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Interview with Joe Hyer, part I

By Matthew Green

Shortly after he pled guilty to one felony related to selling marijuana, former Olympia City Councilmember Joe Hyer sat for an interview with OP&L. All quotes below are from Hyer.

About Drugs

In college, Hyer says, he tried a bunch of recreational drugs – mushrooms, cocaine, heroine, ecstacy – but each only once or twice. “I haven’t done any drugs like that since probably I was 21 years old. It just didn’t seem worthwhile.”

Alcohol was a bigger issue for him. “I drank a lot in college and a few years after that. There is a history of alcoholism in my family. [Since then,] I’ve tried to tone down on drinking.”

Marijuana came later. “I actually don’t think I tried marijuana until I was 21, once or twice. Sometime in 1996 or so, around the time we opened the store [Alpine Experience, his family’s outdoor gear store], I tried it a couple times and I discovered, boy, I’d just fall asleep.”

I have had insomnia since I was seven or eight years old or younger. Could fall asleep, couldn’t stay asleep.” He says he tried over the counter medicines, but nothing worked. He talked to a doctor, but didn’t want to take prescription narcotics. Instead, “I found that cannabis, particularly, did help me sleep. For the last 12 years, since 1998 or so, I’ve had a small amount of cannabis most of the time in my house.”

Hyer never got a prescription for medical marijuana. Why not? “I was stupid. Prescriptions were something of a farce back then,” when the medical marijuana law was first passed.

It was sometime in 2004 that I thought I might be using too much cannabis.” He says he looked up health information about long term use of marijuana on the internet, because he wanted to avoid substance abuse issues.

From his research, he says he learned two rules. One, always take some time off each year from using marijuana, so quits for two to four weeks each year, usually when he goes traveling. And two, set a regular dose for yourself, so you know how much you’re using. “So I actually used pill boxes. What you do is put whatever you going to smoke [or use in a vaporizer] in a week in a pill bottle. And [the pill bottle] reminds you that it’s medicine.”

Hence, when they raided my house, they found in the bottom of my humidor half a dozen pill bottles, with somewhere between 3 and four grams. I didn’t weigh it that carefully. I didn’t want to use more than about half a gram a day, [...] and I also found that I didn’t need any more than that.”

I had a scale – I had two scales at my house. One of them is still there. They didn’t take the other one. Very interesting. So, there were 3 or 4 grams in the house.”

Hyer bristles at any suggestion that he sold marijuana. Instead, “In the early 2000s, yeah, I would buy an ounce and then split it between 3 or 4 of us.”

So if people gave me money, and then I bought it and gave them their share, am I selling it to them? Or if I just buy it and they give me money for their part, am I selling it to them? I cringe at the word ‘sale.’ Its the retailer in me. I always think you have to have a profit for there to be a sale, and I’ve never profitted from any transfers of marijuana.

Once I joined the city council, I didn’t like to do that anymore, just because it was a gray area. So in February, when, of course, the charging documents come out that say I sold to close friends, I’m like wait a minute, I didn’t say that.”

About Jeff Kingsbury, Before

Hyer says he’s known Jeff Kingsbury since the 1980s, and started working closely with him in 2000, when Hyer joined the Olympia Downtown Association. The next year, Hyer and Alpine Experience became a sponsor of Capitol Playhouse, Kingsbury’s theater company. “We’d become friends by 2004.”

(OP&L requested an interview with Kingsbury, but as of when this paper went to press, he had not responded.)

In 2004, both of them applied for a vacancy on the Olympia City Council, and Hyer was appointed. Hyer had to run for election in 2005, and Kingsbury ran for another vacant council seat at the same time.

That’s when I believe we became close, close friends,”as they went to many candidate forums together. “Jeff used [Hyer and Karen Messmer, also running for city council that year, to learn] information and details on issues.” Both won election, and would serve together for the next four years. “Then [after the election] we started doing community events together, and donating things to auctions together.”

He was one of about 20 people who made the list to get invited to my wedding last summer. It was difficult to pick [who to invite] because it was only very, very close friends who got to come.”

[Kingsbury] has known there has been cannabis in my house since perhaps 2005, but I know by the summer of 2006, because in July of 2006 at Lakefair, he found out that his partner was cheating on him with someone else that we knew, and he was just devasted, and he actually asked me for a small amount, and I think I gave him a gram or two. I didn’t take any money for it.”

He called us [later] and was saying, he was in his jacuzzi at home, very relaxed, had smoked the pot, and was feeling really good. I said, ‘Good Jeff, you just need to relax, just put it out of your mind and things will get better.’”

We were very close friends the next several years, throughout the elections in ‘07, throughout ‘08 serving on council, through the isthmus debacle of that whole year.” In 2008, Kingsbury suggested that Hyer join him in working as an auctioneer, and they worked on occasional auctions together throughout 2009.

