Following up on Patriot Front flyering: Struggling to get answers from Ferndale officials / Sandy Robson

October 10, 2019 Sandy Robson

On October 1, 2019, I sent an email to Ferndale Police Chief Kevin Turner, explaining that I was gathering information for a possible article for The Searchlight Review, regarding the recent flyering activities here in Whatcom County by the white nationalist/white supremacist hate group, the Patriot Front.

I explained to Chief Turner that in reviewing public records released to me  on Sept. 5, 2019 by the City of Ferndale in response to my August 22 public records request, I came across an August 6 email communication he sent to Patrick Sullivan with the Bellingham and Everett Resident Agencies, FBI Seattle. 

In the chief’s August 6 email, he made Mr. Sullivan aware of the Patriot Front flyers that reportedly had been placed around town during Ferndale’s July 27 Old Settlers Days’ Grand Parade festivities. In his email, Chief Turner wrote, in part: 

“There wasn’t really anything for us to look into, and we haven’t seen these around town before. We believe a group may have come through, posted several fliers, and perhaps moved on.” 

In my October 1 email to Chief Turner, I went on to say that I had made a Sept. 26 post on Facebook about two tweets posted by the Patriot Front (@PatriotFront3)Twitter account.* 

One was a September 25, 2019 tweet which stated that “Patriot Front activists placed stickers around Ferndale Washington” and included four photos of Patriot Front stickers/flyers reportedly placed in Ferndale. And, the other one was a September 24, 2019 tweet which stated that “Patriot Front activists placed stickers around Bellingham Washington” and included four photos of Patriot Front stickers/flyers reportedly placed in Bellingham.

I told Chief Turner that it was my understanding from seeing a comment posted (under my Sept. 26 Facebook post) by City of Ferndale communications director, Riley Sweeney, in which he said the Ferndale Police Department already was aware of the new round of flyers and that currently there is an active investigation. Mr. Sweeney added that he could not share more at that time since it’s an active investigation.

In my October 1 email to Chief Turner, I also mentioned that The Western Front and The Bellingham Herald reported that day that Patriot Front flyers/stickers were placed recently in various locations on Western Washington University’s campus. That flyering activity at WWU by Patriot Front was also featured in a September 29 tweet posted by the Patriot Front (@PatriotFront3) Twitter account. 

So, in light of those activities by Patriot Front in Ferndale and Bellingham subsequent to the initial incident in Ferndale that occurred back on or around July 27, I asked Chief Turner several questions.

Chief Turner’s October 2 reply

The chief replied, via email, the next day, on October 2, and said:

“Although I applaud your interest, I’m not inclined to engage in any detailed discussion through electronic means. Our policy restricts discussing any active cases, or releasing information to a media source, without verification of appropriate media credentials, which is especially difficult over email.

“You’re always welcome to submit a public disclosure request for any releasable information or, if you were able to provide appropriate media credentials, we would likely draft a response in the form of a press release.”

I had already submitted a recent public records request to the City of Ferndale and its police department on September 27, 2019. That same day, I received an email letter from Ferndale’s city clerk, Susan Duncan, informing me that any records responsive to my Sept. 27 public records request were all considered to be exempt from public inspection/disclosure because there is an on-going criminal investigation. The letter also stated that my records request was then closed.

My October 3 response to Chief Turner 

On October 3, I replied, via email, to Chief Turner, and told him his statement was surprising because over the last several years, for articles I was writing, I have communicated via email for interviews with the following law enforcement agency personnel and/or agencies: The Bellingham Police Chief; the Lynden Deputy Chief of Police; the Whatcom County Sheriff; the Whatcom County Sheriff Deputy Director of Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management; the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office; and the Washington State Patrol, and some others. 

In my October 3 email reply to Chief Turner, I requested that the chief/the Ferndale Police Department please cite the specific policy which restricts him and/or the department from releasing information to a media source without verification of appropriate media credentials. I added that I imagine also included in that policy, should be a definition of the term, “appropriate media credentials.” 

