By Scott North Herald Writer
EVERETT — A cocaine-addicted criminal who has 15 felony convictions and once nearly lopped off a man’s arm with a sword was the close companion of border activist Shawna Forde this winter during a flurry of violence in Everett.
Thomas Wayne Gibler, 38, has served time behind bars for attempted robbery, burglary, theft, drug trafficking, escape and high-speed police chases.
In recent weeks, Everett police have examined Gibler’s links to Forde as they continue to investigate three violent incidents here, including a Dec. 22 ambush shooting that left Forde’s ex-husband clinging to life with five bullet wounds.
Detectives in early August asked The Herald to delay publication of this story and Gibler’s photo while they pursued investigative leads related to the man.
Gibler is now back in prison serving time on his latest felony conviction. He represents another Forde compatriot whose criminal history apparently proved no bar from association with her group, which she claimed protected American values by targeting drug smugglers and illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Forde, 41, was the self-described executive director of a now-defunct group called Minutemen American Defense. She’s jailed in Tucson, Ariz., accused of a double murder. Prosecutors there say they are seeking the death penalty for the May 30 killings in Arivaca, Ariz., which they allege were part of a scheme to fund Forde’s organization.
Court records show that Forde and her co-defendants in the murder case — Jason Eugene Bush and Albert Gaxiola — all have felony histories. Bush appears to have concocted a bogus military history to hide his years in prison. Gaxiola did time for drug trafficking. Forde’s past included theft, teenage prostitution and her first felony conviction at age 11.
Forde introduced Gibler to several people in Snohomish County this winter, describing him as both a boyfriend and one of “her minutemen,” records show.
Forde’s family and friends have for months said the man they knew only as “Thomas Wayne” or “Wayne” bears a striking resemblance to a police artist’s sketch. The sketch depicts the narrow-faced stranger who Forde’s ex-husband said suddenly appeared in his north Everett house and began shooting.
At the time of the attack, the Fordes were divorcing, and Shawna Forde was unemployed, debt-ridden and essentially homeless.
Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz would not discuss what detectives have learned about Gibler. He said it would be inappropriate to share details in what he described as an active police investigation.
“We still don’t have probable cause to arrest anybody in the case,” Goetz said last week. “We are still waiting for some written statements to be returned from some witnesses that we’ve talked to.”
Gibler is serving a 2 1/2-year sentence for an unrelated police chase in Everett on May 19. So far, he’s not granted an interview about his links to Forde and the events of last winter.
“He does not wish to discuss this further,” said attorney Natalie Tarantino, the public defender in Gibler’s latest case.
Gibler’s mother, who asked that her name not be published to protect her privacy, said her son told her he was gambling in a south Snohomish County casino when Forde’s ex-husband was shot.
Forde, who once ran for Everett City Council, left town in the spring, and police say she refused repeated requests that she submit to close questioning about the attempt on her ex-husband’s life.
Gibler’s mother said Forde earlier this year spent months trying to get her son to join her in Arizona. He ultimately decided to make the trip after Forde offered to pay him, she said. He told his mother he was on his way to meet with Forde on May 19 when he got into the police chase.
In court papers, Gibler said he’s since found God. He described his arrest in Everett, 11 days before the killings in Arivaca, as “a divine intervention.”
“I was actually on my way to the home of a person who’s facing a life sentence for murder, Shawna Ford (sic),” Gibler is quoted in a corrections department sentencing report. “This made me open my eyes to see that God really does have a purpose for me in this world.”
In December and January, Forde got national attention for her claims that she and her family were being targeted for violence in Everett by Mexican drug cartels. First her ex-husband was shot. A week later, Forde called police to report that she was raped. On Jan. 15, she turned up in a north Everett alley with bullet wounds to one arm.
Police closed their investigation into Forde’s rape claim, citing a lack of evidence. They recently reactivated their investigation into Forde’s alleyway shooting after The Herald found new witnesses.
The witnesses told the newspaper about receiving separate phone calls — at different times — in which Forde described being chased by a gunman into an alley, where police found her with bullet wounds.
Both women are suspicious that Forde somehow staged the shooting in a bid to confuse the police investigation into her ex-husband’s shooting.
