Feds: Investigation leads to 19 pounds of drugs, gang members in Kent

Kent, Wash. – An operation targeting violent crime in South King County got eleven guns and 19 pounds of illegal drugs off the streets and put six violent criminals behind bars.

These aren’t low level offenders. The men arrested have long criminal histories of drugs, illegal gun possession, and other major crimes dating back to the late 1980s.

Operation East Watch is under the umbrella of Project Safe Neighborhoods which combines the efforts of the US Attorney’s Office, ATF and the Department of Justice.

Their goal is simple to tackle illegal gun possession and gangs. They’re doing it by chopping off the head of the snake or by getting high-ranking gang members and repeat offenders into prison.

“When these kinds of events occur no one feels safe anymore,” said US Attorney Annette Hayes.

How many times can one community deal with police lights filling the neighborhood after yet another shooting and another life taken?  ATF formed a task force to tackle the problem in South King County.

“Focus exclusively on crime gun activity, shootings, homicides, armed robberies involving firearms,” said ATF Special Agent Darek Pleasants.

After four months, ATF officials confiscated eleven handguns, four of them stolen, ballistic vests, police badges and other items used in robberies.

“A firearm in front of you was used in multiple shootings in multiple locations around the area,” said Pleasants.

And it was an argument turned gun fight outside an apartment building in Kent’s East Hill neighborhood that sent the Kaler Family to the ground ducking for cover.

“A bullet came and I got scared,” said Guneet Kaler.

The bullet came plowing through their living room.

“We went outside the window and people were calling police and I immediately called my dad,” said Kaler.

This gun fight like so many others allegedly sparked by the illegal drug business. In Operation East Watch, ATF officials confiscated nearly 20 pounds of prescription opioids, black tar heroin, and other drugs.

“By going after the drugs, finding the guns, taking them off the street. We ended up getting just those people off the streets. The folks who have gang ties and the folks who have long criminal histories and demonstrate they’re dangerous,” said Hayes.

All of the men arrested in Operation East Coast are in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s with criminal histories dating back to the late 80s for multiple felony convictions.

“Not only had felony history but long and serious records. Manslaughter, assault, robberies,” said Hayes.

“The older offender is the career offender. They’ve made a decision that they make their living through criminal activity those are the defenders we’re looking to target,” said Pleasants.

The federal operations aren’t arresting corner boys or low-level offenders.

Their goal is to get guns and career criminals off the streets.  While Operation East Watch is over, Project Safe Neighborhood is ongoing.