Then [in 2009] the challenge I had is that Jeff appeared to be under a lot of pressure and stress. His personal life, he’d lost [his partner], things weren’t going well. He was making some poor choices, I thought, personally, and a bunch of us were very worried about him as a person. Is he going to make it through this year?”

His election last year was incredibly contentious. I don’t think he made it – well, he did some of it – but a lot of other people were making it so polarizing. He was going through a lot. It was just a very, very difficult, stressful time for Jeff.”

Over the summer of ‘09, last year, we weren’t as close, mainly because we were in campaign mode [as both of them ran for re-election], and his campaign supporters and my campaign supporters were entirely different groups.”

In fact, Kingsbury was attending fundraising events with Hyer’s opponent, Tony Sermonti. Kingsbury had strongly supported the rezone to raise building heights on the isthmus between Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet. Hyer voted against the rezone, though he never spoke against it strongly. Sermonti ran on a platform supporting the rezone.

Hyer’s campaign organizers were upset that Kingsbury appeared to be endorsing Sermonti over Hyer, but Hyer says those events were really organized by supporters of the rezone, so he didn’t hold it against Kingsbury.

I said, ‘I don’t worry about that, I’ve endorsed Jeff, I’m sticking with that.’ I didn’t even meet Stephen Buxbaum [Kingsbury’s opponent] until after the primary, and didn’t have any conversation with him until after the election. Certainly was not aligned with him. I endorsed Jeff, and I stuck with Jeff.”

I remember in September of ‘09, Jeff did ask me something about whether or not I could find some pot for a friend of his. And it wasn’t definite, it was one of those where – you know, some treats and this and that. I went, ‘Jeff, I’m not in that business, if you needed something just for you, you let me know, and I might be able,’ but I said, no, I’m done. It was a weird conversation. It was very vague.”

I felt so bad [for Kingsbury]. Not only did he lose the election [in November of 2009], he lost his partner, he just was under so much stress, he had his alcohol thing, it was just – it was horrible to look at him last year, because he was in so much turmoil and difficulty.”

Sometime, January first or second [of 2010], I ran into him, I think getting a cup of coffee somewhere, and he just looked a thousand times better. Just at peace and relaxed and happy, and I said ‘how you doing?’, and we chatted and talked. He was looking forward to doing more auctions with me this year, and he said ‘I’m going to request that all the ones that I’m an auctioneer for, that I get a ringman, I’m going to request that it’s you, so you can work a lot more,” and I’m like, ‘Great.’ He just seemed so happy and better. I was so excited for him.”

It was sometime during this first week in January that two people went to Sheriff Dan Kimball to tell him about Hyer and marijuana.

Hyer says he saw Kingsbury a couple of weeks later at an auction. “He started telling me about this new boyfriend he might be seeing” who was 37 years old. “I thought that was really great, because in the last couple of years he’s been seeing people much, much, much younger than him.”

The first week of February, he texted me and says [Kingsbury’s boyfriend] really likes ‘treats’ and do I know where I can get any of the stuff. I assumed he meant cannabis.”

I had some qualms about doing it, because it’s not what I do. Other people have asked me to sell them marijuana, and I’ve been like, ‘No, I don’t want to get into that, I’m on the council, I’m not a dealer.’ But Jeff had done so much for me, helping me out over the years, had been so supportive when I found [a partner] and got together with him, I just could not say no.”

I now know that he was probably lying to me about the entire relationship” with the new boyfriend.

And so, he came to my house that afternoon of February 4th, and all I had done was grab one of my pill bottles. It was somewhere between 3 and 4 grams, I’m not positive, I don’t weigh it that carefull, and I just gave him the pill bottle and he gave me $40.”

I’m pretty certain that, at what I paid, that was about $50 worth of pot I gave him. If I really am selling a lot of pot, I’m stupid, because I’m losing money.”

I did it as a favor for him. He came by, we chatted for a few minutes, and then he left.”

It was probably four or five days later than he texted me, ‘We used it all, can I get more?’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh shit, what am I – you know, I’m feeling like a dealer or something.’ So I say, okay, okay. The way he put it, it was at his house, and he and [his boyfriend] were smoking it and then having sex, and he told me, ‘Oh the sex is so great and I’m so excited,’ and I’m thinking he’s finally found someone his own age, he’s finally found someone he’s in love with, okay. I said, ‘Okay, how about I give you twice as much?’ And he said, ‘Do you have that?’ And I said, ‘I already got it set aside. I was lying, I was just saying whatever.”

Hyer put the marijuana from two of his pill bottles into a plastic bag, and gave it to Kingsbury for $80. “Of that $80 he gave me, $20 was in the humidor” when police searched it.

According to later court documents, on both occasions, Kingsbury was wearing a recording device for the police.

