer takes office. Hyer has announced plans to campaign for the four-year term starting in January.
State law requires public officials to forfeit their office if convicted of a felony.
The role of the unidentified resident raises questions about whether the tip that eventually led to Hyer’s arrest was politically motivated.
“I think when you’re a politician, everyone has political enemies. That is the nature of the game,” said Danielle Westbrook, the manager of Hyer’s City Council campaign in 2005 who now works as an aide for Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela. “I honestly don’t know of anyone who would go to this level.”
Kimball told County Manager Don Krupp about Hyer’s arrest shortly before 6 p.m. Krupp said he was sure the arrest will be an “issue of concern” for county commissioners but added he wasn’t in a position to “speculate how and in what way they will respond.”
Commission Chairwoman Sandra Romero said she didn’t have many details of the arrest and hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss it with other commissioners.
“We’re all trying to process the information,” she said. “We don’t know (about the future of the process). It does not look good.”
Valenzuela and Commissioner Cathy Wolfe did not return phone messages seeking comment Thursday night.
Rumors were swirling around the county courthouse about a major shake-up Thursday before news of the arrest broke. Romero’s initial reaction: “My jaw is down to my navel.”
If Hyer were to step aside from the treasurer job or commissioners are unwilling to follow through on his appointment, it raises major questions about filling the impending vacancy. The Thurston County Democratic Party fulfilled its obligation under the state constitution by forwarding the names of three nominees to the county commissioners for a selection. Hyer was the top pick, followed by Noah Crocker, a state treasury program manager, and Heather Highmiller, a precinct committee officer from Scott Lake who is not a serious candidate and only was nominated to fill out the slate of nominees.
Romero raised the possibility of reopening the nomination process at the commissioner or party level.
“We were impressed with him. I’m not saying anything against Noah,” she said. “There are a lot of possibilities out there that are swirling around, and none of them have landed yet.”
Crocker was shocked Thursday night to learn of Hyer’s arrest and reiterated his interest in being appointed to the office to complete Hunt’s unexpired term.
“I didn’t see that coming,” he said.
Hyer and Bill Pilkey, a certified financial planner and the president of the Thurston County Taxpayers’ Association, had announced their intention to run for a four-year term starting in January. The election is in November.
Another possibility is Hunt staying on until county officials sort through the process. Hunt did not return a phone message Thursday night.
Olympia Mayor Doug Mah said the arrest affects Hyer’s ability to serve as a public official, even if the judicial system ends up exonerating him.
“Obviously, it’s extremely disturbing and disappointing,” he said. “At this point, that’s all I have to say.”
Other members of the council who could be reached for comment Thursday night said little about Hyer’s arrest.
Councilwoman Rhenda Strub said it’s a “very serious allegation.”
“I think I want to reserve comment until after he’s had his day in court,” she said.
Councilwoman Karen Rogers, who learned the news from a reporter, said, “I can’t say anything until I find out what actually happened.”