In February, the murder of long-time Orting citizen Mike Compton shook the small town’s sense of safety. What followed was a citizen uprising.
Mike’s murder was only Orting’s second in 15 years. On the night of February 19, 2014, police think he was attempting to protect his property when gas thieves turned his own gun on him. His wife, Nickie Compton, found him dying on their front porch.
Once the initial shock of the murder wore off, Mike’s friend, Chris Hopfauf, also a born-and-raised Orting resident, started a patrol group called “Compton’s Crew.” His goal was to patrol the streets of Orting to let the ne’er-do-wells know that someone was watching and that they’d be caught.
The community rallied behind Compton’s Crew in its infancy. But then, for many, as stories began to surface of alleged profiling and false reporting, the line between citizen patrol and law enforcement began to blur and the backlash began.
Hopfauf funded his crew by selling ribbons in camouflage-pattern material – Mike’s favorite. He said he raised about $600 from the sale of the ribbons and with that money, he was able to purchase Compton’s Crew gear: notebooks, pens, fliers, warning signs and the car magnets that identify Compton’s Crew patrol vehicles.
When Hopfauf started Compton’s Crew, he was unemployed and dedicated most of his time to the job of patrolling. Now, four months later, he’s found some employment but is still dedicated to patrolling in the lonely overnight hours of 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Other members of Compton’s Crew have a regular shift, as well.
I joined Hopfauf for one of his patrols. “We’re just going to take a little drive, I need to go down through Village Green, there’s a lady down there that keeps asking for patrol,” Hopfauf says as he starts up his truck.
He patrols Orting in a grid pattern: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast.
“We need to go through the Northeast neighborhood because that was the neighborhood we were asked to stay out of by a few people,” he says.
You can’t derail Hopfauf from his mission. He’ll even admit that friends have asked him to back down, to stop the patrols, to stop the further divide in the community. But Compton’s Crew is Hopfauf’s outlet to deal with his friend’s murder.
“Anything we can do to keep Mike’s murder out there on the forefront, that’s what it’s all about,” Hopfauf says, as if he’s said it a million times.
Hopfauf says the ugly truth is that Orting has a drug problem and that Compton was an innocent victim of the town’s inability to keep it under control. So, he figured he’d try.
“One of these homes right here is a drug house,” Hopfauf says pointing to a nondescript white house in the middle of a seemingly nice neighborhood. “These are the ones that are coming down and making their drug deals behind this lady’s house here.”
He’s referring to Compton’s Crew supporter Suzy Paschall, who has signs outside of her house thanking Compton’s Crew for their patrols. The side fence of her house is apparently a popular hangout for drug dealers and users.
“She’s picked up needles and foil and baggies and all kinds of stuff,” Hopfauf says.
We patrolled for about two hours by slowly weaving through Orting neighborhoods, slowing for suspected drug houses or anyone who looks out of place. That night we didn’t see any activity that would warrant a call to police. But that’s a far cry from the crime reporting you’ll get on the Compton’s Crew Facebook page.
When Hopfauf isn’t patrolling, he’s at home posting to the Compton’s Crew Facebook page at all hours. He does that on purpose so the “rats” think he’s always watching.
“Rats” is his nickname for the trouble-makers of Orting. Their tales are featured prominently on Hopfauf’s Facebook page, which acts as a message board that might be doing more harm than good for him.
“Some of the language, some of the accusations I’ve used on Facebook, some of the comments I’ve made out of anger or sarcasm were taken to heart and just keep coming back on me time and time again,” Hopfauf says.
Hopfauf tries to ignore the negativity his page has garnered, but when you run on high emotion like he does, it can be hard to turn the other cheek. Even with the support of Mike’s widow, Nickie Compton, it might be too late to undo the bad publicity Compton’s Crew has experienced.
“We want to go a step farther and the accusations of targeting teens has just been grossly exaggerated,” says Hopfauf.
However, during my time in Orting, a citizen slipped me some court documents detailing an encounter between Hopfauf and a group of teens.
Hofauf says the teens harassed him and his 6-year-old son at the park and mooned them in the process. The teens alleged Chris threatened them with a bat and made up a report about “indecent exposure” when the teen says he pulled his pants down slightly to show his friend a skateboarding injury.
Others who spoke with me have their own stories of conflicts between Chris and teens. “It was very aggressive, that is, even the police won’t do that,” says Orting City Councilmember William Birkes of an alleged encounter between his teenage son and Hopfauf.
An anti-Compton’s Crew Facebook page popped up that was made by a group of teens.
Those teenagers were ready to give me an interview during my time in Orting, but backed out saying they’d noticed Hopfauf had backed off in recent days. Other Facebook pages joined in that were seeking to shut down Compton’s Crew.
Community members in the newer housing development in northeast Orting are also fed up with Compton’s Crew. They say Hopfauf has unnecessarily profiled their own teenage kids.
“If you see them doing something criminal, then call the cops. Don’t call just because you want to know if they’re doing something wrong,” says parent Felicia Lariva.
Members of the city council question his motivation, too. And Mayor Joe Pestinger, has concerns about Compton’s Crew running his streets.
“I’ve had people come to me and come to the city council meetings saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute maybe this group is going a little bit overboard and are infringing on our rights,” Pestinger said.
What do you do when there’s a murder in town, you see a drug problem on your streets, and you’re trying to patrol to make things safer? What do you do when there’s pushback from the community and city officials?
Hopfauf is defiant and says he won’t back down.