Chapter Three: The Police Department – Whatcom Barriers to Equity, a review for 2021 candidates

August 29, 2021 Dena Jensen

From Introduction – Whatcom Barriers to Equity, a review for 2021 candidates : 

Materials that were responsive to a number of recent public records requests obtained from the City of Bellingham, and one request from Whatcom County, provide insights into notable communications strategies of existing City staff, the mayor’s office, and some City Council Members regarding many of the winter’s events related to homelessness. On some of these matters, communications were being coordinated between the City and County executive branches.

Based on information contained in those materials, an important question arises regarding future actions of folks newly stepping up to run, or those continuing on to serve their community in public office: will they take action to eliminate government approaches that view or portray individuals and community organizations serving people in crisis as adversaries?

Chapter One: The County Executive – Whatcom Barriers to Equity, a review for 2021 candidates

Chapter Two: City Staff and the Mayor – Whatcom Barriers to Equity, a review for 2021 candidates

Chapter Three: The Police Department

In eliminating systemic racism and oppression in our country, one of the significant challenges is that the sources of mistreatment and inequity lurk in commonly accepted everyday practices which people fail to acknowledge are playing a part in that injustice.

In a comprehensive resource offered on Stanford News in February this year, the following was included in a featured statement leading into the results of many research projects examining different facets of how to advance racial justice in America:

“One of the hardest elements of advancing racial justice is helping everyone understand the ways in which they are involved in a system or structure that perpetuates racism, according to Stanford legal scholar Ralph Richard Banks.

According to the “Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness 2021 Annual Report,” commonly referred to as the Point-in-Time Count, one of the places that racial inequities negatively impact people of color in Whatcom County is in our area’s homelessness rates.

Click the graphic to access a press release announcing findings from the 2021 Whatcom County Point in Time Count Report on Homelessness which includes this paragraph on racial inequities in homelessness rates

City of Bellingham staff helps guard against defunding the police

In early March of 2021, a couple weeks before the City of Bellingham swept the homeless encampment at a parking lot on City property near the Frank Geri Softball Fields, their Public Works Director Eric Johnston shared with numerous City officials an email written by Bellingham Police Department’s Deputy Chief Scott Grunhurd. Johnston indicated in his email that he agreed with Grunhurds’s message

Johnston’s email was a reply within a chain of communications initiated on March 4, 2021 by COB Communications Director Janice Keller with the subject line, “rough draft ‘script.'” Keller was sharing a draft document to be used as a script for, among other things, “key influencer phone calls” about matters related to “the illegal encampment at Geri Field and the City’s intent to address its growing public health and safety concerns.”

There was a section in the draft document that asserted that BOP Mutual Aid was an organization that was “organizing the unsheltered at Geri Field.” City staff had listed demands that they said were from the group’s social media pages at that time. One of the demands they listed was “‘Defund’ or ‘abolish’ the police.”

Click on the image of the first page of “DRAFT Outreach Phone Call Outline 3 March 21 BH edits+JK” to view a PDF of the entire document. The red text indicates material added by Janice Keller, and blue text indicates material added by COB Deputy Administrator Brian Heinrich

Deputy Chief Grunhurd’s March 5, 2021 email, which the City’s Public Works Director had included in the email chain that same day, had offered the following input regarding that section of the draft document:

Group,

The ‘living’ document is getting a lot of comments.

I have one request.  Where it states ‘Defund or abolish the police’.  Can we add some comment that defines the police role in camp clean-up.  

•We aren’t the ones deciding to clear the camps. 
•We are tasked/assigned with a role in the camp cleanup process.
•The police didn’t cause homelessness.
•That defund/abolish the police movement is using the Homelessness issue to further their cause.  It’s an opinion of some to re-allocate our budget toward homelessness issues.

I’m not sure about the best ways to articulate this concept.

Deputy Chief Scott Grunhurd
Bellingham Police Department
505 Grand Ave Bellingham, WA 98225
(360) 778-8674

For context, this email exchange was occurring around 10 months after the murder of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis resident, by former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. The devaluation and dehumanization of Black life at the hands of the police that the killing of Floyd symbolized had prompted responses from Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives calling for defunding the police.

