Share story

With nearly 3 million views in the past week or so, it surely is the most popular YouTube video ever posted out of Grant County in Eastern Washington.

When you’re a 2,800-square-mile farming region known as the nation’s “leading potato producing county,” well, that’s not exactly click bait.

But this video had instant appeal — a guy lectured a cop for illegally driving an unmarked patrol car, then said he’d let the officer off with a warning.

Gavin Seim is the guy who posted long and short versions of the video.

He’s 29, married with three young children, a commercial photographer out of Ephrata who specializes in family portraits and pictorials.

Seim also is, he explains, “a man who believes in going toe to toe with tyranny.”

He always has pocket versions of the U.S. Constitution with him, just to hand out to folks.

Seim talks about the Constitution a lot. He’ll gladly have you book him as a “liberty speaker.

Among issues that concern Seim, really concern him, are unmarked police cars. He says they should be for special undercover work, not for slinking around to help write up folks for petty faults.

“That’s not protecting,” he wrote. “Unmarked vehicles are a ripe opportunity for confusion in a citizen’s reaction and for criminals to impersonate lawful authority to get people to stop. … People have been raped and even murdered because of this, so the law is good sense.”

Sometime around Oct. 16, Seim was driving in Soap Lake when he spotted Grant County Deputy Sheriff Dustin Canfield parked in an unmarked, brand-new Dodge Charger patrol car.

He flagged the officer over, and video recorded his exchange.

“How are you?” Canfield asks.

“Good,” Seim says. “Hey, the reason I stopped you today is I that I saw this car was unmarked. … You’re not allowed to have patrol cars that are unmarked, are you aware of that, under Washington State RCW?”

Canfield seems a little surprised.

“I’d have to look that up,” he says.

Then Seim asks the uniformed Canfield to see his ID.

The deputy seems a little perplexed at this reversal of questioning. “Can I see some ID?” he says. Canfield points to the patch on the shoulder of his uniform.

Seim presses, “You’re driving an unmarked vehicle. I need to make sure you are actually a police officer. … How do I know that uniform is real?”

Fine. Canfield shows Seim his ID card.

He smiles when Seim tells him, “I’m not gonna write you up today. … I could call the sheriff and demand you be written up for this.”

Sheriff Tom Jones says the new patrol car “was awaiting installation of vinyl graphics” from a local sign vendor, a small company that hadn’t yet gotten the graphics ready.

“I am not going to put the public at risk by not deploying patrol cars while awaiting installation of decals,” says the sheriff.

And, adds Jones, not having the patrol car marked is not a criminal or civil offense, “but one that would be handled internally by an agency head.”

Although the video went viral, much of the reaction was not that a cop got his comeuppance.

A local woman posted about Seim on the Facebook page for the Sheriff’s Office, “More attention for Gavin. What a joke! Our community has way more serious issues to deal with than this egomaniac.”

There was significant sympathy for the deputy.

Canfield wouldn’t comment for this story, but Jones praised him in a news release for his “tact and diplomacy.”

Seim also was impressed and posted, “Deputy Canfield handled this well.”

It wasn’t the taciturn, irritated reaction that Seim has gotten in other encounters he has had with authorities — for example, at a New Mexico checkpoint about 100 miles from the Mexican border; or at a California highway pest-control station.

In New Mexico, he was asked for his ID, which Seim explains in that video is illegal without cause.

In the California confrontation, titled, “Seim Refusing Fruit Nazi Checkpoint & Driving Away,” he tells a woman pest-control officer that he won’t consent to have his vehicle searched for bugs.

“Oh, really,” the woman snaps back. “I don’t consent to being filmed.”

Seim then says, “That’s OK. You’re a public servant so we can film you.”

His wife, Sondra, is doing the taping on a smartphone. Their three young children are with them.

In both the New Mexico and California videos, peeved-looking officers eventually let the family go through without Seim having to show ID or consent to a car search.

But not answering questions about pests at an agricultural checkpoint?

“At what point are we willing to give up our rights … if government can pull us off the to the side of the road and stop us and question us and detain us, when we’ve committed no crime?” Seim says on the video.

As for how his children react at seeing Daddy confronting officers, Seim says, “The kids are surprisingly engaged … our kids understand far more than people expect them to understand.”

Seim’s activism is well known in this county of only 92,000.

Back in May, he posted a video about hassling with cops and security personnel at the Grant County Courthouse in Ephrata because he said state law said the building should have a lockbox for his gun — the lockbox was in the adjoining Sheriff’s Office.

Seim also was a candidate this year for the seat vacated by retiring Congressman Doc Hastings. Seim’s run ended in the primary when he received only 2 percent of the vote.

Seim plans to keep making plenty more videos of his encounters with authorities.

He says he doesn’t care about the nasty comments he receives about them.

One commenter posted on Seim’s verbal confrontation over California’s highway pest inspection, “I wish this video ended in you getting tased.”

Says Seim, “I don’t require everyone’s friendship.”

Obviously not.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com Twitter @ErikLacitis