Court rules in favor of city of Walla Walla in cash seizure case

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WALLA WALLA — The city of Walla Walla has prevailed, for now, in a case involving one of the largest cash seizures by police in recent memory.

In a ruling issued today, Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht said the city "carried its burden of proof" to support its contention that $401,333.44 seized by police in 2006 was used in or the product of illegal drug activity.

Schacht also ruled the man who claimed the money was his, Adrian Ibarra-Raya, is not the rightful owner.

The ruling followed a two-day civil trial in December. City Attorney Tim Donaldson argued the case for the Walla Walla Police Department and Walla Walla attorney Janelle Carman represented Ibarra-Raya.

The money, much of it packed in vaccum-sealed bags, was discovered along with a small quantity of drugs by police during an early-morning search of a home on St. John Street in July 2006. The search was conducted after police arrested Ibarra-Raya, who was 22 years old at the time, as he attempted to leave out the home’s back door.

Donaldson filed a civil action to have the money forfeited to the police department under Washington’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act and Superior Court Robert Zagelow, who has since retired, ruled in the city’s favor. But the state court of appeals overturned that decision in 2009, saying there were questions that needed to be decided at trial.

An attempt to reach Carman for comment on whether Schacht’s decision will be appealed was not successful.

Donaldson declined comment on the ruling, but said "I'm very appreciative of the hard work that Judge Schacht has put in on this case."

In a release, Walla Walla Police Chief Chuck Fulton said he was grateful for the decision in favor of the city.

"The courts have been reviewing this case for three and a half years," he said. "I’m very pleased with the current outcome and want to express my gratitude to the city’s legal team, my staff who spent countless hours on this investigation and especially to the citizens who have been willing to come forward to provide critical information that has led to a positive conclusion."

If and when the city does get possession of the money, it won't go into the general fund, said police spokesman Ofc. Tim Bennett.

State law mandates it can only be used "for the expansion and improvement" of law enforcement activities aimed at controlled substances, he said.

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