Drugs likely caused death of woman camping at fairgrounds

Posted 1/22/21

The 23-year-old woman who was found dead last month at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds appears to have passed away as a result of drug use.

Victoria K. Brown was found face down outside her …

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Drugs likely caused death of woman camping at fairgrounds

Posted

The 23-year-old woman who was found dead last month at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds appears to have passed away as a result of drug use.

Victoria K. Brown was found face down outside her trailer at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds just before 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29.

Prosecuting Attorney James Kennedy, who also serves as the Jefferson County Coroner, said that he wanted to wait for a report from the medical pathologist before definitively offering a cause of death.

That said, Kennedy noted that preliminary toxicology reports sent to a private lab found the presence of metabolites from multiple drugs and a large dose of methamphetamine in Brown’s system at the time of her death.

Kennedy said the drugs present in Brown’s body most likely contributed to her demise.

Kennedy would not comment if he anticipated any criminal charges to be filed in connection with Brown’s death.

Police earlier said foul play wasn’t a factor in her death. But Kennedy noted that marks found around Brown’s neck initially caused some suspicion among detectives; further investigation by a medical pathologist revealed the marks were most likely not associated with strangulation.

A going concern

Homeless camping at the county fairgrounds in Port Townsend has been controversial in the past year, as neighbors have raised concerns over noise, drug use, garbage and other issues.

Local officials have met repeatedly with residents in the neighborhoods around the fairgrounds, as well as with campers and organizations that provide services to the homeless.

At the time of her death, Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) had a monitor assigned to the grounds who was responsible for conducting regular walkthroughs of the areas where homeless individuals have congregated.

Authorities have not said how long Brown had been deceased before she was discovered.

The person who was working as a monitor at the campgrounds that night was subsequently removed from the position, according to OlyCAP.

“Given the information we had about where the young lady was located, potentially our staff maybe should’ve been able to see her and didn’t,” said Cherish Cronmiller, executive director for OlyCAP. “I just think that ideally our monitors walking around regularly would be able to see such a situation.”

Cronmiller said in the wake of Brown’s death, the group made the decision to remove the monitor that had been on duty and assign additional staff to the location.

She said it was not necessarily the duty of monitors at the fairgrounds to intercede in such events, rather they are advised to contact emergency services when dangerous situations arise.

Working toward progress

Cronmiller said the fairgrounds have presented a unique challenge to administering homeless support services and overseeing those who have pitched their tents and parked their trailers there since the outset of the pandemic.

That may be changing in the days ahead, she said.

“People at the fairgrounds are not the same type of encampment as people are seeing elsewhere in Washington state,” she explained. “The land itself is leased by a nonprofit, so it’s not the same had they squatted in a city or county park or public right of way. Had they done that, those would be some different circumstances.”

Basically, Cronmiller said, the people at the fairgrounds cant’ be kicked out because of last year’s moratorium on evictions. Many of the individuals who have been problematic continue to stay at the fairgrounds without any repercussions.

“A lot of the folks there have this misconception that nothing can happen to them,” she said. “They can do whatever they want and nobody can do anything to them because police aren’t really arresting; they’re not putting people in jail as much because of COVID.”

The tenuous situation at the fairgrounds, Cronmiller said, is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and, as such, the grounds should be classified as an emergency COVID overflow shelter.

At last week’s county commissioner meeting, Commissioner Greg Brotherton noted the Jefferson County Fair Board was considering a contract with OlyCap to essentially make the unsheltered population at the fairgrounds a temporary emergency COVID shelter.

“If there are bad actors that are endangering health or safety at the fairgrounds or are refusing to comply with the covenants for shelter participation, that there are consequences,” Brotherton said.

“Right now, there’s kind of a revolving door where it’s an unsecured facility with no consequences for any action,” he added. “If someone gets asked to leave, they’ll turn right around and walk right back in.”

The number of homeless sleeping at the fairgrounds is a small number of the county’s homeless population. The level of problems that have arisen are not, though.

“There are impacts that are pretty negative,” Brotherton said.

Providing supportive services

Cronmiller noted that the reclassification of the fairgrounds would allow the nonprofit fair board that runs it to contract with OlyCAP to provide homeless services onsite.

“We would essentially treat the campgrounds, the fairgrounds, as an overflow shelter,” she said. “That would mean that folks would get entered into our system, so we would know who was there, how many folks were there, what categories they fell into — are they a veteran, seniors, do they have disabilities? That tells us what they potentially can qualify for with respect to a subsidy or something of that nature.”

It would also allow the group to create rules by which the residents would have to abide. The newly signed eviction moratorium, she added, will also provide the group a bit more leeway to bring some order back to the fairgrounds.

“The new eviction moratorium signed by the governor does not include shelters and language where the length of stay is conditional upon a resident’s participation in and compliance with supportive services program,” she said.

“These residents would need to participate in and comply with our supportive services program. If they did not, then they would be asked to leave.”         

While she said she hopes a contract between the fair association and OlyCAP would bring about some peace of mind and stability for residents at the grounds, Cronmiller acknowledged that it would still be a short term, stop-gap measure.

“It does provide more structure. I think it provides more organization; I think that it hopefully will allow some of the folks there to feel safer and feel like they are being engaged for services. This would be a temporary measure, though, because ideally we want to find a space to move these folks to,” she said. “It’s not as if all of a sudden housing is going to become available for everyone, that’s not realistic.”

Brotherton said the arrangement would also lead to improved monitoring at the fairgrounds; from 12 hours a day, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., to 24 hours a day.

There also has been talk of bringing in improved shelters — small sheds that the county classifies as “wooden tents” — that would be more durable than the camping tents now used by some of the campers. Those structures could be removed and taken elsewhere when the COVID shelter is shut down.

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Who are all the low-income/mentally ill

people of this city buying their methamphetamine

from? So many of the people we observe accessing

assistance from local behavioral health and adult

daycare programs are losing weight and teeth faster

than Steve Prefontaine ran the mile. If the local

police will do some detective work to figure THAT

piece out, it'd go a long way toward making the

homeless issue easier to solve. As it is, anywhere

these people are placed, they're going to keep right

on abusing methamphetamine, which will lead to

eviction again. We have already lost several precious

lives in this community, due to the use of crystal

methamphetamine. It's time we have a task force

specific to this trgedy; otherwise, the homeless

problem will never be solved. Methamphetamine

use absolutely prevents people from being able

to be good neighbors or responsible members of

any community into which they are placed. Find

and convict the local meth dealers; then the

homeless issue can become a solution-oriented

and community-centered challenge. The police

need to find the dealers, and the justice system

needs to make punishment for dealers and

manufacturers such a hassle they decide it's

no longer profitable to do business in PT.

Saturday, January 23