Locally, leading up to the City of Bellingham’s budget decisions being made in December of 2020, many community members had been persistently making phone calls and showing up at public meetings calling for their elected Bellingham representatives to defund the police budget by 50% and to invest in community.

Ultimately, reducing the Bellingham Police Department budget by 50% did not occur. The nearest impact of community efforts calling for that level of reduction was that the annual police budget did not increase by thousands of dollars as had been the trend in past COB budgeting periods. Meanwhile, behavioral health and homeless services funding for unsheltered individuals in Bellingham remained in short supply for the number of people in need of those services.

The sweeping of homeless encampments had been intermittently carrying on throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. According to the information that is to follow, Grunhurd’s claim that police weren’t “the ones deciding to clear the camps” in March of 2021 may turn out to reflect more of a fleeting and inexact condition rather than an ongoing standard that is being met.

However, the City seemed to take Grunhurd’s comment to heart when publishing some of the subject matter from the “rough draft ‘script’” on the City webpage related to encampments and emergency winter shelter needs. In their FAQ section on the encampment at Geri Field lower parking lot, the City states, in part:

• Service decisions for law enforcement calls about activities within the camp are made by Bellingham Police, based on type and severity of the incident, time of day, and number of officers available to safely enter the encampment, all intended to protect the safety of all — camp residents, volunteers, officers, members of the public.

• Police serve a support role, not a decision-making role, on when to clear the encampment and in the clean-up process. The decision to disband the Geri Field camp is made by the City administration based on applicable laws and public health and safety guidance.

Click the graphic to access this information on the City of Bellingham webpage, “Addressing tent encampments and emergency winter shelter needs” under the heading “March 8, 2021 FAQs about encampment in Geri Field lower parking lot”

In 2020 Lt. Crass insisted BPD was making encampment decisions

Near the end of summer in 2020, BPD Lieutenant David Crass, who oversees the department’s Outreach Division, had answered workgroup and community members’ questions at a September 11, 2020 meeting of the Whatcom County Homeless Strategies Workgroup (HSW) about who the decision-makers were at that time regarding homeless encampment sweeps.

That same day, Northwest Citizen had published “Homeless Camp Cleanups: A Personal Report” written by HSW member and homeless advocate representative, Markis Stidham. In the report Stidham offered a timeline related to the Bellingham encampment clean-up process as he understood it, from May of 2020 up to late August 2020. He had been able to put together this information from substantial leg-work he did to acquire answers to numerous questions he had about the process.

In a portion of his account, Stidham recalled a meeting he had attended over Zoom on Wednesday July 15th, 2020 that had included, among others, BPD’s then-Deputy Chief Flo Simon, Lieutenant Crass, Sergeant Joe Leighton, Officer Jon Knutsen, and code enforcement officer Claudia Vizcarra.

Two points that Stidham brought forward to attendees at that July Zoom meeting were: 1) BPD Officers in the field working on the encampment clean-ups who were not aware of BPD COVID procedures related to the camps needed to be provided with a copy of a current emergency encampment clean-up policy; 2) having observed “there was no way to accurately judge the health of a camper without a qualified health professional present,” Stidham insisted that a health professional needed to be present at the time of the clean-ups.

Two months after the July Zoom meeting, during the public comment portion of the September 11 HSW meeting, a community member named Mary asked a question of Lt. Crass that was related to this subject. Crass responded to her at that time:

Mary: Also, I understand that Claudia Vizcarra, the police officer that is deemed responsible for tagging the camps that are to be cleaned up is working remotely. And so, I’m curious as to who is the person, or who is the entity that is tagging these sites that are being cleaned up? Who’s making this decision without a health professional available to decide if a camp is healthy or if it is something that needs to be cleaned up for health reasons? Is there anybody who’s able to answer that question? 

