Father, Daughter from Nooksack File Federal and State Civil Rights Lawsuits Against Whatcom County, Tribal Law Enforcement

Nooksack Elder George Adams, at right, and his daughter Elile Adams, at center, during a 2019 Canoe Journey landing.

Published August 15, 2019

George Adams, the last fluent Nooksack speaker, was assaulted by Nooksack police, while his daughter Elile was falsely arrested and jailed by Whatcom County

SEATTLE — On Friday, Elile Adams, 33, filed companion lawsuits against Nooksack Tribal and Whatcom County law enforcement agents in theU.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington and Whatcom County Superior Court, arising from her false arrest and incarceration on July 30, 2019.  Her father George, 69, joined his daughter’s state court lawsuit after he was brutalized that day by Nooksack police officers for asking why they were entering his home to arrest his daughter.

“Nooksack is a violent police state. That’s nothing new,” said Gabriel S. Galanda, the Adamses’ counsel. “What’s new is Whatcom County aiding and abetting Nooksack’s racketeering, in violation of the U.S Constitution.”

In federal court, Elile seeks a writ of habeas corpus against Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo and Corrections Chief Wendy Jones to rectify “her unlawful detention and restraint.”  In superior court, Elile and George allege “an abuse of judicial process” and acts of police brutality and incompetence against Tribal law enforcement actors.  They intend to add Whatcom County actors to the state lawsuit after a sixty-day administrative tort notice period runs.

George Adams is a respected Nooksack Tribal Elder and the last remaining speaker of the Nooksack language, Lhéchelesem.  Since at least 2016, George has been a “staunch defender” of, and traditional spokesperson for, the Nooksack 306.  Elile has also been a vocal supporter of theNooksack 306 and critic of purported Nooksack Tribal officials who have oppressed them.

On the morning of July 30, the day after the Adamses returned home from the Northwest Tribes’ annual Canoe Journey, three Nooksack Tribal police officers, Francisco Sanchez, Daniel Bennett, and Brandon Farstad, arrived at their front door. While Elile’s 5-year-old daughter watched Disney cartoons from the living room couch, George stepped out from his home with his lawyer on speakerphone to ask the Tribal officers under what pretense they were there to arrest Elile.  Sanchez, Bennett, and Farstad each refused to identify themselves.

Without any provocation whatsoever according to a four-and-a-half-minute audio recording, Sanchez, Bennett, and Farstad each grabbed George by his arms. Bennett slapped George’s phone out of his hand and kneed him in the groin. The three officers threw George against a concrete sidewalk and stairway, causing bleeding to his hand and contusions to his legs. Farstad placed George in a chokehold then Sanchez, Bennett, and Farstad violently rotated his torso to handcuff him, spraining his left toes.  They broke his prescription eyeglasses.

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Farstad detained George in the back of a hot patrol car without cracking the window for over thirty minutes before citing him for “Obstructing a Public Official” and “Resisting Arrest.”

Sanchez, Bennett, and Farstad then handcuffed and arrested Elile for failing to personally appear before purported Nooksack Tribal Court Chief Judge Ray Dodge on July 11, 2019.  Elile was on the Canoe Journey but her public defender appeared for her on July 11. Even though she had personally appeared before Dodge no less than eighteen times since March 2017, Dodge issued a warrant for her arrest anyway.

Elile Adams’ criminal arrest arises from a Nooksack Tribal Court civil parenting proceeding that Dodge himself initiated against Elile in March 2017, despite knowing that (1) he lacked any authority to act as Chief Judge according to three determinations issued in 2016 by the United States Department of the Interior; and (2) he also lacked jurisdiction due to a pre-existing Whatcom County Superior Court parenting proceeding of 2014, in which Elile was awarded primary residential custody over her daughter.  Dodge has issued no less than twenty orders against Elile over the last twenty-nine months.

Before July 30, Elile had never before been criminally cited or arrested in her life.

“Dodge has made my life a living nightmare,” said Elile. “So much so that I have sought asylum and protection from him in the Lummi Nation.”

In April 2019, Elile obtained citizenship with the Lummi Nation for herself and her daughter, after relinquishing each of their enrollments with the Nooksack Tribe in January 2019.

“Historically, Native nations were communities of kinfolk bound together by sacred lands, languages, liberties, and cosmologies. When social or subsistence conditions deteriorated, they grouped together ever more tightly to confront whatever difficult conditions had arisen.” said Dr. David Wilkins, a leading scholar on tribal citizenship issues.

“Today, however, some Native communities like Nooksack have degraded into a state of an anarchic nation. Tribal politicians have created such a despotic social and political climate that Tribal citizens are seeking political asylum in other Native nations,” continued Wilkins.  “‘Asylum-seeking Native’ is a phrase I never thought I’d utter.”

By noon on July 30, Elile was booked into the Whatcom County Jail, where a Sheriff Deputy admitted: “This is a bogus charge.”   The Deputy took off her handcuffs, noting that the Tribal cops had placed the handcuffs on her upside down. He took her mug shot and confiscated her belongings before escorting her to an overcrowded jail cell where she was placed in cellblock 3K with the general inmate population.  Twenty other women were in the same cell, which reeked of urine.  Elile cried.  She was released on bail nearly eight hours later, but remains in Whatcom County custody for purposes of her federal habeas corpus lawsuit.

On Tuesday in the same federal court, a case brought against various U.S. Department of Interior officials by four Nooksack candidates in the December 2017, special election was dismissed. The federal court judge deferred to “[t]he concept of tribal sovereignty and self-determination dat[ing] back to at least the framing of the Constitution itself,” in affirming the federal government’s hands-off approach to tribal election outcomes and, thus, Interior’s endorsement of the special election results despite proof of ballot stuffing and voter bribery.

“Federal non-intervention under guise of ‘tribal self-determination’ has only emboldened more criminality and more atrocious human rights violations at Nooksack,” continued Galanda, who also represents the Nooksack candidates as well as the Nooksack 306. “Lawless cannot be the accepted state of Indian Country. Our clients will not allow it to be.”

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