Legal battle ensues when Washington state sheriff refuses to enforce new homeless encampment ban

A decision on homeless encampments by a Washington sheriff’s office triggered dueling lawsuits as the local city charged law enforcement with breach of contract: “We passed a law…”

(Video: KOMO)

Years of flawed responses to an ever-growing homeless problem in the Evergreen State had brought the city of Burien, south of Seattle, to enact an ordinance aimed at making the community safer and getting the indigent into shelters.

However, King County Sheriff Patricia Cole-Tindall, took umbrage with Ordinance 832 as her deputies would be required to enforce a policy she considered unconstitutional. As it happened, $16 million, equivalent to 45% of the city’s annual budget, was paid to the county for law enforcement despite Burien maintaining its own local police force.

On March 11, in an escalation against the ordinance that banned homeless encampments within 500 feet of locations like schools, parks and day care centers, Cole-Tindall filed a law suit that read in part, “After completing a legal analysis of the ordinance, the sheriff’s office has serious concerns about the constitutionality of the ordinance, especially when the exclusion zones are determined solely at the discretion of the City Manager and can be changed at any time.”

Of note, the ordinance did make exceptions should no shelter spaces be available between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., but according to Burien Mayor Kevin Schilling, that was hardly the current case and therefore the city filed a countersuit in Snohomish County Superior Court arguing that the sheriff’s office had violated the terms of their contract.

“We passed a law that tackled the negative impacts around tent encampments, giving people the option to sleep at night in a tent, but saying, ‘You can’t have it up 24/7 because that is what leads to bigger problems,” Schilling told KOMO as they sought to contend with rampant drug use and harassment of locals and passersby.

Burien’s countersuit sought an injunction to dismiss the suit from the sheriff’s office and require that they “engage in the Oversight Committee resolution process,” in addition to paying for damages, costs, fees and “other relief as the Court deems just and equitable.”


In their own statement on the countersuit, the sheriff’s office contended, “The constitutionality of Burien’s anti-camping ordinance is squarely before the federal court. Burien’s attempt to avoid a binding judgment by filing a lawsuit in Snohomish County is just a misguided distraction as we await decision from the federal court.”

Recently, a report on federal data spending found that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services had committed over $200 million toward alleviating homelessness in Washington State dating back to 2007.

In the same period of time, homelessness increased by roughly 20%, showing that merely throwing money at a problem was not a solution, especially when those hired to enforce policies appeared unwilling to do so.

Instead, Discovery Institute’s Jonathan Choe recently reported that King County had opened a controversial “Homeless Hotel” set to house more than 100 “chronically homeless men and women” where treatment and counseling were provided.

“This whole situation is a waste of taxpayer dollars, taxpayer time, and government resources when we could have been all focused on getting people off the streets and into shelters and services,” argued Schilling to KOMO on the dispute with the sheriff’s office.

Kevin Haggerty


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