Puyallup police get educated on new frontier of drug labs

Department hopes officers will be better prepared for future responses

Staff writerJune 4, 2014 

Siding is blown off a home where a THC/hash oil extraction drug lab exploded the night of May 20 on Shaw Road in Puyallup. Puyallup patrol officers have now been trained on how to safely and effectively respond to future incidents like this one.

DREW PERINE/NEWS TRIBUNE PHOTO

When an unexpected THC/hash oil drug lab explosion occurred in the 1500 block of Shaw Road on May 20, the Puyallup Police Department and Central Pierce Fire and Rescue responded not wholly knowing what to expect.

“We never have had anything like this before,” said Captain Scott Engle, spokesperson for the police department. “This is fairly new on the radar screen in our area. We’re just now starting to see (these drug labs) around here. There’s only been three others known in Pierce County prior to ours.”

But by far, experts are saying this is the most significant incident on record in the South Sound region. Engle said these kind of THC/hash oil operations are becoming more and more prevalent, because people can now easily learn how to start one just by viewing a You Tube video.

Up until May 20, Engle said there had been no specific training related to THC/hash oil extraction labs. Hash oil is THC — the part of marijuana that gives users their high — in its purest form.

Incidentally, just six days prior to the lab explosion, Captain Ryan Portmann of the police department was part of a training on this very topic presented to him by the Pierce County Law and Fire Training Committee. Portmann was planning to bring this training forward to the department, Engle explained.

Last Friday, patrol officers completed an online in-house training module teaching them about hash oil extraction hazard safety for first responders.

Officers were trained on the very basics of how drug labs are developed, the definitions of THC and hash oil, how to recognize signs that there is a drug lab in the area and also post-investigation techniques and considerations.

The module also showed officers visuals of the different products used in drug labs, how to safely respond to an incident, how to report and what to document.

“We hope officers will be able to recognize, respond, safely process and have a good solid case to prosecute,” Engle said.

Engle said the training module was produced by a Colorado law enforcement agency in response to the legalization of marijuana in that state. The training module is certified by FEMA and the U.S. Fire Administration.

Washington state legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. Though it is legal to smoke pot recreationally, Engle said the extraction of hash oil is illegal. Hash oil, he said, is more potent than marijuana.

The suspect in the drug lab explosion, 20-year-old Seth Michael Cleek, was arrested and detained in the Pierce County Jail on May 21 on charges of unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance, five charges of reckless endangerment and one charge of reckless burning.

No injuries were reported during the incident. Only a nearby vehicle and the home on the property sustained significant damage.

Andrew Fickes: 253-552-7001 andrew.fickes @puyallupherald.com Twitter: @herald_andrew

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