Hyer said that, just a few days before his arrest, he told a friend that he had sold marijuana to Kingsbury, and expressed how uncomfortable he was about doing it, but that he was happy that Kingsbury was feeling better and had a new boyfriend. The friend (who requested anonymity) confirmed this conversation to OP&L.

Over the next few days, I thought I’ve just got to cut him off or tell him he’s got to go someplace else to get his pot. That Thursday, he was texting me again to arrange a buy, and I told him, ‘Okay, come by.’ I was either going to tell him no, or give him a little and tell him just don’t do this anymore. Well, lo and behold, it was six or eight Narcotics Task Force agents that barged into my house, not Jeff Kingsbury.”

About His Arrest

On February 18, Hyer left Olympia City Hall about 5:00 PM to walk the four blocks home. About five or ten minutes after he arrived, officers from the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force came to Hyer’s house to arrest him. “There were six or eight of them with guns. They had their battering ram, which they didn’t have to use – my front door was ajar. They had black ski masks on and body armor. I was just shocked.”

That is the single image that is more haunting than anything else, when they came through that door and their guns were up and pointed at me. And to see them pointed at me and think about a mistake happening, an error, or somebody flinching.”

So many of them, all these guns, the body armor, two of them in black ski masks. I found out that one of them I know – he wanted to put the mask on because he didn’t want to embarrass himself.

I thought to myself, ‘What, did someone smell something when I was on my porch?’”

The officers read Hyer his rights, put him in a police van, and started asking questions. “I was stupid. I should not have answered any questions, but I was trying to be nice.”

They asked whether there was cannabis in the house, and I said ‘Yes, you’ll find it in the humidor, in small pill bottles, I use it medicinally for insomnia, headaches. That’s where it is. Yes, you’ll find one little four inch plant growing in the back in some hydroponics, along with our bulbs for the spring.’ Six things, five of them were spring flowers, and one was a [marijuana] plant that was four inches [tall].”

They asked if Hyer sold marijuana. “What I said was, on rare occasion, I might transfer some to a close friend. And that became ‘close friends’ [in the police report]. What I was doing was – I didn’t know yet that they had a specific confidential informant. I was trying to protect Jeff Kingsbury’s identity in case they were going to come after him.”

Then they said, ‘Well, how many?’, and I said, ‘Over a decade less than a handful, two or three,’ thinking back to when I would buy an ounce and split it up, and in order to just be vague, and then they truncated it all [in the report].”

At one point, they asked if there are any weapons in the house, and I laughed. No, I’ve never had a gun in the house until there were six of them pointed at me.”

The officers asked about Hyer’s partner and another housemate, and also questioned them directly. Neither of them was charged with a crime.

At that point, I was actually somewhat trusting of the Narcotics Task Force agents, because the first things they said to me were, notice there are no sirens, we don’t want to be here, we never follow up on a tip like this, this is several levels below anything we would deal with, the bosses ordered us to.”

My specific memory of the exact quote from the conversation is ‘Notice that you don’t see any sirens or police cars. We’re being very discrete. We don’t really want to be here. We would never have followed up on a tip of this type. This is several levels below anything we would follow up on. The bosses’ – somebody else said ‘the higher-ups’ — ‘said we had to do this.’

There was a black van with no markings [in front of Hyer’s house]. I don’t know if they had another vehicle in back.” About 5:40 PM, a marked Thurston County Sheriff’s vehicle arrived, in which the officers placed Hyer. “Then [an officer] drove me to the [Thurston County] jail being all chatty, about downtown association things and this and that.”

At that point, I admit what was running through my head more than anything else was ‘Oh my god, they’re going to put me in a room, put a light on me, and try and [get me to] give up my supplier.’”

I knew it. You know what they’re policy is. The drug task force’s job is middle and high-level dealers. They didn’t get what they wanted at my house. Naturally, I made the assumption that they were immediately going to try to turn me for a bigger fish – or a fish at all, because the only thing they had for me selling to anybody was Jeff.”

I still use the word transfer, because I didn’t profit. The second time I lost even more money.

I said to the officers, ‘What’s going to happen?’ They said, ‘They’re going to book you, and then you can post bail.’ I said ‘How much money do I need?’ They said, ‘Oh, have [Hyer’s friend] bring $1,000.’ The narcotics officers were telling me this. I had no idea. I’ve never been in jail, never been arrested, I don’t know the process.”

The bail turned out to be $20,000. The money was arranged through a bail bond agent.

About an hour later, they’d booked and processed me, and that’s when they said, ‘Oh, the media’s outside.’ I’m thinking, ‘How in the hell is the media outside? How does anybody know about this?’” The officers let him go out the back entrance to try to avoid the media. “There

was still KOMO News right outside with a camera in my face when I came out of the jail.”

