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January 5, 1998

Front Page

Zumwalt admits to being a former drug user

  by Lisa Allen
   Valley View Editor

   Ernie Zumwalt used cocaine in the past but hasn't since he was elected to the Duvall City Council two years ago, a 12-member King County Superior Court jury was told last week. "I won't paint Ernie as an angel," Zumwalt's defense attorney Anthony Savage said in opening statements at Zumwalt's trial on drug charges. "In times past he used cocaine,but when he was elected to public office he quit. I anticipate Ernie will take the witness stand and deny the allegations." Zumwalt is charged with selling half a gram of cocaine for $40 to an undercover informant at the Duvall Tavern July 25.
   As trial began early last week in Judge Donald Haley's courtroom, Zumwalt was also charged with possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. Savage attempted to discredit the undercover informant, portraying him as a former drug user and longtime family friend who had lived with Zumwalt and borrowed $2,500 to $3,000 from him, some of which he still owes.
   Savage said Zumwalt admitted he met the informant at the tavern July 25 but claims no exchange of cocaine occurred.
   But Prosecutor Cindi Port told the jury that the informant was searched by police before being given the $40 in "buy" money and no drugs were found before he went to the tavern. The informant was also observed by several officers while going to and from the tavern and also while inside, Port said. She said that officers observed Zumwalt as he met with the informant. Police say Zumwalt then went out to the parking lot to his van before going back inside and into the restroom with the informant. Upon returning to the officers, Port said, the informant handed them a small amount of cocaine wrapped in paper. Then on August 1, she told the jury, Zumwalt was arrested in his van while search warrants were being served at two Duvall residences. "The van was searched and inside a Bellevue city worker's orange vest was found, with the defendant's initials on the collar," she said. "In the vest was cocaine, and also found was a Seafirst bank bag with a lock on it. Consent was obtained to open the bag and cocaine was found in it."
   Eastside Narcotics Task Force Detective Kurt Rasco, who said he was asked to investigate drug trafficking in the Duvall area by local police last summer, testified he spoke with Zumwalt in an interview room after he was arrested on August 1. "At first he (Zumwalt) said he didn't sell or use drugs„he denied everything," Rasco said. "But as the conversation progressed he broke down and sobbed, saying he sold cocaine but only to a few close friends and that he was buying about an "eight-ball" (an eighth of an ounce) of cocaine a week, using about one-half himself and selling the rest." Rasco said, Zumwalt said his supplier was Randal Trombley, nicknamed "Rat." Trombley has pleaded guilty, to charges of delivering cocaine and is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 23.
   Zumwalt was jailed for several days following his arrest and is free on $30,000 bail. He has continued to hold his council position. But the detective admitted under cross examination that he had not recorded Zumwalt's alleged admission of guilt, nor had he asked Zumwalt to sign a confession. Rasco defended his actions, though, saying it would be too difficult to interrupt a confession to look for a tape recorder. Savage also quizzed him about the search of the informant prior to the "buy" at the tavern and what type of lighting was available. Rasco answered that he didn't search the informant's shoes, wallet or underwear and didn't recall the clothing that informant had been wearing. He described using "ambient" lighting from the alley about two blocks from the tavern during the search.
   Savage called for a mistrial after Rasco had testified that in his opinion, the informant was reliable. "It's not appropriate for him to comment on the reliability or unreliability of an informant," he told the judge. But Judge Haley said he would only put the motion on record.
   The trial is expected to conclude early this week, with testimony scheduled from the informant and Duvall police officers.