David Crass: Yeah, I’m happy to talk about that. No, there’s always been procedures in place. They became more restrictive of which camps were prioritized to be scheduled for clean up. So, we had to look at the impacts and hazards and things like that. There’s a misconception that it’s just a health hazard. It’s many hazards that are involved with that. Claudia Vizcarra is not a police officer, she’s a civilian. She’s an encampment clean-up coordinator. She does direct folks. She’s in charge of scheduling and determining which camps are tagged. They’re done by the officers on the days of the clean up. Markis [Stidham] is familiar with how that goes. He’s seen it. She goes out and decides what’s tagged and how that goes. She gets an assessment kind of through HOT [Opportunity Council’s Homeless Outreach Team]. HOT doesn’t determine what gets cleaned up. They just verify is there a camp there? Does it look big? Does it look small? And they communicate through that.

Although Lt. Crass noted that Claudia Vizcarra is not a police officer, she is employed by the Bellingham Police Department. At the meeting, Lt. Crass was asserting it was Vizcarra – and not the Opportunity Council’s Homeless Outreach Team members – who was in charge of determining when an encampment would be swept.

Lieutenant Crass’s clean-up timeline

A little over five months later, and one week before Deputy Chief Grunhurd’s March 5, 2021 concerns were expressed about how BPD’s part in clearing encampments could impact defunding the police were shared by the City’s Public Works director, Lt. Crass had sent Grunhurd an email with the subject line, “Camp Clean-Ups.” Crass said it was a break down of the camp clean-up process and he presented a timeline regarding the clean-ups.

Here were some of Lt. Crass’s statements related to encampment clean-up dates:

“We paused traditional Camp Clean-ups in March of 2020 due to COVID. After six weeks, camp sizes grew, numerous complaints were received and several environmental, operational and safety concerns were identified.”

“In mid-April, camp clean-ups were resumed with additional COVID procedures in place.”

“The last occupied camp clean-up conducted by BPD was done on Wednesday, October 14th.”

“I was directed by Chief Doll to suspend occupied camp clean-up activities in the week of October 19th.”

“The following message was placed on the City of Bellingham homeless camp reporting pages:
“Thank you for contacting the Bellingham Police Department regarding encampments in the city limits. Based on recent court rulings, legal requirements and COVID restrictions, occupied camp and vehicle clean- ups have been suspended for the time being. (posted 11/19/2020)”

“Unoccupied camp locations were still identified and cleaned of trash. If any occupants were present, the clean-up crew was moved to the next identified unoccupied location. No tagging or notifications were required for these areas. These unoccupied clean-ups of trash and debris only continued weekly until Wednesday, January 27th.

“At that time, the City contracted clean-up crew’s contract expired and no BPD clean-ups were scheduled.”

“On Thursday, January 28th, the City cleared and cleaned Camp 210 at City Hall. This was not a BPD clean-up activity. Public works tagged the location with notifications to vacate. Police provided security with a nearby quick reaction team.”

“BPD has not been actively tagging camp locations to avoid inflaming the situation or making it strictly a Police
action. This was a deliberate action to allow City leadership and affected Departments like Parks and Public works to negotiate without Police involvement.”

“In the first week of February, I was directed by Chief Simon to work with Public Works to tag notifications at the new encampment at Frank Geri field. Patrol Officers were assigned to accompany Public Works as the notification signs were installed with a notice to vacate date of February 5th. No clean-up occurred.”

“On February 10th, Sgt Leighton, two OT [overtime] patrol Officers and [BPD employee and Encampment Cleanup Coordinator Claudia] Vizcarra posted notifications at Sunset Pond parking lot at the request of the Parks Department. This was the first time BPD had tagged an occupied camp location since October of 2020. This tagging elicited inquires and criticism from activist and media. No clean-up occurred.”

“Vizcarra has continued to monitor and observe existing camp locations throughout the City. Numerous complaints have been received since camp clean-ups were paused. Private property camp clean-ups have not been addressed since the pause.”

“BPD is currently in the process of selecting a new clean-up crew. It is expected that the new crew will be available sometime in April. There may be a delay depending on what type of orientation or instruction is required to get them up and running.
“Until the new crew is available, any clean-ups will need to be conducted by Public Works.”

