Bellingham police deny immigration threats to farmworkers, release body cam footage

Farmworkers and community supporters march to the Sarbanand Farm's office in August.
Farmworkers and community supporters march to the Sarbanand Farm's office in August. The Bellingham Herald file

Police said officers didn’t stop a bus at the Greyhound terminal on Aug. 5 and bar farmworkers, who were from Mexico, from getting off by threatening them with immigration violations.

The Bellingham Police Department released body camera footage from three officers who responded to a call at the terminal off Harris Avenue that Saturday.

It remained unclear Thursday why the department picked a particular incident to release body camera footage of officers’ interaction with the public.

Through a news release accompanying the videos, police officials would only say the move was to address “misinformation” the department “recently” learned was circulating in the community.

BPD, however, was vague and didn’t mention how it was circulated, and who disseminated the “misinformation.”

Repeated attempts to contact top police officials went unanswered Thursday.

The videos provide details into the events surrounding the Aug. 6 death of Honesto Silva Ibarra, a 28-year-old father of three from Mexico, while working at Sarbanand Farms in Sumas.

Federal and state agencies are investigating amid complaints from 70 workers who were fired – the videos note there were 60 – after they went on a one-day strike to protest what the workers claim were poor working conditions and lack of medical care for Silva.

California-based Munger Farms, which owns Sarbanand, has disputed those allegations.

Faces were blurred out in the videos. Sounds were cut at different times.

The videos, all more than 30 minutes long, show police assessing the situation as they speak to a woman, who identified herself as a friend of the workers, and other women who identified themselves as the drivers of two yellow buses. It was one of the bus drivers who called police.

One bus was empty. The other had 27 workers, who refused to get off the bus because they didn’t have anywhere to go and hadn’t cashed their paychecks, according to the videos. They were taken to the station, where it seemed they were supposed to figure out their own way back to Mexico.

The videos show police as they worked toward a solution in which the farmworkers were taken to a business where they could cash their paychecks and then decide what they wanted to do next.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea