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Locke Administration thwarts local arrests
Mattawa activists retreat
MATTAWA (Thursday 10-8-98)--Forgetting their recent rhetoric, farmworker "advocates" have removed themselves from the state employment security office they occupied for several days.
 
Estimates were between eight and 12 leftist activists occupied the state-leased building.
 
Marie Hitchcock, ES supervisor overseeing Moses Lake and Mattawa offices, said "They have gone. The last three departed early this morning...Some left late last night".
 
Hitchcock said the group's leaders were Roberto Maestas and Ricardo Sanchez, both of Seattle. Hitchcock's tone of voice was quite different from yesterday's, when she said "they're watching me" as she talked with YVN reporters.
 
Maestas heads up El Centro de a Raza. Sanchez was public affairs director for Democrat and ex-state school chief Judith Billings. Both are graying, old time activists.
 
Sanchez reportedly told one reporter he was acting as a "consultant" to the motley bunch occupying the Mattawa ES office.

YVN asked Mattawa Mayor Judy Esser whether city policy was to welcome burglars who "occupy" a building under the pretense of "farmworker advocacy", whether the state OKs it or not. Answer: If local ES staff didn't want them where they were, they would have been jailed, said the Mayor.

 
"I felt (burglars) wanted to be arrested. The press was there, the cameras were rolling. If they had been arrested they'd have looked like heroes in our little town. That's what they wanted," said Mayor Esser.
 
She added that she has received lots of calls from the Yakima Valley, asking why the "advocates" were allowed to take over a state building, paid for by taxpayers. She indicated it's because staters allowed it to happen, effectively tying local officials' hands.
 
She also said if building owner Don Toci had known of the occupation and wanted them out, that also would have allowed police to arrest the burglars.
 
Esser last night held a meeting in her offices with Manuel Romero, state director for the Commission for Hispanic Affairs. They discussed with "advocates" their out-of-the-blue occupation of state offices. Esser said her meeting with Romero and "advocates" was not a meeting to negotiate.
 
"(Romero) was only there to listen. I just listened as well. I believe a lot of the problems were miscommunication between the occupying group and the community action council providing motel and other services to farmworkers," Esser said. Advocates apparently didn't know about Community Action's help for local farmworkers before they commandeered state offices.
 
After they learned of it, however, they complained the motels were "too far away" and farmworkers had a hard time getting to their job sites.
 
If it had been up to Mattawa Police Chief Randy Blackburn, "They would have all gone to jail", he said.
 
But, he said, the state Job Service and governor's office got in his way.
"I was all set to arrest the whole bunch of them. Ricardo Sanchez was advised of that fact. I told him ' I will be arresting you people for burglary'," Blackburn said.
 
But Blackburn said staters told him at one point they didn't want to 'raise a stink'. "If I'd of had my choice they'd have all gone to jail," said the chief.
 
Don Toci, Beverly, owner of the building at 319 Government Rd., was unhappy with the way his state-funded renters handled things. He noted it was the YVN, not ES, that informed him of his building's occupation yesterday afternoon.
 
"Of course ES was concerned with the safety of their staff. But they should have gone to police. Police are there to protect people and property," he said.

Toci was unaware police tried to protect staff and property, but were thwarted by Democrat state officials, who okayed the "Mattawa occupation".

 
Toci said he has been on the phone "a dozen times" with state officials who have promised to assure him in writing the state will pay for any damages to his building.
 
"I'm waiting for written confirmation they are going to take care of any problems. When I have that letter in hand, I need to go see the building. I will go in before the day's over to inspect, and create an inventory of what has happened," he said.
 
"They were in there for two or three nights and days. They ate in there, and slept in there. So were going to go take a look-see. We'll have qualified people to check the heating and cooling system. They were exposed to some degree ; (burglars) had access to it," he said. He said his Olympia contact for state leasing is April Doris.
 
Toci emphasized the situation was poorly handled. "These things happen, and have for a long time. The state should provide training to their staff about what to do in these situations," Toci said.
 
Toci said local ES staff should have immediately called himself and Mattawa police.