By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As the encampment that calls itself “Nickelsville” nears the second anniversary of its unauthorized yet unchallenged return to the southeastern West Seattle site where it began, its Central Committee says the camp is “overrun” with troublemakers.
This follows a bizarre situation that unfolded at the West Marginal Way/Highland Park Way Southwest site this weekend.
It was first detailed in the WSB Forums, where some members have long been encampment volunteers/donors (and one is a former resident), and then in an open letter signed by Nickelsville’s “Central Committee.”
The Forums post began with a report that the porta-potties at the encampment – their only toilet facilities, since the city has refused requests to hook up water or other utilities – had been removed on Friday, and that the order had come from the camp’s “staff person,” Scott Morrow, over an “internal management issue.”
To check out the situation, we went by Nickelsville Saturday morning and noted the porta-potties back, with the Honey Bucket truck still there; we took this cameraphone photo:
Participants in the Forums discussion who had ties to the camp confirmed the return. We weren’t sure it was a story until we were pointed to this open letter, posted Saturday on the open “official Nickelsville Facebook group” Nickelsville Works and also shared with us by a source who had received it via e-mail:
Yesterday afternoon, per the instruction of We, the Nickelsville Central Committee of 3/20/13, Porta Pottie Service was withdrawn at Nickelsville. IT WILL RETURN THIS AFTERNOON.
The reason for this decision was our inability at Nickelsville in preventing the overrun of our community by meth dealers and barred, violent former campers. Progress was made yesterday, but the situation is still teetering on the brink.
The basis for this problem with barred campers returning and raising havoc is the failure of the Seattle Police Department to treat our community like ANY of the other organized shelters and encampments in Seattle.
(The open letter continues after the jump, along with information we have researched about police/encampment interaction, including a report we have found about one recent specific incident.)
After almost two years at 7116 W Marginal Wy SW, and clear City recognition of our organization, there is no longer any excuse for police inaction. At any other organized encampment or shelter in Seattle the police, per the request of the leadership and/or staff, assist in removing barred individuals from camp.
Nickelsville cannot continue if meth dealers, thieves, and barred violent individuals can flop out in, or roam through, the camp. Police failure to support – and actually thwart – our repeated efforts to keep our home safe has been draining and demoralizing. In a self managed community like Nickelsville, almost everyone has to participate in security, or there IS NO security.
It is a brutal thing to lose porta potties for a day. The estimation of the Nickelsville Central Committee though, was that without this wake up call, the camp would be lost.
We are not out of the woods. Tonight the camp will consider allowing outside volunteers to help with security shifts. Please call SPD Chief Diaz and ask him to treat Nickelsville like Tent City3. …
To try to get some idea of documented police interaction with Nickelsville, we checked the police “incident response” database at data.seattle.gov for some idea of how many times police have gone to the encampment site since campers returned in May 2011.
Its address is 7116 West Marginal Way; the publicly available city data blocks out the last two digits of addresses, so all we can sort for is 71XX West Marginal, and the database shows 69 calls to that address since mid-May 2011. Five were traffic/accident calls, which we’ll presume were stops on the busy road alongside the encampment, so that leaves 64, about 3 per month, potentially related to the encampment itself – there is no other residence or open business in that block. (The actual number might be higher – the public data from SPD excludes certain types of crime, such as domestic violence.)
The most common types: 26 are listed as disturbances; 11 as assaults; 7 as “suspicious circumstances.”
The most recent report for which a police report with a detailed narrative is publicly available was an assault incident reported on March 17th. It appears to include a corroboration of the Central Committee’s account of police thwarting an “eviction” – but in this case, according to the police report, there was much more to the story: The people who were described as being subject to an “eviction” attempt claimed to police they were being kicked out for calling law enforcement.
The report, heavily redacted (with identifications, even the camp’s name, blacked out, and therefore a little challenging to follow), listed victims who had allegedly been targeted by what the police report described as a “mob” surrounding a tent with “axes, hammers, and crowbars.” Police at one point talked to a woman (“X” here), and the officer wrote in the report:
X told me that she was outside of (the camp) and had been “Barred” from coming inside for 24 hours for unknown reasons, even though all of her belongings were inside the compound.
At some point she had to use the restroom and requested Victim escort her into the compound to use
the Port-A-Potty. When X did this they were confronted by Security Personnel.
X was told she now had to leave the compound permanently for violating their rules and bringing (someone else) back inside. (She) at this point was at her tent when the MOB arrived and began to remove items from her tent and knocking cinder blocks out from underneath the flooring while she was still inside of her tent. That is when (victim)called 911.
(Another) Victim gave the same information as … However, I could see that X was very scared and she was crying a little as she spoke to me. It was my observation that she felt she had no recourse but to leave the compound at the order of the Security Council even though I explained
to her that (the camp site) is City Property and they have no right to “remove or Evict” anyone from public property. I then spoke to Suspect, the “Head of Security,” who told me that (four names redacted) had broken the rules and were being “Evicted” from (site). When I asked him under what authority, he said the authority of the Security Council. When I asked him why a MOB surrounded their tents with ax’s, hammers and crowbars, he told me it was because there were trying to take back the wood pallets and the cinder blocks that belonged to (redacted).
When I told him they had no authority to remove people from public property he tried to explain to me that someone in SPD told him it was ok. I explained to him that was completely incorrect. I also asked him what rules (redacted) had violated. He attempted to explain to me how they do not like “Residents” calling the police without first speaking to the Security Council. He told me they like to handle things “In house” and not draw attention to themselves.
The report also includes allegations of harassment and extortion in separate, earlier incidents. It does not indicate any arrests were made, but ends with the officer writing that he asked the female victim if she wanted him to find her a women’s shelter, and she said she wanted to stay because of someone she did not want to be away from, so she was provided a pamphlet of domestic-violence information and also advised on how to petition for a protection order.
We will be checking tomorrow with SPD regarding the camp Central Committee’s claim, and with other city officials regarding the encampment situation in general, including the City Attorney’s Office, to which this report indicates at least part of this case was referred. The nearest community council, Highland Park Action Committee, has long been monitoring and discussing the encampment, and heard at a recent meeting from Food Lifeline, which has been pursuing purchase of the property that holds the camp, and wrote on its website a week ago that city councilmembers needed to be lobbied to support the proposal.