Additionally, in a live Facebook video posted by Serenity Outreach Services on April 28, 2021, BPD Officer Brock Crawford had stated, during sweeps operations at which he was present that day, that officers were following a City directive. He advised people who had questions about the directive to contact the Mayor’s office, or specifically, Brian Heinrich the City administrator.

Click the image of a Facebook Live video recorded and posted on the Serenity Outreach Services Facebook page on April 28, 2021 to access the video which shows an interaction with Bellingham Police Department employees related to homeless encampment sweeps occurring at that time

Thus, while the decision to initiate the encampment sweeps – which Lt. Crass indicated BPD prefers classifying as clean-ups – had apparently not been made by BPD related to a number of the 2021 sweeps which had occurred, this had been the case only since January 28 of this year.

In Lt. Crass’s February 28 email, even though there was a desire noted to draw other City departments into the process of encampment sweeps, there was no desire noted to bring Whatcom County Health Department personnel in to evaluate the health status of camps.

Moreover, while the City is maintaining on their website that it is “identified City staff” who currently review the overall impact of reported camps – and whether or not that identified staff is a BPD employee – BPD involvement is still key to those sweeps being carried out and that involvement is budgeted by the City of Bellingham.

According to a response to a public records request there have been no revised BPD Camp Cleanup procedures issued since 2020.

Deputy Chief Grunhurd sends out records retention (and deletion) tips

Approximately two months before Deputy Chief Grunhurd expressed his concerns about people calling for the re-allocation of part of the police budget toward homelessness issues in early May, Mayor Fleetwood provided an update on City efforts regarding winter sheltering at a January 11, 2021 Bellingham City Council special meeting. The meeting was a joint session with Whatcom County Council Members on issues related to homelessness in Whatcom County.

The Mayor recounted efforts of the City and County to ensure Lighthouse Mission Ministries was able to continue to offer emergency shelter to people under COVID-19 conditions during the winter months and, in the midst of the cold weather season, to provide a couple additional sheltering options. He wrapped-up his update by saying the following:

I have indicated and I understand it’s been quite prominent on social media that I intend to – ‘the Mayor’s going to sweep the site on January 31st.’ It’s a loaded term. I’ve indicated a couple of weeks ago our intention that the encampment will come to an end at the end of this month.

And it is our earnest hope and intent to find places for people to go. So, and as I’ve indicated previously, our every intention is to have multiple phases to it. I’m hoping very much to stay engaged with organizers of the encampment to do this in a peaceful way. 

And it’s not just going to be coming in and, you know, a physical dispersal. I’m hoping that we employ a number of steps, including bringing care workers to – case workers to the site to identify people with whom they have previously worked. I’m hoping that there’s going to be a very humane process by which we go about doing that. 

Four days later, on January 15, 2021, Deputy Chief Grunhurd sent an email to the group police department email address, directed to about 190 department employees, with the subject line, “Departmental Communications.” The email date was also one week before residents of Camp 210 were to move themselves into a restricted footprint on City Hall grounds as one of the phases of Mayor Fleetwood’s approach toward “ending the encampment.”

Grunhurd’s message started out by saying:

Some members of the organization thought that it would be prudent to send out a reminder about Departmental Communications. I appreciate their initiative and concern in this area. So, at their request, I’m putting this communication out. The purpose and intent of this e-mail is a reminder to keep your communications professional and work related to your job and the tasks you are performing.

Deputy Chief Grunhurd went on to give examples of various types of materials that may or may not be subject to public records requests. He noted that the law enforcement profession was experiencing an “increased level of public scrutiny and public disclosure requests,” and followed that with this disclaimer:

The intent of this e-mail isn’t to suggest that we have something to hide or that we, as an agency, have a history or practice of communicating through these means in a bad or negative way. Nor is it trying to single out any one person. However, like many things, it doesn’t hurt to put out reminders on topics such as these.

Of course BPD does have, as part of its recent history, a widely known example of officers who have practiced communicating through messages to each other in a negative way, thanks to the August 13, 2020 Bellingham Herald article, “Bellingham police officers used man with mental health issues for prank, records show.”