People who know Forde say that last winter she often was in Gibler’s company. The rail-thin man is described in court papers as having long waged losing battles with both drug addiction and the law.
Gibler’s been in trouble on and off since he was a boy. He’s been locked up after being accused of armed robberies, was charged with allegedly shooting at a former girlfriend and repeatedly has been caught by police with illegal drugs, sometimes in large quantities, including crack cocaine, PCP, LSD and marijuana.
In 1999, Gibler was the victim of a home-invasion robbery by a group of young men who wanted to take at gunpoint the marijuana crop he was tending in his home. The robbers got what they wanted, but not before Gibler grabbed a Japanese-style sword and badly cut one of the robber’s arms, court papers show.
When not in prison, Gibler supports himself with disability payments he receives because of health problems related to drug abuse, court papers show.
Last winter, he was on active supervision by state corrections department officials, listed as a high-risk violent offender. Although he’s previously received state-supervised drug offender treatment, Gibler abandoned a wife and stepchildren to chase his addictions, court papers said.
“Mr. Gibler has made no known contributions to the community and does not provide for the welfare of his family,” community corrections officer Christopher Glans wrote in a report to the sentencing judge.
The Herald learned Gibler’s identity and his link to Forde in late July, after gaining access to some Everett police case reports under state public records laws. Before Forde’s arrest in mid-June, police gave no hint that the records were no longer part of ongoing investigations and thus open to public scrutiny.
Gibler was with Forde on the days her ex-husband was shot and also when she reported being raped, the documents show. He turned up at the hospital the night Forde said she’d been raped.
Forde told officers that Gibler was her boyfriend and a member of her minutemen group, but she also claimed not to know his last name, documents show.
It was Gibler who broke the news of Forde’s reported rape to the woman’s family, friends and others.
Shannon Naughton of Granite Falls said she was among those whom Gibler called.
She knew Forde growing up in Everett’s Lowell neighborhood and sometimes allowed her childhood friend to stay for extended periods at her home.
Naughton said Forde told her she met Gibler on an Internet dating site. Forde introduced Gibler as “Wayne,” but never gave his full name, Naughton said.
The pair sometimes stayed overnight at her house, she said, but left to live at Forde’s ex-husband’s Everett home in late December while he was hospitalized after the shooting.
Forde was open with Naughton that police had voiced suspicions that Forde somehow could be involved in the attempt on her ex-husband’s life. Forde denied any involvement, and told Naughton she was drinking alone at a south Snohomish County restaurant when the shooting occurred.
Naughton said Forde told her she sometimes engaged in criminal activity with Gibler.
“Her and ‘Wayne’ would go shoplifting,” Naughton said. “She’d bring him along. She called him her wing man.”
Since before Forde’s arrest, her half brother, Merrill Metzger of Redding, Calif., has told of an encounter in Everett with a man he knew as “Thomas Wayne.” It happened in early January, when Forde asked for Metzger’s help to get her teenage daughter out of Washington, arguing it was for the girl’s safety.
Forde introduced “Thomas” as “her new beau,” Metzger said. He described the man as scrawny with sharp features and a close-cropped moustache.
Forde also showed her half-brother a newspaper article about her ex-husband’s shooting, including a police sketch of the gunman.
“Shawna says ‘It kinda looks like you,’” and began laughing, Metzger said.
He wasn’t amused.
“ ‘As a matter of fact,’ I said, “It doesn’t look like me at all. It looks like you, Thomas.’ And the laughing was all over, and the subject was changed,” Metzger said.
Metzger said he privately told Everett detectives about the encounter with “Thomas” months ago.
Prior to Gibler’s arrest in the May pursuit, state corrections officials were monitoring him, requiring Gibler to show up for regular interviews and to submit to drug screening tests. Gibler was wanted on a warrant for failing to keep an appointment six days earlier with his community corrections officer, said Chad Lewis, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.
Everett police never told corrections officials about Gibler’s connections to Forde, although they wouldn’t necessarily expect to have been notified, Lewis said.
On the other hand, had police presented evidence that Gibler was actively involved in Forde’s Minuteman American Defense group, “then we likely would have investigated it as part of his supervision, just like we investigate offenders’ involvement in street gangs,” Lewis said.
Reporter Scott North: 425-339-3431, email@example.com.