BLM Protest March in Omak, WA. June 4th, 2020.

OKANOGAN COUNTY – A number of county residents using social media already know of a letter that was sent by Okanogan County Prosecuting Attorney Arian Noma to Sheriff Tony Hawley in mid-September 2020, concerning the events of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest march in Omak and the armed business owners and supporters keeping watch nearby, that occurred last June. This protest occurred after related protests had already been sweeping the country, often devolving into fire and chaos. The local demonstration was peaceful – on all sides – and no incidents occurred.

That letter made the rounds on social media, however, not everyone is on Facebook and there was more to this story.

Many involved in the BLM demonstration were upset about, and expressed considerable paranoia over the firearms that were visible on observers during the march. In the months immediately following the protest, a private group, led by Sam Howell (Okanogan) and Pat Leigh (Mazama) intended to obtain a writ of mandamus that would force the sheriff to enforce RCW 38.40.120 as they thought it should be enforced, ie. by not permitting anyone “as a group” to carry visible firearms in public.

Mandamus is an extraordinary court order, which orders a public agency or governmental body to perform an act required by law when it has neglected or refused to do so. However, there are many requirements to issuing one, and in this situation, it seems unlikely that the facts would support it. In any case, the group seeking to obtain this order was not successful.

Over the summer, Noma sought an authoritative opinion on the subject of RCW 38.40.120 from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, but the AGO declined to provide him with one.

So then, in mid-September, enter Noma’s letter to Sheriff Hawley.

View the prosecutor’s September 15th letter here (PDF)

The letter, which Noma says was intended as legal advice for the Sheriff’s Office – but not the directive that it seemed, was also cc’d to a number of other law enforcement agencies in the county. In it, Noma appeared to take several novel and concerning legal positions, which gave rise to a number of questions by law officers, as well as concerned citizens.

The biggest one, where Noma’s statement that his office believes that the mere presence of firearms in a situation where one party complains of that presence then automatically "warrants alarm for the safety of others", as long as there's a nebulous something called "social context" present, appears to – quite significantly – go against how this issue has been treated in every other jurisdiction, as well as historically.

BLM march in Omak, WA. June 4th, 2020.
BLM march in Omak, WA. June 4th, 2020. Photo: B.Laurie Photos

Prosecutor Noma didn’t explain exactly how an individual right guaranteed by our Constitutions – Federal and State – is trumped by someone else's desire not to see any firearms in public, just as long as there are some events happening elsewhere in the country that amp up the emotions on all sides.

He did say that his office's position was that for "any future protests, any organized groups of armed individuals should be prohibited", and are in violation of RCW 38.40.120. But he did not provide any details of guidance for law enforcement officers and others to reliably distinguish various unorganized gatherings – also known as groups – of armed individuals, from an organized, armed group that should be prohibited.

Inasmuch as there was much concern and confusion generated by his first letter, it was only three days later when he sent the Sheriff a second letter – also cc’d to other agencies – after doing further legal research.

View the prosecutor’s second letter, of September 18th, here (PDF)

In his second letter, Noma continues discussing armed groups and brings in the US Supreme Court’s Heller decision into the picture. However, it doesn’t appear that he sufficiently defended his position even within his own argument.

A bit over a week later, on September 29th, Prosecutor Noma returned with yet another letter – in which he seems to have finally gotten around to reading the Washington State Constitution – and reverses his position on armed groups being illegal, concluding “that RCW 38.40.120 is most likely unconstitutional and unenforceable”.

View the prosecutor’s third letter, of September 29th, here (PDF)

While this was a rather erratic journey through the law with Prosecutor Noma, he – and Sheriff Hawley, along with others in local law enforcement – seem to be trying to provide for public safety, respecting and protecting ALL the rights of individuals, and thereby keeping the peace in our community.

Unfortunately, it appears that a number of Democrat legislators in Olympia are currently working towards further limiting the rights of some unfavored individuals in this state - such as those in the political minority, especially to assemble and peacefully protest. This is being pushed under the guise of restricting militia members from protests while armed. Prohibiting the exercise of certain rights of an individual if there is someone next to them doing the same thing, is unlikely to pass constitutional muster. But the Washington State Supreme Court is certainly adept at overruling the will of the people, as well as pesky constitutional requirements, when the need for it suits them.

Note: On December 10th, Prosecutor Noma submitted his resignation to the Okanogan County Board of Commissioners, effective today, January 15th, 2021.

View the prosecutor’s resignation letter to the Board of Commissioners (PDF)

View the prosecutor’s resignation amended press release (PDF)


BLM march in Omak, WA. June 4th, 2020. Photo: B.Laurie Photos
BLM march in Omak, WA. June 4th, 2020. Photo: B.Laurie Photos
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alicesmith replied the topic: #60 3 years 2 months ago
Thank you, for writing another hard hitting article! LOL, while I read this article, my thought was, I wonder how difficult it would be to start a recall of Noma. So happy to read the last sentence! Hopefully, the replacement is more aware of the Constitution, than Noma.