Grunhurd proceeded in his email to offer a list of records retention “’Tips’ (in no particular order).” Had BPD officers been following these tips in 2019, it could have resulted in eliminating evidence relevant to the officers’ involvement in the so-called prank described in The Bellingham Herald article. In turn, this could have further reduced the potential for police accountability in such a matter. Below is the list of Chief Deputy Grunhurd’s tips:

1. Assume all of your communications are subject to public disclosure. Is your communication something you want to see in the newspaper and then have to explain why you wrote it?

2. Practice good communications retention. Text messages and voice mails are considered transitory.

• Generally, there is no expectation or requirement to keep or retain them.
• However, if you do keep them and a request for them is made, you have to produce them. I’m sure you’ve seen the emails from Erin or Brandi.
• If you regularly purge these items, then the records bureau doesn’t have to provide them because they don’t exist (it saves work for them).
• I suppose if there is a text message or voice mail that becomes essential to a case, it can be kept or preserved in a different way.
• A good suggestion is to delete those things at the end of your work week.

3. Don’t assume that because you deleted a text or e-mail that it is gone. It
went somewhere, and someone else may have a copy of it in their
communications.

4. ‘Humor’ doesn’t belong in your professional work related/based communications.

• You may think a comment is humorous and harmless when you send it. However, it doesn’t mean that others who read it feel the same way (internal members or outside parties).
• ‘Humor’ is a subjective thing, which can make it risky. People perceive things differently.
• Simply put, humor isn’t professional and doesn’t belong in your departmental communications.
• If you didn’t add ‘humor’ in the first place, then you don’t have to, possibly, explain the reasons you put in there to an investigator, prosecutor, defense attorney etc.….

5. Keep your e-mails and voice mail accounts ‘Cleaned up’. If you are done with it and aren’t required to keep it, get rid of it.

Know the difference between reply and reply all in your e-mail responses.

If your [sic] not sure your communication reads well, have someone else review it prior to sending it.

Providing additional context related to the timing of Deputy Chief Grunhurd’s email is a City of Bellingham document, titled, “Scenario 2 Notes Attorney Client 1-6-21.” The document noted that, as of nine days prior to Grunhurd’s January 15 email, the City was anticipating “legal action to block end of encampment.”

Click the image to access the City of Bellingham document ‘Scenario 2 Notes Attorney Client 1-6-21’

Lt. Crass provides City Staff with ‘significant calls from 210 Lottie’

The same day that Deputy Chief Grunhurd sent his January 15, 2021 email with tips for BPD employees related to public records retention practices, Lt. Crass sent an email to then-COB Development Specialist Liz Purdy. The subject line of his email was “RE: feedback for FAQs.”

On January 13, Purdy had sent an email to Crass saying, among other things, that the City was hoping to name some specific safety concerns related to Camp 210 and asking him to let her know, “of any reports that you recommend we review or safety issues that you think we should address.” 

When Lt. Crass responded to Purdy on January 15, he initially provided information about Camp 210 that he had heard other sources say, including information that had not been verified. He then stated:

Here is a list of the some of the incidents from Camp 210 that kind of demonstrate the mood and climate of the camp.  Not sure how practical it would be for you to view, but the body cam footage from many of these incidents are pretty powerful and show the hostile environment our Officers have experienced when responding to the area.

Here are some significant calls from 210 Lottie.  This does not account for all calls at that location or others that may have been associated with other nearby locations like the library lawn or surrounding streets.

Following this, Lt. Crass provided a list of 26 service calls for the location. There were 12 different incident types: Disorderly Conduct, Harassment, Fight, Assist Citizen, Suspicious Circumstance, Drug Investigation, Hazard, Trouble with a Person, Assault – Misdemeanor, Assault – Felony, Information Report, and Sexual Assault.

A public records request was made by this writer for body cam footage associated with the case numbers of the incidents with which Lt. Crass had provided Purdy. Body cam footage for 19 of the 26 cases was provided. The BPD Public Records Evidence and ID Supervisor noted that body cam recordings were not associated with 7 of the 26 cases.

