09/26/2018: "Island Rapes Spark Anger, Questions"
By Alex MacLeod
An arrest warrant was issue late last Friday for a homeless man living this summer in Friday Harbor, charging him with child rape for an alleged sexual assault on a 12-year-old Friday Harbor girl.
The sheriff issued a press release about the warrant and charge against Sean (Sunny) Hunter, 24, asking for the public’s help locating him. His physical description is notable for his bright-red “afro” and the five blue tattooed dots running down the bridge of his nose.
Hunter is suspected of two other rapes, each of which occurred after the alleged rape of the 12-year-old and well after the sheriff’s department had been told that Hunter was providing drugs and vaping supplies to a group of underage island girls hanging around Friday Harbor parks, and had propositioned one girl to trade sex for drugs.
Hunter apparently left the island shortly before the $100,000 cash-bail warrant was issued and his whereabouts are not known.
Professionals in the community who work with troubled kids are livid over what they perceive as a lack of concern shown by the sheriff’s department in response to multiple reports of serious allegations against Hunter. Hunter’s behavior, according to their reports to the sheriff, included communicating with a minor for immoral purposes and the illegal sale of drugs and drug and vaping paraphernalia to minors.
They are especially angry because they believe a more serious response could have prevented at least two rapes, and possibly that of the 12-year-old. They believe there are other victims yet to come forward.
They are reluctant to speak publicly because of legal and ethical concerns related to their work. But in interviews they detail multiple contacts with the sheriff’s department as far back as late August, reporting specific concerns based on information reported to them.
Because the investigation is ongoing, Detective Lach Buchanan Tuesday declined to answer questions about how the department investigated Hunter prior to seeking the arrest warrant. Based on half-a-dozen interviews and Buchanan’s probable-cause statement leading to the arrest warrant, here is a timeline of how the case unfolded:
- Wednesday/Thursday, Aug. 22/23- Mary Uri called the sheriff when she discovered a troubled 12-year-old girl staying with her had run away. She went to the sheriff’s office the next morning, told a deputy the girl had been seen hanging out with older homeless guys and described Hunter. Later that afternoon, she spotted the girl on Spring Street and held onto her while a friend called the sheriff’s office. Three officers responded, including Buchanan, who told Uri he had talked to Hunter at HempSeed, the head shop where he worked, and said he found him “mellow.” Buchanan would learn three weeks later that Hunter had allegedly had sex with the 12-year-old the night she ran away in a tent near the Port’s upper parking lot.
- Thursday, Sept 6 - A report was made to the sheriff’s office by another person that Hunter was selling drugs and vaping supplies to underage girls and had propositioned one girl to exchange sex for drugs. The person who made the report, and others who knew about it, followed up, asking what was being done. What they say they got was little information and the feeling that little was being done.
Wednesday, Sept. 12 - An 18-year-old woman sought medical attention and reported being sexually assaulted at Sunken Park by Hunter.
Thursday, Sept. 13 - Based on an interview with the victim, the department chose not to pursue a charge against Hunter because the victim hadn’t said ‘no’ during the assault, several sources who have talked to officers say.
Friday, Sept. 14 - Hunter leaves the island. Buchanan was seen walking onto the ferry with Hunter and was said to have asked where he was going, how he could be contacted and when he would return. Given that he hadn’t been interviewed about the alleged rape two days earlier, it is unclear why no attempt was made to keep him on island. He hasn’t returned.
(There are reports that an under-age island girl was on the ferry with Hunter and that she later reported she had been sexually assaulted by him in Anacortes, but that hasn’t been confirmed. It should be noted that information on minors is, appropriately, very closely held, even when formal charges result.)
Saturday, Sept. 15 - Buchanan was back at the ferry landing, believing Hunter was returning on the 2 p.m. sailing from Anacortes. Hunter wasn’t on the boat. However, while he was waiting the detective was approached by the older sister of the 12-year-old, who told him her sister had been sexually assaulted by Hunter.
Sunday, Sept. 16 - Buchanan met with the 12-year-old and her sister at the sheriff’s office and got details of the alleged sexual assault and were told that Hunter knew the girl was only 12 at the time. (She since has turned 13.) The victim named two others who could corroborate her report.
Monday, Sept. 17 - Buchanan met with the two corroborating witnesses, who confirmed the girl’s accounts, including having heard her tell Hunter her true age.
Friday, Sept. 20 - Buchanan writes his statement of probable cause based on his interviews the prior Sunday and Monday. He wouldn’t explain the three-day delay. The warrant for Hunter was issued later that day, along with Krebs’ press release.
Social media has been awash with speculation about this case, and why law enforcement didn’t step in sooner. The people who work with at-risk kids, who tried to get deputies to address what they saw as Hunter’s illegal and predatory activity, are unhappy with the sheriff’s department and devastated over the harm done to several girls. They also worry that there may be more victims.
As one told me: “The sad thing is this kind of response isn’t out of the ordinary. It has gotten so we don’t count on the department for anything. We just try to take care of things as best we can on our own.”
“We tell our kids, and ourselves, if you see suspicious behavior, call the police,” said Mary Uri, “but that only works if the police respond.”
(Alex MacLeod is a retired newspaperman who lives on Shaw Island.)