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Federal lawsuit looks to protect constitutional rights of people living at I-90 homeless camp

On Friday, Jewels Helping Hands and Disability Rights Washington filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

SPOKANE, Wash. — A new lawsuit surrounding the homeless camp near I-90 has emerged, and one of the attorneys listed in the complaint said it's meant to take arresting camp residents off the table. 

"We are filing this complaint to say keep doing what you're doing as for as helping everybody. And take off the table the option that makes everything worse," attorney Andrew Biviano said.

On Friday, Jewels Helping Hands and Disability Rights Washington filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of people living at the camp located on WSDOT property near I-90 and Freya. 

The 25-page lawsuit claims forcing people off the homeless camp near I-90 is unconstitutional. And arresting those who refuse to leave violates their rights. Biviano hopes that bringing this lawsuit forward will remind everyone working to clean up the camp that the people staying there have constitutional rights.

"Governments are not allowed under the constitution to just arrest people who have committed no crime, who have permission from the landowner to be where they are, and working their hardest to get themselves a better spot," Biviano said.

The lawsuit lists the city and Spokane County as defendants, along with Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. Both have said they want to avoid using law enforcement to clear out the camp. But as a last resort, people who refuse to leave will be arrested.

Biviano said the threat of arrests has already caused significant harm to the people staying at the camp. And, according to the lawsuit, forcing them to leave would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Rather than waiting for more harm to be done, this lawsuit was intended to stop that in advance and to give people some certainty that they will be able to follow through on the plan to get better housing," Biviano said.

He believes this legal action won't distract from work already underway at the camp. But, city spokesperson Brian Coddington said it does.

"It does take away, a little bit, from the work that we're trying to do," Coddington said. "And it creates another distraction and another layer of complexity that we have to work through. But, nobody's deterred. We're going to continue to work together and do the best that we can to come up with a plan that, first and foremost, gets those people who are living in a field out of a field and into an environment where there's a roof over their head."

In a statement from Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, he said, "This is nothing more than a sad attempt to jump start his [Andrew Biviano] failing campaign for judge. Unfortunately, it provides false hope, just like the continued promise of tiny homes. It does nothing more than encourage the people at the camp to stay while hindering efforts to connect them with the services and assistance they need and continue to victimize the people and businesses in the neighborhood."

We shared these responses with the attorney. Biviano reiterates the goal of the lawsuit is still to remove arrests as an option to clearing out the camp.

This is just one lawsuit surrounding the cleanup efforts at this homeless camp. Spokane County also filed a lawsuit against WSDOT. It calls the camp a nuisance property and highlights the spike in crime and the harm to families and businesses over the last 10 months.

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