Judge lifts restraining order on Aberdeen sidewalk sitting ordinance

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the Tuesday edition. Due to a printing error, the story was incomplete. The complete version follows.

A federal judge has lifted temporary restraining orders that barred the City of Aberdeen from enforcing its ordinance barring sitting or lying down on city sidewalks and other laws aimed at discouraging the homeless from camping on public property.

U.S. Circuit Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton issued the order after a hearing in Tacoma on Friday. It lifted a previous order “enjoining enforcement of the Anti-Camping Ordinance, the Sidewalk Law, and Sit-Lie Ordinance.”

The decision to allow the enforcement of the laws was based on the city’s recent steps to find suitable sites for the city’s homeless, said James E. Lobsenz, attorney for the group that brought the initial suit to federal court in November.

“I think everyone agreed that the city had taken some real serious good steps toward dealing with the plight of the homeless in Aberdeen,” said Lobsenz. “We certainly expressed our thanks and appreciation for the opening of the short term (camp at city hall) and the acquisition of property to open a longer-term site.”

During Friday’s hearing, Lobsenz said Leighton indicated “he would no longer prohibit them (the City of Aberdeen) from enforcing other laws, including the ones that prohibit camping on public property, because (the homeless) have another place to be.”

Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson said the lifting of the temporary restraining order means the city can begin enforcing those laws again, but he will meet with Police Chief Steve Shumate and City Attorney Patrice Kent “to make sure we are complying with new case law impacting enforcement since the restraining order was issued.”

“We haven’t been enforcing those for a little bit, and since then non-compliance has increased,” said Larson. “Because of that we are not going to tell officers to just start giving out tickets. There will be a period where we try to encourage compliance, and then ultimately start enforcing them through police procedures.”

On Monday Larson said he didn’t know exactly what enforcement would look like.

“I need to sit down with the police chief and legal counsel to see what that will look like,” he said, adding the city was planning to issue a press release later Monday to offer some of those details.

Lobsenz said the case, filed in November 2018, is “now a damages case.” The case against the city asks for compensatory and punitive damages stemming from First Amendment rights violations on the homeless caused by the city’s restrictions on the now-cleared river camp between State Street and the Chehalis River.

Leighton issued another order Friday setting a jury trial for the case for Nov. 11, 2020. The schedule indicates such a trial would last 10-15 days.

As Lobsenz prepares for the trial, he said his immediate focus is ensuring the city continue its efforts to find suitable sites for the homeless population to live.

“I don’t want there to be a gap between what I understand to be the closing of the tent city (next to city hall) and the opening of a new place,” he said. He said Aberdeen City Attorney Patrice Kent told him the city’s intention is for no gap to occur between the closure of the city hall tent camp and the opening of a larger, longer-term camping site on property at 421 S. Michigan Street, recently purchased by the city for $60,000.