“He asked me to forgive him,” Basford informed me with a grim chuckle. “My reply to him wasn’t terribly charitable.”
“Look, my beat was a neighborhood where the Nortenos and Suraneos were engaged in a turf war,” Basford explains. “Gang members would sometimes isolate and swarm a cop. The streetlights have all been shot out, and gang-bangers sometimes throw toxicimprovised devices that can have the explosive yield of a small grenade. So I understand why officers wanted to avoid it. But in the entire time I served as a patrol officer, I never – not once – received requested backup. The officers always told Dispatch that they had a traffic stop, or something else going on. I can understand that this would happen on occasion – but when it happens every time, something’s going on.”
Basford believes that he was singled out for aggressive neglect “because I crossed the Blue Line. I filed official complaints about misconduct and abuse that I saw on the street and in the lock-up.”
“Our job was to investigate crimes and arrest suspects, not to inflict punishment,” Basford continues. “I saw countless instances in which officers” — including, he says, Ryan Yates, who pulled drew his gun on him in the Cardenas incident – “would goad and mistreat people during contacts in the street, and then arrest them without cause. I really tried to do the job in a different way. I would get out of my patrol vehicle and talk with people about what was going on in their neighborhoods – and I always explained to them that they didn’t have to talk to me, and that they could say anything they wanted to me without fear of reprisal. I’m not going to pretend that I was perfect, but I did try to do my job – at least, the job as I understood it.”
That job, as Basford perceived it, meant protecting the rights of suspects following an arrest, and he had no patience for what he described as the routine abuse of prisoners.
“It was a common practice to turn off the video monitor and the lights when officers were dealing with what they called a `lippy’ prisoner, especially if it was an intoxicated woman,” Basford narrates. “This wasn’t done for the safety of the inmate or the officers. It was a cruel, abusive, and completely wrong. So I filed a complaint about it – and from that time, I was on my own. I later filed several excessive force complaints. I was an officer who had crossed the Blue Line, which meant that none of my supposed brother officers would ever have my back.”
The treatment inflicted on Basford offers a stark contrast to the official solicitude displayed toward Officer Casey Gillette a few months earlier after Gillette attacked an unarmed man, falsely arrested him, and engaged in a cover-up to avoid being charged with aggravated assault and kidnapping. Gillette, significantly, was one of the officers who pulled their guns on Basford the night of August 18.
Gillette and his partner were responding to a report of a fight on the evening of May 10 when they encountered a loud-mouthed, shirtless man swearing at them from his front yard.
The intoxicated man was yelling that “this is La Raza’s hood, you know, smoke you fools,” Gillette told investigators. “And he started challenging us from what I remember.” Offended by his “aggressive attitude,” and convinced that the drunk presented “an officer safety issue,” Gillette strode onto the man’s property and “punched him in the left side of the face,” the officer recalled. The blow didn’t knock the man down, but with the help of three other officers, he was handcuffed.
At this point, Gillette had to invent a criminal charge to justify the summary punishment he had meted out for “contempt of cop.” He initially wanted to use “disorderly conduct,” a cover charge he had often used while employed by the police department in Toppenish. The problem is that the Yakima City Code doesn’t include an offense called “disorderly conduct.”
“Gillette used the force to arrest the man for disorderly conduct, which does not exist in the City of Yakima,” admitted the department’s Supervisory Review. The official Personnel Complaint observed that “At the time force was used there was no probable cause to arrest the man or need to use force upon him. The force was unnecessary and therefore excessive in violation of policy.”
This wasn’t merely a “policy violation,” Basford protests: It was a “criminal act – at best misdemeanor assault.” That original crime was compounded by “Unlawful Imprisonment, which is a Class C felony in Washington.” To protect themselves and their employer, Gillette and his unidentified supervisor, a sergeant, arrested the victim for “obstructing.”
According to the Supervisory Review, this was nothing less than a criminal conspiracy: “[Name Redacted] consulted with Officer Gillette and the two agreed to charge the man with Obstructing, even though the man was not obstructing, hindering, or delaying any lawful duties of the officers. The charge appears to have been chosen to justify Gillette’s prior use of force and possibly to protect the city.” (Emphasis added.)
“This was a great example of my [former] Squad’s dynamics,” Basford wearily explained to me. “The sergeant reports the guy for Obstruction … thereby assisting in the criminal act of the original assault by Gillette. They knew there was no charge and they still took him to jail and charged him for exercising his First Amendment rights.”
During the inquiry, Gillette’s superiors “coached him … to say `open hand’” when asked about the strike. “Then Chief Rizzi claims `no harm, no foul,’ and doesn’t punish Gillette, but puts him back on the street, knowing he would just hurt people.”
Rather than being charged with aggravated assault and kidnapping, Gillette was given a written reprimand. He remains on the force. Last January Gillette shot and killed a man named Rocendo Arias while he was asleep in his vehicle at a car wash. Despite the fact that Arias was not a criminal suspect, the shooting was ruled “justified” because of the “perceived threat.” Oddly, that “threat” wasn’t apparent to a female state trooper who had seen the napping man and left him unmolested before Gillette arrived on the scene.
Gillette later claimed that he saw a gun in Arias’s hand. That supposed firearm was actually an Airsoft pellet pistol which Arias might have kept as a prop to deter would-be assailants – other than those invested with “qualified immunity,” of course.
Gillette, who murdered an innocent sleeping man in a fit of panic, remains on the force.
Basford, who was seriously injured while arresting an armed felon, may be headed for jail.
