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Burien sues King County Sheriff for refusing to enforce camping ban

caption: Carlos "Los" Paz begins to take down his tent at Sunnydale Village in Burien on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.
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Carlos "Los" Paz begins to take down his tent at Sunnydale Village in Burien on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.
KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

The legal wrangling is intensifying between the King County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Burien, southwest of Seattle. First came a federal lawsuit by King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, and now Burien’s lawsuit alleging breach of contract. At issue is the sheriff’s refusal to enforce Burien’s latest restrictions on homeless encampments.

Burien’s police department is staffed through a contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office. But earlier this month Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said her agency will not be enforcing the city’s latest camping ban against unsheltered people.

RELATED: King County Sheriff questions constitutionality of Burien's camping ban

Cole-Tindall said Burien’s ordinance is unique in creating 500-foot exclusion zones around day cares, parks, libraries and schools "where unhoused persons risk committing a crime just by being present." The sheriff’s office filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in federal court, saying the ban is so vague it violates the U.S. Constitution.

caption: King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall
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King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall
KUOW/Amy Radil

"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,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

RELATED: Burien's camping ban draws (more) legal scrutiny

Now the city of Burien has filed its own lawsuit in state court. It accuses the sheriff’s office of breach of contract. Burien filed its lawsuit in Snohomish County Superior Court.

“Burien exercised its independent legislative authority to enact an ordinance intended to protect Burien residents, businesses, and property and to assist and provide guidance for the unhoused residents within the city,” the lawsuit states.

The city seeks damages saying the sheriff’s office violated their agreement and improperly sued in federal court rather than engaging in the resolution process specified by its contract.

Three people experiencing homelessness in the city of Burien also sued the city over a previous version of the camping ban, before the Burien City Council voted to update the ordinance in a meeting March 4.

RELATED: People experiencing homelessness in Burien sue city over camping ban

The local lawsuits come as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments April 22 in cases challenging similar restrictions on homeless encampments.

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