Galanda Broadman PLLC
The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has paid Tulalip Tribal fishermen Hazen Shopbell and Anthony Paul $50,000 to settle their false arrest claims against the agency and its officers.
In June of 2016, Shopbell and Paul were arrested at the Everett Marina as they prepared to participate in the lucrative opening of Tulalip crab fishing season. Over the prior year, the two Tulalip fishermen had developed a multi-million dollar wholesale distribution business within the Puget Sound tribal shellfish market that dominated non-tribal wholesale fish dealers.
Shopbell, who as a Tulalip youth dreamed of being a Treaty fishermen, later described the success of his and Paul’s efforts to a federal court judge: “We were able to bring Tribal representation to the docks. ... [W]e increased the price per pound that Tulalip fishermen were paid for their salmon and crab — at times by several dollars per pound. It truly was that rising waters lifted all canoes.”
Unconvinced that Shopbell and Paul’s new business could be as successful as it was legally, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Detective Wendy Willette commenced a prolonged investigation of the Tulalip fishermen beginning in early 2016. According to her investigation notes she believed Shopbell and Paul were engaged in an illegal monopoly and “reverse racism” against non-tribal fish dealers.
Willette’s investigation culminated in her organizing and leading a multi-agency law enforcement raid of Shopbell and Paul’s homes and business on June 13, 2016. During the raid, three Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife police officers arrested the two Tulalip fishermen and kept them handcuffed in the back of locked patrol vehicles for nearly two hours.
Meanwhile Willette and other Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers rifled through their homes for hours in the presence of their wives and young children, and confiscated various personal items like their children's iPads.
After those officers realized Shopbell and Paul should not have been arrested, and admitted it was due to a “miscommunication,” they released them. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife later returned what its officers had confiscated from their homes.
But the damage had already been done. The high profile raid and arrests caused Tulalip and other tribal fishermen to fear selling shellfish to Shopbell and Paul’s business. Within months, their distribution business shuttered and the wholesale price of shellfish at Tulalip plummeted.
In 2018, Shopbell and Paul sued the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Willette, and the other involved officers for federal and state civil rights violations before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. In retaliation, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and Willette asked six separate federal, state, and local prosecutor’s offices to charge the fishermen with shellfish trafficking crimes.
Willette partially succeeded. Both Pierce and Skagit County prosecuting attorneys brought felony trafficking charges against Shopbell and Paul, but judges dismissed all charges. The Pierce County charges were dropped after the prosecutor discovered that the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife withheld crucial evidence that supported “a complete defense in the case.” The Skagit County Superior Court noted in its dismissal that Willette improperly “shopped the prosecution.”
Yet five years after Willette commenced her racially motivated investigation of Shopbell and Paul, they are still not totally free.
Last week the Washington Court of Appeals reversed the Skagit County court’s dismissal, ruling the judge did not make an express finding of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s bad faith. The appeals court sent the criminal charges back to the Skagit court for an evaluation of Willette’s bad faith.
Shopbell and Paul received another unfavorable legal result in February, when the Western District of Washington dismissed their federal civil rights claims. The federal court relied upon the controversial qualified immunity doctrine, which generally shields law enforcement officers from liability or accountability. That decision, however, left their state law claims intact.
Rather than take Shopbell and Paul's remaining claims to trial in state court, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife settled them without admitting liability.
Before being dismissed from the federal court, Shopbell told the judge: “I have grown up listening to the stories of the Fish Wars and U.S. v. Washington. I have been taught by my Elders how the State of Washington and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife waged war against the Tulalip Tribes. ... I know state police racism. We all do at Tulalip.”