Carmen Tageant defeats Nooksack police chief Mike Ashby in federal court
Carmen Tageant has been recalled from public office, sexually harassed, cyber stalked, and physically assaulted by Nooksack political actors. Tageant’s home has been burglarized twice, and Nooksack police looked away. She has sought protection from tribal, federal, and state law enforcement, to no avail. But last Thursday, the former Nooksack Tribal Councilwoman who has been relentlessly persecuted since speaking out against the Nooksack 306 disenrollment in 2016, scored a legal victory in a Seattle federal court against Nooksack Police Chief Mike Ashby, who she alleges assaulted her at the Tribe’s Election Office on January 5, 2018.
U.S. District Court Judge James Robart denied Ashby’s motion seeking to require the United States to defend him from a personal injury lawsuit that Tageant filed against him in Whatcom County Superior Court soon after the incident.
“I am gratified by the Judge’s decision,” said Tageant. “I am grateful for anything that will help protect me or other Indian women or elders from violence or harassment by Nooksack cops.”
In her state court suit, Tageant claims that as she attempted to file papers to declare her candidacy for re-election to the Nooksack Tribal Council, Election Superintendent Katrice Rodriguez announced to her, “you’re too late.” Then “Ashby forcefully grabbed both of [her] arms just above her elbows and violently pushed her back” out of the Election Office, which sits on fee lands beyond the Nooksack Indian Reservation. Tageant “was stunned by Defendant Ashby’s action, telling him, ‘what are you doing? Don’t touch me.’”
In March 2018, Ashby tendered Tageant’s state court lawsuit to the U.S. Department of Justice for defense pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), given a federal “638” funding agreement between the Nooksack Tribe and United States that assures Nooksack officers federal legal protection under the Federal Tort Claims Act for personal injuries they cause while working under that contract.
A year later, both the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Justice denied Ashby’s defense request. U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Brian Moran determined that Ashby was not “acting within the scope of his employment” at the time of the incident because the “638 Contract was not intended to cover Chief Ashby’s off reservation enforcement activities.” Ashby then sued to compel the United States to defend him, and the matter ended up before Judge Robart.
Agreeing with the federal government, Judge Robart ruled that because the alleged assault occurred on lands beyond the Nooksack Reservation, the Tribe’s 638 contract did not afford Ashby a federal legal defense because he acted beyond the scope of his employment. Rejecting Ashby’s arguments that his job description and Nooksack law enforcement protocols somehow extended Federal Tort Claims Act protection to his off-reservation activities, Judge Robart explained:
“It's outside the reservation, it's outside Indian Country, and saying that it's in his job description or it's standard operating procedure somehow loops it back to be under [the contract] is simply not factually or legally supportable.”
Judge Robart dismissed the matter of Ashby’s Federal Tort Claims Act defense request with prejudice and remanded Tageant’s case back to Whatcom County Superior Court, where it will proceed towards trial.
In support of Tageant, another Nooksack woman, Deborah Alexander, stepped forward to explain to Judge Robart how on December 15, 2016, Ashby also put his hands on and assaulted her, without provocation.
Alexander recalled the day when she tried to visit the Nooksack Tribal Court, where purported Chief Judge Ray Dodge was attempting to evict her sister Gretty Rabang from her home of twenty-two years over a Christmas weekend. Nooksack Police had erected a blockade along a strip of off-reservation railroad lands, “preventing anybody from even stepping foot on the driveway towards the Tribal Court,” she explained. The Tribal Court has a policy of denying courthouse access to citizens it perceives as adverse to the Tribe.
As Alexander approached the blockade, she recalled calmly asking Nooksack police, “Do you know if they’re having my sister’s court over there?” Ashby answered her and then beelined towards her, causing her to yell, “Don’t touch me,” she testified. “Ashby then put both of his hands on the left side of my upper body, between my collarbone and breasts, and violently shoved me ... I became angry and hysterical. I felt so violated.”
Alexander, who captured the incident on a video recording that she filed with the federal court, testified that she is “struck by the similarities between his assault of [Tageant] and his assault of me.”
Tageant has also offered the courts evidence of other Nooksack police misconduct, specifically that Ashby has doctored police reports regarding her complaints of cyber harassment, and shot guns as “target practice” immediately behind her home while her children were playing outside. As recent as June 5, 2019, Ashby tailed Tageant and her children along a roadway for seven miles, striking fear in them of what “Mr. Ashby might do to us,” as she testified to Judge Robart. Tageant captured her latest encounter with Ashby on Facebook.
"Ashby is a predator and my only protection from him is in the courts," said Tageant.
Late this summer, Nooksack Elder George Adams was also brutalized by Nooksack police officers. Adams, the last remaining speaker of the Nooksack language Lhéchelesem, has also been persecuted for being outspoken against Nooksack political disenrollment efforts, even though he, like Tageant, has not been subject to disenrollment. He, too, has filed a personal injury lawsuit against Ashby and three other Nooksack cops in Whatcom County Superior Court.
“I repeat: Nooksack is a violent police state,” said Gabriel S. Galanda, Tageant and Adams’ lawyer. “Somebody in non-tribal government needs to do something before things get even worse.”