Officer shares story of son’s drug addiction

Seventh in a series

MARYSVILLE – Chris Sutherland counsels families with drug problems.

They sometimes ask: “What do you know? You’re a cop with a perfect family.”

Far from it, he says. His son has been a drug addict for six years. He has been in jail as much as not. And he has been homeless, sleeping under bridges and at elementary school playgrounds.

Almost 22, his son is doing better now. He has a full-time job and bought a truck. But just the other night, Sutherland received a call from a colleague late at night. He was afraid his son had relapsed.

“Every day I still expect the worse,” he said.

He found out his son was skateboarding in Stanwood and had driven his truck onto the grass to shine the headlights on the park. The officer wanted to know if Sutherland wanted to help. At first the Marysville-Pilchuck school resource officer thought no – he did not want to enable his son. But he changed his mind because he really is trying to turn his life around – this time.

That has not always been the case.

Sutherland, an M-P graduate, first found out about his son heading the wrong direction at age 15. He was caught with three other juveniles tagging property.

“It was all over the place. There was a lot of damage,” Sutherland told the Marysville Police Citizens Academy recently.

He pushed his fellow officers to be tough on his son, hoping it would get him to turn his life around, but “man did that backfire.”

Sutherland started going through his son’s stuff and finding spoons for meth.

“That was a gut punch to me. How could my own kid do this?” he asked. “It was almost in plain sight.”

Since his son didn’t have a job, he stole stuff to buy drugs.

“He’d get a slap on the wrist,” Sutherland said.

His son managed to get into Drug Court. His parents hoped that would “fix it all.”

It didn’t. Every Friday they would go to court from 3-5 p.m. His son would disrespect the judge – “Everything is stupid” – and fail the urine drug test.

“It was hell. My own blood. These kids don’t think anything will happen to them.”

His son was sent to treatment. He was clean for 28 days.

But that just started a revolving door of treatments. If his son came home Sutherland would just call police to take him to Denney Juvenile Justice Center in Everett because he had so many warrants out for his arrest.

“That was the hardest thing,” the dad said.

The officer said his son became very street smart, cooking up heroin in their family bathroom. Sutherland thought about taking the door off that room so his son couldn’t get away with it. The SRO did take the door off his kid’s bedroom.

Sutherland was concerned when his son turned 18 because he would not longer be taken to the “day camp pajama party at Denney.” But he got tired of the boy disrespecting the family, so Sutherland booted him out.

He was homeless for awhile. He ended up staying in some of the most-disgusting places in town.

“You don’t realize when you’re using” how filthy it is, his son told him.

Sutherland said at one of the many counseling session he and his wife were told they were enablers. The counselor said by taking his son to the urine testing appointments, the officer was enabling him.

“If it was heroin he’d find a way” to get to the appointment, Sutherland said. “He was an all-star at getting drugs.”

It is so hard to raise a son like that.

“You don’t know what the right call is,” he said. “I’d ask, ‘Where did I fail you?’ It’s like talking to a wall waiting for a response.”

What makes it even harder to understand is his daughter is an excellent student who is now attending the University of Washington.

“We didn’t do anything different with our kids,” Sutherland said.

A judge finally sent his son to Yakima County Jail for 23 months. The family went over there twice to see him, even though the visits were only by video. Sutherland could see it was a scary place. Different races couldn’t intermingle or there would be a stabbing.

He had his son talk to his attorney, who was able to get him out after a year.

Sutherland said he slept well that year.

“It’s amazing when you know where your kid is,” he said, adding it had gotten so bad before that they actually planned the young man’s funeral, thinking that would be his future under that lifestyle.

Sutherland said his son looks good after being clean for a year. Scars have gone away, and he talks “normalish.”

He used to think addiction was a choice, but now he knows it’s also a disease caused by an imbalance in the brain.

His son still hangs out with many of his old friends, but luckily many of them have grown up and come clean.

Sutherland said with his personal experience, he feels more than qualified to counsel others for drug problems.

“I know what they’re going through. They are not alone,” he said.

Recalling M-P shooting

Sutherland is the school resource officer at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. He was there at the deadly shooting in the cafeteria 2 1/2 years ago.

Of the shooter, who killed four others and wounded one, Sutherland said, “I can’t believe he did that at my school. He was a good kid.”

He said sadly youth didn’t learn from that tragedy. Prior to the shooting, comments were made on social media, but no one told authorities.

That hasn’t changed.

“They don’t want to be a snitch,” Sutherland said. “But it’s not being a snitch. It’s being responsible, especially if it could save a life.”

He called social media “the devil.”

Youth don’t know how to communicate anymore, he said. They can’t simply debate an issue without getting angry.

“They’re keyboard tough,” he said.

Sutherland said the shooting did “heighten awareness” at M-P.

Lockers are no longer used, so he said he finds students carrying knives and drugs in their backpacks almost daily. He said he can’t help but think, “There’s a gun in that backpack.”

Sutherland said there are six full-time counselors at M-P, with two mental health professionals. He fears many students who see them are just trying to get out of class.

“The ones who need it don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

Sutherland said security has gotten tighter since the shooting. Even if students are kidding around, adults still have to take any comments or activities seriously.

“Even if it’s an emoji of a gun,” he said. “We can’t take things lightly. It’s overboard in a way.”

As for gangs, Marysville police go after that right away. They have those students sign a gang contract if they want to stay in school so they can’t wear the gang’s colors. “I wish every school would go to uniforms,” he said, not just to deter gangs, but also to keep kids from stealing clothes.

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