CHEHALIS, Wash. - A police task force resorted to serving a search warrant on DCYF's Green Hill correctional school in Lewis County, after commanders say their official requests for an investigation were brushed off.
The raid uncovered more than 100 contraband items, including fentanyl, meth, and shanks, that had gone unreported for years.
Law enforcers had been clamoring for an investigation for months. In mid-2023, Centralia Police Chief Stacy Denham, and other leaders of the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET), sent a letter to Governor Jay Inslee alerting him of suspected criminal activity on the Green Hill campus, including an alleged intimate relationship between an employee and a student, overdoses within the facility, and concern that mentors were smuggling drugs to residents.
Denham and the rest of the JNET command staff pressed Governor Inslee to direct the attorney general to open an investigation.
The request was denied, with an explanation that DCYF had already implemented changes, working closely with JNET – even though it was JNET now asking for the investigation.
"He refers to JNET as an organization I need to talk to," said Denham. "You didn’t even pick up the phone and ask me what was going on. You spelled my name wrong for goodness’ sake!"
In the meantime, Denham’s team was continuing to get tips from various sources about additional drugs and overdoses within Green Hill. Frustrated, he and his multi-jurisdiction team got a search warrant to enter the school in late Aug. 2023, directing staff to turn over all contraband.
Body camera footage obtained by FOX 13 News shows what may be best described as a strange search. Staff from Green Hill make light of the situation and seem relieved to rid themselves of years of drugs, cell phones, and weapons that had been confiscated and left to sit in locked filing cabinets—some of it for so long that charges can no longer be brought.
Investigators ask if there’s anything else multiple times, and a staff member continues to remember additional items in office drawers and other locations in their office.
In the end, there were 140 items discovered that had not been turned over to investigators as required. JNET estimated that more than 100 felony cases could have been brought against various residents, though log books indicate that items were "destroyed" at various times.
Gov. Inslee has characterized the search warrant that was carried out as a "miscommunication." While stopping short of calling the situation "fixed," a spokesperson through his office told FOX 13 that correctional facilities as a whole struggle to keep out contraband.
"The state has engaged, made improvements, and has open channels of communication with Chehalis PD," a spokesperson said.
DCYF stated that had the search warrant not been served, they had plans to turn the information over to JNET.
However, the fallout from past mistakes is still playing out in Washington state courts.
While reviewing the new cases submitted to the Lewis County prosecuting attorney as a result of JNET’s raid, FOX 13 News discovered many names that have since been tied to major crimes – among them, Gavin McGregor.
Following his release, McGregor was arrested in Spokane and charged with murder in early 2023. According to court documents, he was part of a bait-and-switch drug deal where a teenager was shot and killed.
Three years before the deadly shooting, McGregor was caught with 85 grams of weed while a resident at Green Hill. A gram of weed sells for roughly $60, according to a court filing related to the case, but that case wasn’t filed until after the deadly shooting in Spokane.
"He should have been charged, wasn’t, gets out of Green Hill," said Denham. "Would that have changed the outcome? We don’t know, but it could have changed the outcome. It’s possible."
"Everyone in Washington should be up in arms about what’s going on here, because it’s impacting everybody from every community. Anybody coming in and out of these facilities or in this case, Green Hill," said McGregor.
A few weeks ago, a staff member was arrested for bringing drugs into the facility. The 42-year-old employee is now facing charges.
Those who worked inside the facility say it’s part of an ongoing issue –and believe staff are behind the flow of drugs into the facility, and that is why the problem hasn’t stopped.
"When people are like, ‘Oh my god, Green Hill – you work with those type of people,’ I say it wasn’t the residents, it was staffing," the former employee said.
She asked that we not reveal her name out of fear of retaliation. However, she served as a counselor and made connections with Green Hill residents – the facility is, after all, meant to rehabilitate young adults who committed crimes as juveniles before their eventual release.
According to her, some residents are trying to turn their lives around – but confided in her that their addictions wouldn’t stop if the flow of drugs didn’t.
"It sucked," she said. "I don’t want to work for a company, or a state, that allows it to happen when staff are saying, ‘Hey, this is happening,’ and you just get a shrug of the shoulders. Nothing is getting done.
"Eventually they’re going to be in our society – they’re young, their minds are still developing. It’s important for us to mold them, guide them, and teach them skills that many didn’t get due to the environments they grew up in."
DCYF said they’ve added training and new protocols at the Green Hill school. They have also increased campus-wide searches and wellness checks.
But already this year, there have been multiple drug-related issues on campus. When FOX 13 learned of five overdoses there in January, we sought comment on what was contributing to the continued problems – they told us that their administrators "count four drug incidents among youth, not five."