January 12, 1998
Jury says councilman is guilty of selling drugs
by Lisa Allen
Valley View Editor
Just before noon last Friday a King County Superior Court jury delivered guilty verdicts in the trial of Duvall City Councilman Ernie Zumwalt who had been charged with one count of selling cocaine and one count of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. Prosecutor Cindi Port had told the jury that Zumwalt had sold cocaine to an undercover informant July 25, and that when he was arrested August 1, police found more cocaine in a traffic vest and canvas bank bag that were in his van.
Zumwalt was in his seat at the regular council meeting last week, the evening before the verdict was delivered. No comments were made at the meeting about the charges or the trial. Duvall Mayor Glen Kuntz said last Friday he was still waiting for confirmation of the verdict, but added if Zumwalt was pronounced guilty he would be immediately off the council. "We will be advertising for someone to fill his council seat," Kuntz said.
Zumwalt was arrested during a drug sting last summer by the Eastside Narcotics Task Force and Duvall police. The jury apparently didn't believe the councilman when he testified last week that he didn't take $40 from the informant for drugs or confess to police that he had done so. He told the jury under questioning from his attorney Anthony Savage, that he had given up using cocaine when he decided to run for the city council, over two years ago. "I needed to get my life and my priorities squared away," he said.
But two police detectives had testified earlier, that when Zumwalt was questioned after his arrest, he initially denied knowing anything about selling drugs, then broke down, admitting to them he used and sold drugs, but "only to a few close friends," naming his friend Randy Trombley as his supplier. Police said when they searched Zumwalt's van during the August 1 arrest, they found cocaine in paper wrappers in a traffic vest with his initials on it and a canvas bank bag.
The informant told the jury he offered to work with police because he saw too many local kids getting hooked on drugs. He said he had been riding through town with Duvall Police Chief Glenn Merryman July 25, when he saw Zumwalt's van parked at the Duvall Tavern. He said he mentioned to Merryman he could possibly make a "buy" from Zumwalt at the tavern, because it appeared the tavern was empty. That was when the Eastside Narcotics Task Force detectives set up the buy, giving the informant $40 for the drugs. Merryman also gave him $5 for a beer. He said he went in the tavern through the side door, observed by Duvall police who were stationed in a patrol car across the street.
He testified he approached Zumwalt, asked for a half-gram, slipping him $40, but Zumwalt told him to wait, since they were being observed by police. But when the informant told him he was buying for a friend who was in a hurry, Zumwalt went out in his van, came back in and they both went into the restroom where he passed the drugs to the informant. Zumwalt contradicted that testimony though, saying that he had told the informant when he asked for the half-gram that he didn't have any, adding "You know better than that." He explained that he went out to his van,but only to get his own pool cue for the pool game he and the informant were playing.
Zumwalt said he obtained the bank bag at a garage sale in Monroe about two weeks before he was arrested. He then left it with Trombley until picking it up about two hours before he was arrested, he said. Zumwalt said he had looked inside the bag when he got it and there was nothing in it. Zumwalt also told the jury he had loaned the informant money, "about $2,000, to buy a car." But the informant testified earlier that Zumwalt had never loaned him money. "I do owe him some money though, since he fronted me cocaine many times," the informant said. The informant told the jury that Zumwalt continued to use cocaine over the past year "almost daily."
Zumwalt also said in court that he worked for the city of Bellevue, but a Bellevue city official who was observing the trial said he had been fired several months ago. Denny Vidmar, assistant director for the utilities department, said the dismissal was related to the drug charges, but added that he couldn't discuss details of the termination because personnel issues were confidential.
In closing arguments, Savage told the jury they don't need to believe everything the police officers said, asking rhetorically, "Do police officers always tell the truth? No, they do not. Do police informants always tell the truth? No, they do not." After the verdict, Zumwalt, who faces three to four years in prison, told reporters that he was not guilty. A sentencing date has not yet been set.