|Officer Adam Basford is in the back row, center.|
(See update below)
“I can't get killed for this job,” observed one of Adam Basford's former colleagues in the Yakima Police Department, explaining why he had refused to come to Basford's aid during a hand-to-hand struggle with an armed suspect. “I thought we were going to get killed, so I had to leave you there.”
That officer was one of three who were in a position to help on August 18, 2013 when Basford attempted to arrest Antonio Cardenas, a recently paroled felon who was suspected of aggravated assault with a firearm. Concerned over the safety of bystanders, including a young girl, Officer Basford didn't pull his gun. He found himself grappling with a younger ex-convict who was several inches taller and at least sixty pounds heavier, while every other available nearby officer found something better to do.
Basford was able to subdue the suspect without killing him or risking the lives of people in the neighborhood. Rather than receiving a commendation, Basford is now off the force and facing criminal charges – not for taking down an armed, violent felon without using lethal force, but for filing a misconduct complaint against an erstwhile colleague.
Basford, an Air Force veteran who regarded himself to be a peace officer rather than a law enforcer, had patrolled a violent neighborhood riven with gang-related violence. On many occasions prior to August 18, he had called for backup, only to find – as he did that night – that no help was forthcoming. This wasn’t just because Basford’s fellow officers were afraid, but because he had violated the unwritten but binding rules of police solidarity by speaking out against routine misconduct and abuse within the department.
Basford had just finished an administrative call when he heard gunshots and saw an armed man later identified as Cardenas racing through the neighborhood. Basford pursued Cardenas into a nearby yard, overtaking him when the suspect failed to clear a fence.
“I didn't want to draw my gun, because there was a young girl just a few feet away,” Basford recalled to Pro Libertate. “Cardenas took a swing at me, and missed. I took his back while the two of us were still on our feet. He reached for my lapel microphone and broke it, then said he was going to kill me and that nobody would find my body.”
As they struggled, Cardenas reached for his .44 Desert Eagle and squeezed off a shot. Basford managed to wrench the shooter's hand away from his body at the last second, but still suffered a grazing gunshot wound to his knee. Already in severe oxygen debt from the struggle, Basford quickly began to feel the effects of blood loss. Worried that if Cardenas escaped he might finish killing him or attack a bystander, Basford applied a rear-naked choke – a potentially lethal hold that was, in this situation, used defensively.
The combatants hit the ground, and Basford saw his backup, Officer Booker Ward, arrive.
“He saw what was going on, heard me scream at him,” Basford later recalled. “We made eye contact, and he turned and ran away.”
Two other Yakima PD Officers were on bicycle patrol nearby.
“They heard me get shot,” Basford recounted to me. “They heard me scream for assistance. They were just two blocks away – but they were fifteen minutes from the end of their shift, and they went back to the station instead of coming to my aid.” Basford would find out later that the bike patrol officers “didn't think the overtime would be approved.”
Finally, after Cardenas was subdued and nearly unconscious, five other officers arrived, and paramedics soon followed. Basford limped away from the scene of the struggle and allowed the emergency personnel to do their work. As the EMTs attended to Cardenas, however, Basford saw the suspect trying to extract something from his pants. Concerned for the safety of his colleagues and the medical personnel, Basford drew his gun, holding it at “low-ready” while approaching the scene.
“I pushed past the paramedics and my supervisor, who was losing her sh*t,” Basford related to me. “As I did, Patrol Officer Ryan Yates yelled that I was about to `execute the suspect,' and pulled his gun on me, as did several other officers.”
Basford had pointedly declined to use lethal force during the desperate hand-to-hand struggle in which he received no help from the officers now pointing their guns at him. He surrendered his gun to another officer and was taken to the hospital, which treated and discharged him with panicked haste because of what were described as security concerns.
“From what I was told it was clear that Cardenas's gang associates had learned about his arrest, and there was concern about potential retaliation,” Basford told me. “But nobody seemed all that worried about me when I was fighting with this guy on the street.”
This atypical lack of concern continued as Basford was debriefed by his supervisors. Usually, a police officer involved in a use-of-force incident invokes his “Garrity” privileges, which means that he cannot be criminally or civilly prosecuted for statements made during the official investigation. This time was different, according to Basford.