Regarding the body cam recordings of the incidents that were received, here are some selected observations resulting from this writer’s review of them:

  • The remarks of Lt. Crass which pointed out officers experienced a hostile environment when responding to the area had left out the many instances of positive or benign interactions people had with officers who responded to calls at Camp 210. Hostile responses seemed to come from a significant minority of individuals that officers encountered during those incidents.
  • During one incident related to a reported assault, an officer wanted to wait for a person to approach and turn a corner to the area where officers were gathered before detaining the person. Another officer, instead, walked toward the person calling out to them, telling the other officer they wanted to bait the person to come toward them. This approach resulted in the person detouring away from officers, out of sight, and around 7-10 officers proceeding into Camp 210 with weapons and flashlights out after 10:00 p.m. at night, calling out for the person, who they failed to locate there.
  • During a reported harassment incident, while an officer spoke calmly with a person he was questioning and another person in his presence, he inaccurately depicted that members of the encampment were moving in on officers. Only one individual had approached from the area that the officer indicated and had soon walked away. The officer also maintained the situation had escalated, requiring four to five officers to be present, when at the time this officer arrived on scene as the first one there, the alleged victim was told to drive away and there were no people in the area threatening assault.
  • Throughout the nineteen incidents, officers were inconsistent in promptly informing people, or informing people at all, that they were being recorded by body worn cameras.
  • For one of the reported assault incidents that Lt. Crass listed in his email, he had noted parenthetically that “Courthouse Employees were victims.” The reason for Crass pointing out a specific occupation of those alleged victims, while not pointing out any status of other alleged victims, is unknown.
  • There were at least two incidents where officers’ approaches in interacting with alleged victims led to those individuals becoming escalated in their responses to the officers.
  • Lt. Crass had suggested the body cam footage from many of the incidents was powerful, and that the incidents “kind of” demonstrated the mood and climate of the camp. However, he did not remind Purdy that the mood and climate of Camp 210 shown in body cam footage was during specific and potentially traumatic periods of time and was not able to reflect what the mood and climate at camp was when police were not present.

On January 28, 2021, a news briefing had been held after multiple law enforcement agencies were called in for the sweep of the encampment at Bellingham City Hall. When Flo Simon, who had taken the position of BPD’s interim police chief at the beginning of the month, addressed the press that day, she had indicated that during the 11 week period that the camp had been in existence, officers had responded to over 60 calls.

From case reports responsive to a public records request submitted to Bellingham Police Department for incidents that occurred at Lighthouse Mission Ministries’ Base Camp shelter, during an 11 week period from February 3, 2021 to April 21, 2021, there were 47 case reports.

Base Camp case reports for that period addressed 17 types of incidents: Information Report, Trouble with a Person, Assist Citizen, Behavioral Health, Fight, Malicious Mischief, Suspicious Circumstance, Assist other Agency [RE reported failure of an individual to register as a sex offender], Warrant Arrest, Theft, Trespass, Graffiti, Drunk Person, Bomb Threat, Vehicle Prowl, Assault – Misdemeanor, and Assault – Felony. 

Base Camp staff members reported being threatened and/or assaulted in over 20% of the 47 incidents reported to BPD that occurred at Base Camp during the 11 weeks from February 3, 2021 to April 21, 2021. In addition to this, in over 20% of the total cases it was reported that individuals who were at Base Camp, but were not staff members, were threatened or assaulted. 

On the COB webpage, “Addressing tent encampments and emergency winter shelter needs,” it was stated that:

Service providers had been threatened and harassed by individuals associated with the [210 Lottie] encampment throughout its duration. Such treatment was experienced by social services workers, law enforcement personal, emergency medical services providers, City employees, County employees and others from multiple agencies.

Yet remarks about Base Camp staff members or individuals who were not staff members at Base Camp experiencing threats, harassment and assaults at Base Camp were not included on that COB webpage. On the contrary, the City statements about Base Camp on that webpage were ones which encouraged people in need of shelter to go there.

Lowering the boom

At the time of the January 11, 2021 Bellingham City Council special meeting when Mayor Fleetwood had restated the intent of his administration for the encampment at City Hall to come to an end at the close of January, members of the collective of volunteers at the camp were facing a choice to either: accept the City’s offer to house only around 25 individuals – of the approximately 100 people living at the camp – in a low barrier tiny home community on Port of Bellingham property, or refuse the offer and continue to insist that shelter options be provided for all of the individuals that had become a family at Camp 210 over the two months of intensive emergency and triage services provided at that location.