Later on the news, “I heard that Sheriff Kimball had said that I was trafficking, and I said, ‘The hell.’”

During his arrest, the officers “said something about a confidential informant but didn’t go into any detail. It was not until I got out of jail and posted bail that I heard the comment from the Sheriff on some of the media that there was a confidential informant. I immediately turned to a friend and said ‘That must be, oh my god, Jeff Kingsbury.’”

I knew absolutely for certain that if they had a confidential informer who bought from me who it was. I made several phone calls that night to people, and I think I blurted it out to several people.”

[His partner] and I go home eventually, there are reporters at the house, they’ve got cameras. I’m just like, ‘Oh my god, how did they know?’ The next day there were reporters outside the house everywhere. The reporters never seemed to figure out that we had an alley, because they were always at the front of the house, and all I’d do is leave at the back of the house and drive.”

Being on television was “the part I can’t stand. I couldn’t believe that they were there when I left the jail. Who’s leaking this? Who’s telling this?”

The first five days [after his arrest], I drove instead of walk anywhere because I didn’t want to be trapped by a reporter somewhere. There was an 8×10 [photo] apparently of my house on the front page of the paper.”

In the humidor with the marijuana, police also found $320 – $20 of which was traced back to Kingsbury from the second buy.

Why do I have $300 dollars in my house?” Hyer says it was to buy more marijuana, and that his source often stops by unexpectedly. “I don’t know his real name, I know he drives a minivan, I think he comes from Bellingham. I’m probably his smallest customer.”

So, yeah, I keep $300 there in case I need to resupply myself. It’s not from selling it.”

No one from law enforcement has ever asked me anything about my supplier. Never once. Which made me really worried, and made me think this might not be about drugs, and might be more about me, because never, I have not had a conversation with any Thurston County Sheriff’s person since that night [of the arrest]. Not once.”

About Jeff Kingsbury, After

Two months later, Hyer pled guilty on one felony. (Hyer’s comments on the plea will appear in the next issue of OP&L.)

After the plea, the next two days “were a little crazy, because I’ve got the media desperately trying to figure out who the confidential informant was, and I can’t [legally] name the name. They know, I know, we know, but they’re trying to find someone on the record, so I directed them to some of the people I told because they were free to say it. I think they were getting close when Mr. Kingsbury put out his statement.”

I said, ‘Oh, okay, good, he finally owns up to it.’ Then [a reporter] called and read the statement over the phone, and I had to sit down. I was just so stunned.”

I was disavowed [by Kingsbury]! We weren’t friends?! He said we weren’t ever friends. I considered him one of my closest friends and allies over the years. I invited him to my wedding, for gods sake. I was just dumbfounded that I would be cut off that way.”

And then [Kingsbury said], ‘I’m proud of what I did, and I would do it again.’ You tried to ruin my life, ruin my family, ruin my business, ruin my political whatever-you-call-it, and take away my right to vote, and you tried to send me to prison for seven and a half years.”

I have had friends over the last 15 years who have been doing unethical or illegal things, and I have never, ever once thought of going to the authorities. I’ve talked to those people and said you’re doing wrong, you shouldn’t do that, I have disassociated with people, I’ve tried to help people.”

I learned that loyalty to my friends and family and brothers was the most important value you have in life.”

I asked the Olympian at one point, ‘Do you really want a list of all the elected officials, judicial officials, other people out there that I know who smoke pot?’ And they said yes. I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to give it to you. I don’t snitch on my friends.’”

I finally realized that I had such qualms about revealing Jeff’s name. Even though he completely betrayed me, and tried to send me to prison, I still had trouble saying his name out there, because he was at one point a friend.”

I think, in Olympia, being a rat or a snitch is far worse than anything I did.”

People have been talking about revenge, and I’m not going to do that. I’m not that kind of person, and if I become that type of person, I don’t think I’ll respect myself.”

I’ll also admit that, in March, though, [Hyer and his partner] had dinner at Lemon Grass and we were walking home because it was a warm night, along 4th Avenue. I had forgotten it was a show night, and saw Jeff outside the theater, and it was the first time [since the arrest]. I had not gotten a call or text or anything from Jeff since my arrest.”

It was all I could do not to haul off and hit him in the nose. And I didn’t, I just kept walking home. I got home and immediately called [a friend] and got talked down from the rage I was feeling. I did not even realize that I had that rage.”

Hyer says he believes strongly in forgiveness, “and yet, I have no forgiveness in my heart for Jeff. But he’ll have to deal with his god at some point, and his own karma.” ◙

In the next issue, part 2 of this interview, including on Hyer’s plea deal, the Olympia City Council, and his own future.

Disclosure: Joe Hyer’s business, The Alpine Experience, advertises with Olympia Power & Light. Matthew Green served on the Olympia City Council with Joe Hyer in 2004 and 2005.

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