Kent Council hears of car-jacking death, closure of Habanero Restaurant

By Jack Mayne

The Kent City Council was told on Tuesday (April 16) of the death in a car-jacking case, along with the closure of an habitually troubled Meeker Street restaurant.

Chief Rafael Padilla provided the Council with an update in the car-jacking case that led to the death of 38-year old Jered Sperling. Police say that a suspect has been identified as a 23-year old Kent resident. Investigators are not releasing his name as he has not been formally charged yet.

Person cooperating
Kent Police investigators earlier said one person is cooperating, and it has been determined that he is not a suspect in this case. On Tuesday night, the Chief told Council that the owner of a car that was stolen was in the vehicle when the perpetrator drove away, and on Tuesday morning officers found the owner of the car dead in a pickup truck on East Hill. He is a 38-year old father and husband, and was a Kent resident (read our previous coverage here).

Padillla said his information is that the incident was a random car theft of an unattended truck “which unfortunately and tragically led to tragedy.”

He said Tuesday night that police have strong leads in the case, and that he believes an arrest will occur soon.

Habanero closed
The chief said officers were able to shut down two businesses that “are a blight on our community.”

One that “has been a problem for many months,” is the Habanero Restaurant at 1819 West Meeker Street. There were reported many “open transactions, underage drinking all kinds of violations,” the chief told Council, “and most concerning, people shooting firearms in their parking lot on a regular basis, just because.” It was a difficult cast to get, he said, but on March 22 the management was served with arrest warrants, there “were 29 initial criminal charges filed and several more pending.”

Habanero “will not open again in Kent,” Padilla said.

Historic problem
The other case was “an historic problem house up on East Chicago Street” on Kent’s East Hill. He said police have made arrests several times, but it keeps “coming back.”

Police have “hit that house at least three times with the SWAT team and, like bad weeds, the problems kept coming back.”

Recent reports of mail theft, felony theft, ID theft ring, forgery — “it was a hub for criminal activity” and Kent Police worked “hard on that case just to develop probably cause.” The SWAT team two weeks ago made two primary arrests at the East Chicago Street location and several felony charges have been filed.

“So, for at least the time being, the problem house has been shut down,” said Chief Padilla.

Officers get lifesaving award
The Chief then told Council that Kent Police Officers Jeremiah Johnson and Doug Westcott (pictured above) were to be awarded life saving awards. The chief said on March 1 the two were in a police car on their way to the station when a call came in about a fight at an East Hill convenience store where one of the people had collapsed what what police believed was a heart attack.

The two officers performed “life saving measures” to the man.

Chief Padilla said the city also recently received a special award for 2016 and 2017 from the Special Olympics Washington at the recent Police Chief’s Association. It was for the department’s work with the special olympics in the past but the 2019 run is May 31, said Padilla. The Kent Police portion is from Des Moines to Federal Way.

New chamber boss welcomed
Mayor Dana Ralph welcomed the incoming Kent Chamber of Commerce Executive Zenovia Harris, a Kent resident who starts in May. She told the Council she is an avid volunteer and serves also as the chairman of the Kent Human Services Commission. She says her goal is to serve the city.

Ralph said the city works closely with the Kent Chamber, and that she looks forward to working with the organization and Harris.