Judge halts plans to disband Spokane homeless camp | Washington
Judge halts plans to disband Spokane homeless camp | Washington

Source: Google News

(The Center Square) – A federal judge has granted a temporary emergency restraining order that limits the way law enforcement officials can interact with residents of Camp Hope in Spokane.

Under Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian, deputies and police officers cannot remove people from the camp unless there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. 

Bastian also ruled that infrared imaging or like technology cannot be used to surveil camp activities without a warrant. The sheriff’s office has used both helicopters and drones to get a population measurement of the camp, which is the largest in the state.

The restraining order was sought by Jewels Helping Hands, Disability Rights Washington and several campers. They wanted to stop disbandment of the camp until the case for an injunction is adjudicated.  

The same parties have initiated a federal case claiming a violation of civil rights will occur if the camp is closed against the will of residents. The plaintiffs argue that people at Camp Hope are not trespassing because the Washington Department of Transportation, as the landowner, has given them permission to be there.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich counters that the camp was founded a year ago as a protest over the lack of resources for the homeless, and it has become an “unlawful assembly” due to ongoing public health and safety violations.

Sheriff-Elect John Nowels told The Center Square that the crime rate around the camp has gone up 40% to 90%, depending upon the type of offense.

The hearing to decide whether an injunction should be put in place to stop the removal of campers is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 28, in Yakima.

Julie Garcia, executive director of Jewels, posted a screenshot of Bastian’s decision on Facebook with the comment: “Oh my goodness! Today is the best day ever! We can exhale, if only for a moment.”

Nowels said the Dec. 12 ruling is “disappointing but not unexpected” in light of the ongoing twists and turns in the situation.

“We can still do our regular law enforcement functions; we just can’t do anything about clearing the camp until the injunction has been decided,” he explained. “All this does is prevent us from solving the problem put upon this community; it seems even the federal court is not recognizing that suffering – the voice of the victims has been lost.”

Knezovich disputes the assertion by Jewels, WSDOT and the state Department of Commerce that there is not enough housing available for campers and they will end up on city streets if dispersed.

Nowels said body cam footage of a recent law enforcement visit to Camp Hope refutes the narrative by Jewels and others that deputies and officers have been “intimidating and harassing” residents.

“It’s so frustrating to have people putting false information out there,” he said. “The body cam footage shows just the opposite.

On the video feed from Deputy Joshua Pratt’s camera, about 15 city police officers, deputies and behavioral health counselors showed up at the camp in East Central about 1:40 p.m. on Dec. 6. They were holding flyers to pass out to residents informing them that the site will be closed in the near future and advising them about available shelter resources.

Pratt and others were stopped from entering the camp by Garcia, whose organization has received money from the Department of Commerce to provide services.

As body cam footage rolls, Garcia tells Pratt, a member of the homeless outreach team, that she cannot let his group through the gate without permission from WSDOT.

“We are strictly here to pass out flyers, that’s our sole intention, we’re not here for anything else,” explained Pratt. 

Garcia returned from making a call to WSDOT to inform the law enforcement contingency that they had permission to go inside. She warned Pratt that his live camera was going to scare residents and they were unlikely to engage with him.

“Just be respectful of the fact that folks have been terrorized by law enforcement for the last three months,” she said. “They see the uniforms and they panic.”

She said that she and others would be accompanying the authorities to protect them. 

In contrast to her words, several residents of the camp hugged Pratt when they saw him waiting outside the gate and engaged in conversation.

Inside the camp, Pratt noted that Garcia was  telling people to stay inside tents and RVs and not talk with law enforcement officials. 

“That’s fine,” he said, advising those around him to announce themselves when they approached a tent or RV and then, if the person stayed inside, to leave the flyer “on the porch.”

The footage shows deputies and officers walking on paths of packed snow to distribute information. Sometimes they have difficulty finding the entrance to a tent given the collection of materials piled around or stored behind makeshift pallet fences.

About 40 minutes later, the law enforcement officials completed their mission with incident and departed. Jewels and the other parties then filed for the restraining order to stop further visits.