Nooksack Lawsuit

Elile Adams and her father, George, stand with attorney Gabe Galanda, center. (Courtesy photo)

Family files in Superior Court against court judge and police officers

WHATCOM — After seeing Nooksack tribal police at his door with an arrest warrant for his daughter, Elile Adams, tribal elder George Adams knew the Nooksack tribal government was trying to make an example of him through his loved ones. He immediately called lawyer Gabriel Galanda, of Seattle-based Indian Country Law Firm Galanda Broadman, who told George to go outside and put him on speakerphone.

George went outside at the Everson-area home of himself and Elile to talk to the officers. Galanda, who recorded the phone call, asked the officers to identify themselves by name and badge number, which they refused to do. George was subsequently allegedly kneed in the groin by one of the officers and knocked to the ground, as they told him he was “obstructing justice.” 

On the phone call recording, George can be heard telling officers to leave his phone alone, and eventually yelling as he was pushed to the ground. The phone was knocked from his hand, and Galanda was left speaking to silence on the other end. 

“Why did they take me down as an obstructionist when I’m trying to talk to my attorney, and labeling [it] as resisting, when I’m out here of my own volition?” George said. “I was to be eliminated, and shown exerting their will on me.”

After putting George in a cop car, police entered the residence without permission and arrested Elile in front of her 5-year-old daughter. As she sat in the back of the cop car, officers refused to loosen her handcuffs even when she said her hands were going numb. She was booked into Whatcom County Jail later that afternoon, and as she was brought into her cell a jail employee told her the arrest warrant appeared “bogus.”

“You must have really pissed somebody off,” she recalled the jail employee saying to her. He also informed her the handcuffs had been put on upside down, causing her more pain than if they had been put on correctly. 

After eight hours in the county jail, Elile was bailed out for $500 by her father, which he said was a financial blow. 

The family members have now filed a lawsuit, headed by Galanda, against the three officers, tribal police chief Michael Ashby and Nooksack Chief Court Judge Ray Dodge. It was in Whatcom County Superior Court as of Friday, Aug. 9. Galanda is citing actions of negligence, false arrest and imprisonment and assault and battery.

Ashby and Dodge did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

George Adams, who is one of the last speakers of the Nooksack language Lhéchelesem and was a skipper for the tribe during the recent Canoe Journey to Lummi, has been vocal in condemning disenrollment practices by the Nooksack tribal government, which has dictated the removal of 306 people from the tribe. He believes that he, his daughter and his granddaughter were ultimately targeted due to his advocacy for the disenrolled members. 

“They have control over the levers of power. That’s why I get banged up. That’s why she gets cuffed. That’s why my granddaughter has to go through this. Could it be anything else?” George Adams said.


Court proceedings

The arrest warrant served upon Elile two weeks ago on July 30, based on charges of interference of parentage and failure to appear, spiraled from a filing for a protection order against her daughter’s father from 2015, she said. When she was unable to receive a protection order in Whatcom County Superior Court, Elile decided to give it a try in Nooksack tribal court. 

“I felt I should utilize my tribe, like, ‘maybe they’ll be on my side,’” Elile said. 

However, she said, the case soon devolved as the court issued a parenting plan rather than granting the protection order. Eventually, she asked to have her original filing dismissed in order to get away from Nooksack court, but her request was denied. After that, she stopped going to the hearings and began the process of enrolling as a Lummi tribal member. 

“This is the lengths she has taken to get away from Ray Dodge, who has become an abuser in his own right,” attorney Galanda said.

Following Elile’s non-appearance in court, Judge Dodge issued a warrant for failure to appear. George said his daughter’s case clearly grew into something much larger than a matter of custody, and that the Nooksack tribal police and tribal court have been exerting illegitimate power since 2016. 

Elile said she felt that Dodge seemed intent on punishing her throughout court proceedings involving the father of her child. She said the father of her child would also miss court dates, but that as far as she knows, he was never arrested or punished to the degree that she has been.

“It’s hard when the people I was supposed to confide in, the tribal court, they’re not doing their job correctly. I don’t feel safe there,” Elile Adams said.


Tribal government tries

to disenroll 306 members

Court and council proceedings at Nooksack have been chaotic over the past few years. The tribe became divided when former tribal chair Bob Kelly began the process of disenrolling 306 tribal members in 2012, citing illegitimate Nooksack bloodlines. The “Nooksack 306” resisted in the face of losing their employment, healthcare and homes. 

Ray Dodge has held the position of court judge since 2016, replacing then-tribal judge Susan Alexander when she was fired after ruling in favor of the 306 in Nooksack court proceedings. Along with firing Alexander, Bob Kelly worked with the tribal court to have Galanda disbarred without due process, and Dodge was made court judge from his position as court attorney, Galanda said. 

In December 2016, the tribal council received a letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior deeming all legal proceedings by the tribal council and tribal court as illegitimate until fair elections took place. The illegitimacy was echoed by the National American Indian Court Judges Association, which sent a letter to Dodge stating they did not recognize him as a legitimate judge due to his unlawful handling of court proceedings.

After the tribe skipped regular elections for the council in March 2016, the federal government pulled millions of dollars in funding for the tribe and shut down the Nooksack Northwood Casino near Lynden in June 2017. Within weeks, the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs entered into an agreement to restore funding and reopen the casino if the tribe held special elections, which happened in December 2017. However, many members of the 306 believe the election — the results of which were certified by DOI in March 2018 — was rigged. 

Four candidates who lost their tribal council races filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Washington against DOI members, including former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, for certifying the election results and ignoring warnings of election fraud such as stuffed ballot boxes, submissions of non-postmarked and voter bribery. However, federal Judge Thomas Zilly ruled in favor of tribal council legitimacy on Aug. 9, 2019.

A lawsuit led by Galanda against Nooksack Police Chief Michael Ashby for the assault and battery of former Nooksack tribal council member Carmen Tageant also remains open in Whatcom County Superior Court. Although she is not one of the 306 disenrollees, Tageant had been vocal in her support of the Nooksack 306 prior to her attack. 

George Adams himself used to teach Lhéchelesem at the Nooksack school, but was fired after speaking in favor of the Nooksack 306 in the native language at a community meeting in 2014. 

“That was the first act of retaliation against George, and probably the first against a Nooksack 306 surrogate,” Galanda said. “Anyone who has been brave enough to speak truth to power has found themselves the objects of harassment and violence.” 


Whatcom County bookings questioned

Galanda said there is some debate as to whether it is lawful for the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office to accept arrest warrants issued by the Nooksack tribal court.

Emails between Galanda and Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo show that in 2017 Galanda advised the sheriff’s office not to accept bookings of Nooksack tribal members into Whatcom County Jail made by Nooksack police at the order of Dodge. He cited the DOI’s 2016 decision not to recognize actions by the tribal court and tribal council made after March 24, 2016, due to its lack of a quorum. 

According to Elfo, the office’s legal counsel interprets recent affirmation of the tribal council as confirmation of Dodge’s legitimacy.

“We accept bookings on and grant full faith and credit to facially valid arrest warrants,” Elfo said. 

Court summons for two different matters were issued to Elile the day after her arrest for Aug. 8, but her court date was quickly rescheduled, she said.