They chose to continue to insist and did so publicly at numerous Bellingham City Council meetings, until City Council members began to enforce a 15 minute public comment period in early March of 2021.

Ten days after the January 11 City Council special meeting, on January 21, 2021, BPD Chief Flo Simon sent an email at 9:03 a.m. to the group police department email address with the subject line “210 Lottie.” In it she stated:

A quick update on 210 Lottie. You may have seen in social media that there is a call for a protest on Friday 1/22 because the camp is going to be cleaned. That is misinformation. 

The city is establishing a 25 foot buffer around city hall and campers have until Friday to move away from the building. PW [Public Works] is checking in with the campers on a daily basis and on Friday they will put up the same fencing that is around the library.
 
The city will also be posting that the time has come to start clearing the camp but again the clean up is not happening 1/22. 

Stay tuned…

Flo

Early the next evening at 5:15 p.m. Chief Simon sent another email, with the subject line, “City Hall” to the group police department address saying:

Folks here’s a quick update about 210 Lottie. 

Protesters anticipated that we would be cleaning up the camp today but that wasn’t happening.  They blocked off both ends of Lottie and lined the street. They burned flags , chased and assaulted news crews and eventually pried the doors to City Hall open. They were demanding to speak to the Mayor who was no longer in the building. They entered the building so Lt. Almer gathered teams for force protection so PW could secure the doors. A group of about 25-30 came to the back of City Hall and engaged us, some shouted some wanted to talk but it is clear they have no intentions of leaving. Once PW was done we cleared and came back to station.
 
Lt. Almer did a great job talking to the protesters and Blue team did a great job of not responding to the hate that was being spewed. Also a huge thanks to WhatComm for keeping us informed of events. Lt. Cristelli – thank you for being our liaison with the County who had rallied at muni court in case the Courthouse was compromised. 

For this weekend – if the protesters keep Lottie blocked that’s ok. If you get calls to 210 Lottie follow the practice you have established of having folks meet us at the station. 

I will be monitoring.
 
Stay safe!

Flo

Six days later, on the morning of January 28, and one day before the posted deadline for people to remove themselves and their personal property from 210 Lottie Street, Chief Simon sent the following email with the subject line, “Update,” at 7:25 a.m. to the group police department email address:

Hi All,

In an abundance of caution I didn’t do a notification until now. We are securing 210 Lottie TODAY so that Public Works can get in and clean it. We recommended to do it earlier rather than after Friday due to large numbers possibly protesting on Friday and endangering everyone. 

Thanks for your understanding,

Flo

Months later, on April 24, 2021, the Whatcom Democrats passed a “Resolution on the aggressive sweep of Camp 210, calling for police demilitarization.” The militaristic aspects of the sweep at City Hall on January 28, 2021 were pointed out and the inappropriate deployment of SWAT teams that day was documented.

The resolution declared in the second clause of its preamble: “Whereas, no one in civil society is ‘the enemy,’ nor should they ever be treated that way, short of armed insurrection.”



Throughout the late January emails about Camp 210 being sent to her police officers by the interim police chief, Simon had been consistently referring to actions being taken by BPD related to protesters. At 11:48 a.m. on January 28, Simon sent another “Update” to the group police department email address, remarking on actions related to 60 protesters:

Officers are holding about 60 protestors at bay so that campers can clean up which they are peacefully doing. Protesters are yelling and screaming but know the line. WSP AND COUNTY assisting. 

Our officers are doing a great job. 

Flo

Similarly, during the news brief held at 4:00 p.m. that day of the January 28 sweep, Chief Simon also referred to the actions BPD chose to take in response to protestors. However by 4:36 p.m. that day, her characterization of people opposing the displacement of people at the 210 Lottie encampment had changed. They had become, in the “Update” email she sent to officers at that time, “agitators”:

Campers were peaceful and cleaned up. The agitators about 150 of them were the biggest problem. They shouted at our officers, threw things at them and assaulted Brandland, Wubben and Starkovich. Arrests were made. 