I also told Chief Turner that I understood and accepted the fact that because the Ferndale Police Department has an ongoing investigation into the recent Patriot Front flyering incident in Ferndale that occurred on or around September 25, he/his department does not want to discuss or release specific information about that investigation. 

An October 7 follow-up sent to the city 

After not receiving a reply from Chief Turner to my October 3 email, I sent an October 7 email to Ferndale’s communications director, Riley Sweeney. In my email, I said I would appreciate a response, if not from Chief Turner, then from the Ferndale Police Department, and that the answer I’m seeking from them was specified in the excerpt below that was contained in my Oct. 3 email:

”I request that you/the Ferndale Police Department please cite the policy which restricts you and/or the department from releasing information to a media source, without verification of appropriate media credentials. Included in that policy, I imagine that also included in that policy, should be a definition of the term, ’appropriate media credentials.’”

Now, one week later, I’m still waiting for a response to my October 3 email requesting the cited policy that Chief Turner referenced in his email to me.

One important thing I learned from my recent communications with the City of Ferndale about the Patriot Front flyering in Ferndale back in late July was that it appears there was never an official investigation or case opened into that activity/incident. In reviewing public records responsive to my initial August 22 public records request with the City of Ferndale, something raised my curiosity.

The City of Ferndale provided me the August 6 email record between Chief Turner, and Patrick Sullivan with the Bellingham and Everett Resident Agencies, FBI Seattle. However, in my September 27 records request I was told all of the responsive records were exempted due to there now being an ongoing investigation. This indicated the possibility that there was never an official investigation opened back at the time of the Patriot Front flyering incident in late July.

So, I sent an October 2, 2019 email inquiry to Riley Sweeney, asking if there was, in fact, an official investigation launched after the initial incident of Patriot Front flyers which were placed in downtown Ferndale on or around July 27.

Mr. Sweeney called me that same day, on October 2, and told me that Chief Turner had said (back at the time of the July 27 incident) that he would have a detective looking at it, but that there was not an official investigation. 

I reminded Mr. Sweeney of the August 5, 2019 article about the Patriot Front flyers placed in downtown Ferndale in late July, published by The Bellingham Herald. The article’s headline read: “Ferndale Police investigating signs promoting white supremacist ideology.”

There was also an August 28, 2019 Bellingham Herald article that reported: 

“Ferndale Police investigated the posters linked to the Patriot Front that were placed downtown — possibly during the Old Settlers Grand Parade, where a float displayed the Confederate flag.

“‘If somebody is putting up these flyers in our town, we want to know who they are and why,’ Ferndale police and city spokesman Riley Sweeney said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald earlier this month.”

In our October 2 phone conversation, I told Mr. Sweeney it bothered me to learn that there had not been an official investigation by the Ferndale Police Department because some people had expressed relief after reading in the local paper in August that the incident was being investigated back at that time.

Later that same day, October 2, Mr. Sweeney provided more context in response to my questions in an email he sent. In his email he said :

“After the initial incidence of Patriot Front flyers following the Old Settler’s Parade, the Ferndale Police looked [into] the incident, they reviewed social media reports and reached out to their partner law enforcement agencies about recent similar incidents. Based on that initial research and available staff time, they decided not to open a case file or pursue it further at that time.

“However, with the recent return and escalation of this activity in September, a case has been opened. Detective Justin Pike is the lead contact for this investigation.”

At least after the recent Patriot Front flyering around downtown Ferndale on or around September 25, the Ferndale Police Department has opened an official investigation according to city officials. Hopefully, eventually, there may be some answers. 


*The Patriot Front (@PatriotFront3) Twitter account was suspended by Twitter on or around October 7, 2019. A Twitter account named Patriot Front (@PatriotFront4) which was created, was active and posting tweets as of October 7, 2019.

Side by side screen shots of the @PatriotFront3 Twitter account that was suspended around October 7, 2019, and the @PatriotFront4 Twitter account that was active and posting tweets on October 7, 2019

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