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Puyallup settles with four homeless people who brought 'sweep' lawsuit


Four homeless people who challenged the city of Puyallup's practice of clearing away encampments have agreed to a $40,400 settlement. 

Puyallup offered pay the four plaintiffs $10,100 each, plus attorneys fees that have yet to be determined.

The plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit — Nancy Boyle, Glenn Humphreys, Nicki Wedgeworth, and Terry Linblade — accepted the offer in mid-November, according to court records. The agreement has not previously been reported.

Their attorney, Sherilyn Peterson, said the plaintiffs agreed to settle after Puyallup officials showed them documents outlining new guidelines for clearing encampments. The guidelines require police to provide a 72-hour notice before clearing a camp and to hold onto property for 60 days.

"When I talked to my clients about the offer, they were as excited about the policy change as about the prospect of getting money," said Peterson, of the Seattle law firm Perkins Coie. "I was really moved by that."
The guidelines were not a formal part of the agreement. Puyallup did not admit wrongdoing. 

"We’re always seeking to do things correctly," city attorney Joe Beck said. "We’re always tweaking and making adjusments. But there’s no requirement or agreement that we change anything. Our position is we didn’t do anything wrong." 

Beck said the city's attorneys made the settlement offer to avoid the costs of going to trial. 

A city spokeswoman said the policy of giving 72 hours notice has been in place for "many years" and that city employees adhered to an "informal policy" of ensuring that property was not destroyed. 

"In 2018 we determined that we would like to have a more formal and written policy in place specific to the clean-up of homeless camps," spokeswoman Brenda Fritsvold said in an email. "That was created and implemented by City administrative staff (police, legal, etc.) independent of any legal action." 

Two other plaintiffs, Christian Rainey and Jerome Connolly, are continuing in the lawsuit, but the target of their complaint is in dispute.

Puyallup's attorneys believe Rainey and Connolly were displaced from county land. A Pierce County spokeswoman said county employees were not involved in any of the six clean-ups covered in the lawsuit. 

"We are evaluating next steps, including a request for a dismissal and fees," county spokeswoman Libby Catalinich said by email. 

The six plaintiffs said they lost family photos, medications, and other belongings when city police, sometimes aided by sheriff's deputies, cleared away their encampments in the Puyallup area since February 2016. 

The federal lawsuit, filed in September, targeted both the city and county, arguing the so-called "sweeps" of their encampments violated their constitutional rights.

The lawsuit was filed as Puyallup's leaders were embroiled in a debate over how to respond to an increase in the visibility of homeless people. City Council members were weighing a policy of effectively restricting any new shelters to a limited area in the city's northwest corner. The law later passed in a 5-2 vote. 

As homelessness has worsened along the West Coast, cities have grappled with how to respond to a proliferation of encampments. Local policies have frequently been met by legal challenges. 

A separate legal decision this fall, out of a case in Boise, Idaho, upended the way cities and counties enforce laws against camping on public property.

The September ruling from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared "governments cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors" if they have no option of sleeping indoors.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.