Once the lawn was clear of campers the agitators left. 

FYI some campers went to Fraser st where Corey Hill has a camp. 

I am so proud of the teamwork today. Thank you so much for the work you put in today. Each of you stepped up to help wherever needed.  It was all hands on deck. 

I’ll thank WCSO, WSP AND Border Patrol for their assistance as well. 

Unknown what tomorrow will bring but Kat and Travis are  working feverishly on that end. 

Stay tuned and stay safe,

Flo

The word “agitator” can appear to be interchangeable with the word “protestor” when looking at dictionary definitions. But consulting a thesaurus reveals the more provocative associations of the word “agitator.” In Simon’s January 28, 4:36 p.m. update she labeled “about 150 of them” with that word, alleging they shouted at officers, threw things at them, and assaulted three specific officers.



On February 5, 2021 the Bellingham Police Department Facebook page made a post that featured a 10 minute montage of their officers’ body cam footage from the morning of January 28, 2021. The clips of video recordings showed protesters, in an escalated state, being pushed backwards from where they stood, by BPD officers, as City Public Works employees continued the sweep of the encampment at City Hall.

There was text displayed early in the video, before the body cam segments started, stating that campers were removing their items peacefully during the seven o’clock hour that morning of January 28th, and that: 

By 9:15 am, the majority of campers on the northwest lawn behind the police line have peacefully removed their belongings. 

The police line remained to protect Public Works employees from protesters’ attempts to disrupt their cleanup work. 

Noting the time counters on the various segments of body cam footage that had been edited together, 9 of the 10 segments – those 9 capturing intense moments of conflict – were recorded from 9:47 a.m. to 10:08 a.m.

According to the text displayed at the beginning of BPD’s body cam montage in their February 5 post, a majority of campers had removed their belongings by 9:15 a.m., yet officers remained in the area, as reported by Chief Simon, until some point after 11:48 a.m. During that period after 9:15 a.m., officers were physically pushing on protesters, as shown in the body cam recordings, escalating people to the degree that it posed danger to themselves and to police.

On January 11, 2021 Mayor Fleetwood had claimed his administration’s intent was to find places to go for people from Camp 210, in multiple phases, within a “very humane process.” Yet the choices made in having Public Works employees continue to clear an area from which the majority of camp residents had already departed displayed an abandonment of the type of phased, humane approach the Mayor had described.

Mayor Fleetwood, far from seeming regretful of how things had been approached that day, sent an email to the group police department email address on February 4, 2021 around two hours after BPD had made their Facebook post with the body cam montage. The subject line of Mayor Fleetwood’s post was “Thank you:”

Employees of the Bellingham Police Department –

I had the chance to watch an early draft video compilation of the body-worn camera footage from the January 28 encampment clearing and protest at City Hall. This is just a quick note to express my deepest heartfelt thanks and admiration for the work of the Bellingham Police Department. Special thanks for those women and men who, faced with a hostile, volatile crowd intent on provoking confrontation, used their extensive training and experience to maintain the highest professional standards. You remained steadfast and calm under daunting circumstances and in doing so prevented injury and further violence.

Watching the short video excerpts of your work, and knowing that you faced hours of those conditions that day, was an emotional experience for me and others who viewed the early draft video. Please know you all have our utmost respect and admiration. I extend my thanks to the entire Bellingham Police Department, as I am keenly aware that it takes every one of you, serving in your many roles, to form the effective team you are known to be.

The video will be released to the public in the next day or so. We have received many public records requests for the complete body-worn camera footage and, in releasing these excerpts, we wanted to provide the community a chance to see some of what happened that day from your perspective. We anticipate it will be widely viewed and shared and, I hope, result in widespread public praise for the exemplary work you do each day.

Thank you, as always, for your service.

Seth Fleetwood

Mayor

City of Bellingham

360-778-8100

smfleetwood@cob.org

My incoming and outgoing email messages are subject to public disclosure requirements per RCW 42.56

Coming next: Chapter Four: The City Council Members