“Our union representative, Officer Ira Cavin, told me that Garrity didn't apply in this situation, because I had supposedly committed a criminal act,” Basford attests. To his astonishment, Basford was told that he would be charged with assaulting the man who shot him in the knee – but that charge was quickly dropped.
Cardenas, who had served prison time for his role in a pair of drive-by shootings, faced his “third strike” if the DA charged him with a felony. For reasons that remain unexplained, he was allowed to plead guilty to a single charge of first degree “attempted assault” for shooting a police officer in the leg.
To put that anomalous act of leniency in context, it's worth remembering that an unarmed Florida man who was assaulted by a police officer during a traffic stop at a convenience store was recently charged with “attempted murder” for defending himself against what appeared to be the officer's attempt to choke him out. That incident involved a driver accused of running a stop light. Cardenas, a convicted violent felon, was carrying a stolen gun that he had allegedly fired during a nearby shooting – and that he used in an attempt to kill Basford.
Basford, who has undergone multiple surgeries on his knee, and is receiving treatment for the psychological effects of the incident, was maneuvered into accepting an “amicable separation” from the Yakima PD. After leaving the force, Basford inevitably encountered several of the people involved in the incident, including the previously mentioned officer who had abandoned him in the street.
“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.”
|Agitprop detail: Officer Yates is in the middle.|
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.”
To avoid a Cardassian-style “trial” in which a guilty verdict is foreordained, Basford would have “to sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the city.” What this means, of course, is that his former employer is now threatening him with incarceration in order to compel him to waive his right to seek redress.
The source of Basford’s trouble is the fact that he didn't define his professional identity in tribal terms.
“My oath was to the public, not to protect abusive fellow officers,” he declares. “I swore an oath to the U.S. Constitution as an Air Force officer, and I took that seriously. I'm not a religious man, but I also believe that there will be a final judgment of some kind, and that I will be accountable for every punch, every kick, every baton strike, and of course every round I fire. I don't think that attitude was commonplace among my colleagues.”
Basford's military background, counterintuitively, reinforced his restraint in using force for purposes he considered defensive.
“In the military, at least when and where I served, we were forbidden to inflict punishment on civilians and were required to use force only in response to an attack,” he recalled. “I found that the rules of engagement for the police were much less restrictive. If I had engaged in the kind of behavior I witnessed on the part of the police while I was in the military I'd be residing in Leavenworth right now.”
Owing to the perverse incentives that prevail in government law enforcement, it would have been to Basford’s advantage to kill Antonio Cardenas, rather than using less-than-lethal means – at considerable personal risk, and substantial personal cost – to arrest him. If Basford had used lethal force during that confrontation, it’s likely that the department would have rallied to his defense – not out of admiration for him, but rather in search of limiting their institutional liability.
Basford was purged from the ranks because he saw his role as that of a peace officer sworn to protect persons and property, rather than a member of a privileged enforcement caste. While he fights to keep himself out of jail, nation-wide fundraising and support efforts are underway on behalf of Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner with an illegal chokehold, and Darren Wilson, who shot and killed the unarmed teenager Michael Brown under what can charitably be described as highly dubious circumstances.
Cops who kill, it appears, are considered worthier of support than peace officers who cross the Blue Line.
An important postscript
An anonymous commenter below complains that the foregoing account of Adam Basford's experiences with the Yakima Police Department is one-sided. While not stipulating to that characterization, I will point out that today, more than a year after the encounter with Antonio Cardenas, that incident is subject to an "ongoing investigation," which means that the YPD is refusing to release the documents concerning Officer Basford's conduct in the matter. An official review of the shooting has reportedly been finished, and although both Basford and his physician have been promised a copy of that document, it has not been provided to either of them.
Contemporaneous press accounts to which I've provided links confirm that Basford arrested Cardenas, that he was wounded by gunfire, and that his own weapon was not used. I have seen numerous photographs -- some of them unsettling -- of the injury he sustained. It was not trivial.
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.
It's not necessary to regard Mr. Basford as a paragon of virtue (he certainly doesn't) in order to appreciate his sincere and commendable effort to be a conscientious peace officer within a thoroughly (which is to say, typically) corrupt department.
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.
Dum spiro, pugno!