On August 18 – exactly one year after his life-altering fight with Cardenas – Basford had a preliminary hearing on a charge of “filing a false report to a public servant.” If the case goes to trial, and Basford loses, he may spend a year in jail – nearly as much time as the recidivist felon who shot him in the leg.
Given Basford’s experience as a conscientious officer with the Yakima PD, it’s not surprising that he now faces a patently retaliatory charge for filing a police misconduct report as a civilian.
“I ran into Yates outside a gun shop, and he smirked at me and grabbed his gun,” Basford told me. “I had seen him do this same thing many times on the street in an effort to provoke somebody he wanted to rough up and arrest. I thought his conduct was threatening and unprofessional, so I filed a complaint with his supervisor.”
That supervisor was Lt. Nolan Wentz, who has a history of retaliating against “civilians” who annoy him. Among them was a Yakima resident named Eddy Ford, who as it happens has a very close personal connection to Basford.
“When I trained in mixed martial arts, Eddy Ford was my boxing coach,” Basford pointed out to me.
In July 2007, Ford was on his way to work when he noticed a Yakima police cruiser on his tail, clinging to him through multiple lane changes. When they arrived at a stop light, Ford got out of his car to ask the officer what he had done to warrant such attention. The cop, Officer Ryan Urlacher, told Ford to get back in his car, and Ford complied. In fact, Ford was compliant during the entire encounter – but he spared no adjectives in describing his opinion of Urlcher’s behavior.
As he ran Ford’s license, Urlacher told another officer: “I think I’m going to arrest him for [a] city noise ordinance violation right now. He might only get a ticket if he cooperates, but with that attitude, he’s going to get cuffed.” Urlacher then told Ford as much, reproaching him for “diarrhea of the mouth.”
Wentz arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, and he all but ordered Urlacher to arrest Ford.
Describing the cooperative but self-assertive citizen as a “hot head” who was “getting worse over time,” Wentz told Urlacher: “I would not just write him a ticket and let him go…. I’d sign his ass up.”
With his supervisor’s permission, Urlacher abducted Ford and had his car impounded.
On the way to the jail, Ford protested that he was being punished for exercising his freedom of speech.
“I have the freedom to take you to jail, too,” sneered Urlacher. “And that’s going to happen… You exercise it [freedom of speech] all you want, OK? If you just cooperate and treat the police like humans, we’ll treat you like that. But when you act like that, like an animal, you’ve got to get treated that way, you know…. Your mouth and your attitude talked you into jail.”
Ford, it probably doesn’t need to be said, is black. He wasn’t being arrested for acting like an “animal,” but for daring to insist on being treated like a free man. Urlacher’s express intention in carrying out that unnecessary and unjustified arrest was to teach that uppity Mundane a lesson in submission.
(Urlacher, incidentally, would later be suspended for charging $400 worth of beer to city credit cards during a “training” junket. Since city policy forbids expenditure of public funds for alcohol, the charges were initially disguised as hyper-extravagant “tips” to waitresses at Hooter’s and similar establishments.)
The pretext charge of a noise violation was later dismissed. Understandably, Ford filed a lawsuit that was eventually heard by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that he had standing to sue the City of Yakima. Citing a similar case from Chicago, the panel observed that the “freedom of individuals verbally to challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”
As is usually the case in such matters, the City government settled the case, paying Ford $65,000 in lieu of going to court. Yakima PD Chief Dominic Rizzi reacted dismissively, insisting that “We did not lose that lawsuit” and instructing his subordinates to ignore the ruling – which is to say, apply what the court described as a “police state” sanction by using retaliatory arrest as a means of punishing Mundanes who criticize them.
This apparently applies to former police officers who are now among the “little people” – such as Adam Basford.
“Even though Lt. Wentz was the same guy who authorized the illegal arrest of my former boxing coach, I took my complaint to him after my run-in with Yates,” Basford told me. “I was hoping that he would be disciplined and brought to heel. Instead, I was hit with a criminal charge that I can’t fight in court.”
Basford’s injuries have left him unable to work, and his ongoing legal struggles have left him in career stasis. Even worse, he is being maneuvered into a plea agreement that would make him unemployable in any field for which he is qualified.
“I contacted every attorney in the area, and was told that it would cost at least $30,000 to retain legal counsel,” Basford relates. “I can’t afford to hire competent legal help, so I wound up with a public defender who is six months out of law school.”
During the August 18 hearing, Basford’s attorney (actually, the paralegal who acted on behalf of his public defender, who didn’t attend) was offered a “12 month Stipulated Order of Continuance” – a form of probation during which he would be subject to a “stipulated trial” if he were arrested and charged with any criminal infraction. A “stipulated trial” is a procedure in which “the judge reads the police reports and makes a determination,” Basford was told. “A stipulated trial would most likely result in a conviction.”
The commenter made a veiled reference to Basford’s “background.” Without delving into the details, I will disclose that Basford described to me a difficult upbringing in a troubled home with a father who was intractably mired in a criminal subculture. Earlier this year his father committed suicide in suspicious circumstances. There may be a connection between Cardenas’s associates and the death of Basford’s father, but Adam was in no way implicated in that matter, beyond being an understandably horrified observer. I didn’t deal with that aspect of the story because the article had become prohibitively lengthy and complicated — and because I haven’t been able to answer certain key questions to my satisfaction.
P.P.S. — I’ve added a link above to a news story from August 2013 offering confirmation of Adam Basford’s claim that police are concerned about crude, small-yield improvised explosives “with the potential to kill somebody” that have been found in some parts of Yakima.