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Valley man won't get time after confrontation with county
SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - He could have landed in prison for years, but former Microsoft engineer Charles Strouss will do 20 hours of community service for brandishing a shotgun in front of two county code enforcers in November.
Strouss had at least four things going for him:
* He had no criminal record.
* He had a right to protect his rural 40 acres between Fall City and Redmond.
* He apologized to the two code-enforcement officers who were investigating an environmental complaint over work Strouss was doing on his land.
* And he was falsely arrested at gunpoint in his home last April.
That arrest, just hours after appearing in court on two felony charges of second-degree assault, drew the media's attention and made Strouss a reluctant hero to those steeped in the property-rights movement. Like other rural residents, he was feeling some anger over the recent passage of the critical areas ordinances.
It sparked an angry e-mail from Strouss to Sgt. John Urquhart, a Sheriff's Office spokesman, in which he likened his arrest to the actions of "Third World death squads." In response, Urquhart said the officers were serving what they thought was an active warrant.
A clerk simply hadn't had time to remove the warrant from the computer system after Strouss' court appearance earlier in the day.
County prosecutors looked at the law and the circumstances of his arrest and decided to work out a deal with Strouss, short of going to trial. They had found some "legal hurdles."
Strouss is now charged with brandishing a weapon, a misdemeanor. A defense is that he did so at his own home.
"As such, there was a significant chance that the case would result in acquittal," said Mark Larson, the county's chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney.
There's a question whether Strouss actually pointed the gun at the two county employees. They told a detective he did.
Then there was the arrest the afternoon of April 7, just hours after the court appearance. Exhausted, Strouss had headed to bed with his wife. About 3 p.m., four men got out of an SUV and came to his front door. He asked them repeatedly to identify themselves. He said they didn't. But Urquhart told the Journal in April that for their own safety, officers always identify themselves.
"The facts surrounding Mr. Strouss' erroneous arrest, at gunpoint in his own home, was also something that would not have played well in a trial," Larson said.
Besides the legal issues, Larson pointed to Strouss' willingness to apologize to the code-enforcement officers and express regret for his actions. He said that "could not have happened had we simply gone to trial."
Urquhart said the outcome sounds fair. "We are sorry he was arrested the second time when he didn't need to be," he said.
Rodney McFarland of May Valley, president of the regional Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, doesn't think the settlement sets a precedent, but it supports the cherished American principle that a man's home is his castle.
Strouss' clash with the code-enforcement officers shows the need for clearly posted no-trespassing signs and for county officials to approach property owners with no ambiguity about their purpose, he said.
Besides straightening out his legal problems over the past several months, Strouss also hired professionals to fix the drainage problems caused by nearby development that drew county officials in the first place.
This story originally appeared in the King County Journal.