Have a Heart Greenwood is a recreational and medical marijuana store in a high-visibility location on the corner of a busy intersection, right across from a bustling Fred Meyer. It's in a distinctive building on Northwest 85th Street—a former all-ages club that happened to be painted with a very pot-shop-appropriate green-and-white checkerboard pattern. But none of that prevented it from being the target of a robbery on Sunday, August 7.
Everything was operating as normal that night, except that the store was short its usual security guard. According to owner Ryan Kunkel, the guard called in that morning and said he couldn't make it to work, due to a party on a boat with some very compelling women. Informed he would lose his job, Kunkel's employee replied, according to Kunkel, "Boss, I'm young, I can find another job. But I can never go on a boat with girls like this again."
As bad luck would have it, the store got robbed that night.
At about 10 p.m., when the store was closing for the day, one of the budtenders, Nyhier Manning, elected to do the perimeter sweep of the store, the kind of sweep that would normally have been done by the security guard. That's when Manning was accosted by two men outside the store, identified by police as John Stewart and Cameron Patterson in the first of multiple police reports.
Stewart was, according to police, wearing a "baseball cap with built-in lights in the brim of the cap, a dark colored hooded sweatshirt, a Halloween mask, black latex gloves, two-tone colored tennis shoes, and [was] armed with a Glock .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol." Patterson was also wearing a baseball cap with built-in lights and a Halloween mask. Stewart approached Manning, the report says, and "placed the semi-automatic pistol into [his] ribs and demanded he knock on the door of the dispensary in order to get [the two other budtenders inside] to open the door."
"Manning, fearing for his safety, knocked on the front door of the dispensary," the report continues. "[Another employee] who heard the knock opened the door to the dispensary and observed Manning standing there with Stewart and Patterson standing behind him. Manning quietly told [the employee], 'We're being robbed, lock the door.' [The employee] attempted to close and lock the door, but Stewart and Patterson grabbed the door, pulled it open, and forced their way into the dispensary."
Obviously, if guys with weird hats and Halloween masks point a gun at you, you do what they ask. According to the police, Manning and the employee who answered the door were forced to the ground at gunpoint. Allegedly, Patterson zip-tied their hands together behind their backs. Stewart noticed a third employee, who had been "in a different room counting out her cash tray," and "walked back to her location and ordered her down on to the floor at gunpoint." She was forced to keep her face down while Stewart zip-tied her hands behind her back as well. All employees secured, Stewart and Patterson allegedly proceeded to empty the safe, grab themselves $900 in cash and $20,000 worth of pot, and bounce.
What happened next we all know well from the local news: Damon Martinez, the store's manager, had been watching the store's cameras from home, as is the store's standard fail-safe procedure. He saw the robbery going down, called in the cops, and the two creatively costumed robbers were nabbed as they left the store and arrested.
What the local news didn't know, however, when they first broadcast this story, is that the robbery appears to have been an inside job. The initial version of the story—the robbers creeping up on Manning in the parking lot, shoving a gun in his ribs, and bursting into the store to zip-tie Manning and his compatriots—is missing a few key details.
Manning, the budtender ambushed outside, wasn't actually ambushed, Have a Heart's chief security consultant Steve Round now alleges. Recent charging documents obtained from the King County prosecutor's office corroborate this. When Detective Michael Magan, the officer in charge of investigating the incident, came to the store to review footage with Round, discrepancies in Manning's story began to emerge.
"They walked in [to the store] and drew like this," Round told me when we met in person recently. He demonstrated the robbers' moves by reaching across his chest and inside his jacket, like James Bond would after slipping past the villain's amateurish security. The robbers' guns, said Round, only came into play after they entered the store. Moreover, the footage appeared to show Manning walking behind the robbers as they approached the entrance, not being forced forward at the point of a gun.
According to police, Manning was in on it the whole time. The final police report, included in the charging documents for the three conspirators, corroborates the story. (Calls to Manning's attorney were not returned.)
But by the time Detective Magan and the Have a Heart guys had put two and two together, Manning had already quit his job and split to LA. The robbery hadn't been a success, but Manning had gotten away. Kunkel and Martinez, unwilling to let him off the hook, came up with a crafty plan to lure him back. Kunkel told me he sent Manning a text, telling him that he and his wife wanted to do something nice for the employees who were victims of the robbery, and that he should come back by the store when he was in town. Martinez completed the ruse, texting Manning independently to let him know that Kunkel had dropped off an envelope full of cash with his name on it. Manning conveniently found himself back in Seattle soon after, and gave Martinez a time he'd be dropping by. He got cuffs instead of cash.
The cops had enough probable cause to arrest Manning, thanks to some careful perusal of the surveillance video. After Manning was taken into custody, Magan ran his fingerprints and discovered his legal name used to be Sean Sylve. Kunkel and Round then hopped on Facebook and confirmed that Sylve, Stewart, and Patterson were all Facebook friends. It appeared they had been communicating prior to the robbery. Any doubt that it appeared to be an inside job was dispelled. Indeed, Magan said that inside jobs were pretty common for these sorts of things.
"There's always somebody," he said. "I think in 80 to 90 percent of dispensary robberies, there is a nexus to an employee." Last year in May, the Seattle P-I reported that Bellevue's Origin Cannabis Company had been robbed by a disgruntled former employee.
No one has been convicted of anything yet, but all three face charges. While the armed robbers' heist was ultimately fruitless, and Stewart and Patterson's alleged mole friend was ultimately uprooted as well, the appearance that the three alleged criminals had such elaborate plans and that one of them almost got away with it speaks to a much larger issue: Pot shops are perceived as especially lucrative targets for crime. They don't typically have as much cash as you might imagine, however. Round employs an elaborate and ever-shifting system of cash drops to ensure that there is never a large amount of cash on hand.
Nevertheless, you see headlines like "America's Marijuana Companies Can't Put Money in Banks" right next to "Washington State Surpasses $1 Billion in Retail Marijuana Sales," and it's no surprise that some people see dollar signs. In Washington State, increasingly, we actually do have local credit unions that take cannabis accounts and their cash, and savvy cannabis security people like Round, and detectives like Magan. But the byzantine, esoteric operations of straight-shooting cannabis security professionals aren't exactly making headlines. No, those are reserved for the buzzy "Green Rush." Round summed it up neatly, observing, "They call this the Green Rush. Well, for crooks it's the Green Rush, too. The fleas come with the dog."