James Faire was accused of running over a Seattle-area couple in 2015, killing a woman, during a confrontation at a rural home about 20 miles east of Tonasket. Charges against him were recently dismissed.
A suspect with reputed militia ties accused of running over two people, killing one. Lost evidence, possibly because a police computer was infected with Russian malware. Two brothers in charge of the investigation, one a detective, the other the prosecutor.
And then, three years later, before a trial can be held, the case against James Faire fell apart when the judge found serious misconduct on the part of the sibling law-enforcement team.
Last month, Superior Court Judge Christopher Culp dismissed all charges against Faire, an outcome that garnered little attention because it occurred in rural Okanogan County in the upper reaches of Washington.
The improper actions included a 32-month delay in disclosing the loss of cellphone data potentially containing important evidence, Culp wrote July 12 in a 17-page opinion granting a defense request to dismiss the charges and prohibiting them from being refiled.
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“That was a huge victory for us,” defense attorney Stephen Pidgeon said.
Faire, 58, was accused of running over a Seattle-area couple with his pickup on June 18, 2015, killing a woman, during a confrontation at a rural home about 20 miles east of Tonasket, where police reports and court documents indicated he and his female partner had been living without permission for months.
Debra L. Long, 51, of Issaquah, was killed, according to witnesses, when she was run over twice, once when Faire’s pickup pulled forward to leave, and again when he backed up as another man, George Abrantes, was chasing him, according to court documents.
Faire was originally charged with first-degree murder, later amended to vehicular homicide, and vehicular assault of Abrantes.
Faire has deep ties to militia and anti-government movements in Washington, according to court documents, interviews and information from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
He once ran a “Militia Training Center” on a family farm near Monroe, where individuals affiliated with the so-called “patriot” and “sovereign-citizen” movements trained with firearms. Snohomish County shut down the operation after neighbors complained of the gunfire.
He also was an administrator of a sovereign-citizen website, “A Well Regulated Militia,” according to news accounts and the SPLC, which tracks armed hate groups. The site has since closed down.
On social media and in writings, Faire — often appearing with a sidearm — has defended armed resistance to what he believes is the corrupting influence of an overreaching government “that has a monopoly on power.”
Charging documents in the Okanogan County case describe Faire and his partner, Angelina Nobilis, as having befriended a woman named Michele St. Pierre, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. In April 2014, St. Pierre and her husband, Richard Finegold, moved from their Tonasket-area home to another residence in Stanwood so she could be closer to medical care, the documents say.
St. Pierre died on June 15, 2015, and, according to reports, Finegold returned with several friends to the Tonasket home to find it full of Faire’s and Nobilis’ belongings. On June 17, the day before the confrontation, Finegold reported the alleged trespass to the sheriff’s office.
The next day, Finegold was at the house when Faire and Nobilis drove up, according to reports. There was a verbal confrontation, with Faire allegedly pulling out a handgun. Long was killed and Abrantes injured as Faire drove away.
Faire was arrested at a Tonasket convenience store without incident and spent eight months in jail before posting bond.
Police found a cellphone on the ground, next to Long’s body, believing it belonged to her, according to the judge’s opinion dismissing the case.
Five days after the incident, Okanogan County sheriff’s Detective Kreg Sloan determined the phone belonged to Abrantes, who asked about its return.
Sloan consulted the then-county prosecutor, Karl Sloan, his brother, who said the phone could be returned after all data was extracted from it.
The prosecutor didn’t confer with Faire’s then-defense counsel, the judge’s ruling says.
Detective Sloan obtained a search warrant for the phone to extract software and hardware data. On June 24, 2015, the phone was returned to Abrantes .
On Aug. 12, 2015, the detective tried to retrieve the data and back it up on his laptop computer, only to discover that his computer had been corrupted by so-called “ransomware,” possibly of Russian origin. All the files from the phone were encrypted and unreadable.
“All material from the Abrantes phone was effectively lost at that time,” the judge wrote.
The judge found that Sloan never attempted to re-contact Abrantes to try again to obtain the phone’s contents, nor was the source of the ransomware — possibly introduced by Abrantes’ phone — ever determined. The judge noted it was likely sophisticated — possibly of Russian origin — capable of defeating the county’s anti-virus software.
Early in the case, Faire’s original attorney asked to see the evidence against him, but wasn’t told of the lost phone data or computer glitch. Faire twice notified the court he would claim self-defense.
In March of this year, Pidgeon, who had become Faire’s attorney, met with Detective Sloan and the county’s new prosecutor, Branden Platter, who had replaced Karl Sloan, who in 2017 had joined the state Attorney General’s Office.
While viewing evidence, there was apparently no mention of any problem with the data dump from the phone, the judge wrote.
Detective Sloan didn’t alert the prosecutor’s office of the lost data until late April, according to the order. The defense also was informed.
Under pretrial questioning in June by the defense, Abrantes testified to having text messages to and from Long on his phone, as well as text messages from two other people at the scene of the incident. He said he deleted texts after the phone was returned to him.
In his ruling, the judge noted the defense would want the text messages to put the jury “in the shoes” of Faire — both in terms of any relationship between him and the others before the incident, and to his self-defense claims that day.
“There is no effective lesser remedy. Dismissal is necessary. The combined effect and consequences of the state’s actions prevent the defendant from having a fair trial,” the judge wrote, noting there can be no excuse for the 32-month delay before law enforcement notified the prosecutor of the lost evidence.
“To return the phone before ensuring the data could be retrieved necessarily means the defendant has no chance to present material evidence probative of his self-defense claim,” he added in dismissing the case “with prejudice,” meaning it can’t be refiled.
Platter, the new prosecutor who wasn’t involved in the original events, said he will file an appeal.
“I feel a sense of personal frustration with the situation overall because I have put considerable time and resources into this case and this ruling is based on decisions and events that occurred two years before I was appointed as the County Prosecutor or had any involvement in the case,” he said in an email. “Ms. Long lost her life in June of 2015 and this case deserved to be heard by a jury.”
Karl Sloan, the former prosecutor, said in an interview that the judge didn’t address a state law that says crime victims have the right to the return of their property when it is no longer needed.
“That seemed to be completely missing from the memorandum opinion,” he said.
He said the 32-month delay stemmed, in part, from a 1½-year period in which the proceedings were stayed while Pidgeon, as new defense counsel, appealed earlier rulings.
Sloan said it was speculative to assume the phone data could have been useful, without knowing if there was anything of evidentiary or exculpatory value.
Kreg Sloan, citing the pending appeal, declined to comment.
James Faire couldn’t be reached for comment.