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News / Northwest

Burien seeks new police chief after sheriff refuses to enforce camping ban

By Lauren Girgis, The Seattle Times
Published: April 12, 2024, 7:28am

The Burien city manager is seeking a new police chief after the King County Sheriff’s Office halted its enforcement of the city’s anti-camping ordinance while a federal judge decides on the ordinance’s constitutionality.

In a succinct letter sent from Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon to King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall on Wednesday, Bailon wrote: “I can no longer state that I trust Chief [Ted] Boe to fulfill the requirements listed within the Interlocal Agreement.”

“More specifically, efforts to address specific issues of concern within the City of Burien have led me to determine that Chief Boe’s actions no longer represent the City of Burien best interests, vision, and goals, in a manner that supports trust between the City and King County Sheriff’s Office.”

Bailon’s efforts to oust Boe mark the latest escalation in contention between the city and King County, which has contracted with Burien to provide its law enforcement since 2000. The King County sheriff last month filed a complaint in U.S. District Court to ask a judge to determine the camping ban’s constitutionality and whether the interlocal agreement requires the Sheriff’s Office to enforce it. In the meantime, Burien’s camping ban has gone unenforced.

Burien last month sued the county and Sheriff’s Office, claiming the office is violating the contract by not enforcing the ordinance.

A statement from the King County Sheriff’s Office stated Bailon’s attempt to remove Boe was “surprising” due to “the high level of police service” throughout the first quarter of 2024. According to Cole-Tindall, auto theft, residential burglary, vandalism and assault are all down compared with last year.

“These results demonstrate excellent policing and do not show that there is a failure of leadership in the Burien Police Department,” read the statement.

In a statement from Bailon to the City Council, he wrote that Sheriff Cole-Tindall was aware of Burien’s interest in replacing Chief Boe before his sworn statement in federal court.

In late February, Bailon went to the Oversight Committee with concerns about Boe, he wrote. Bailon told Undersheriff Jesse Anderson about potentially changing leadership in early March, he wrote. Days later, Boe told Bailon he was aware of those statements, Bailon wrote.

In response to claims to retaliation, Bailon said Boe’s sworn statement was submitted days after he began requesting a change in leadership.

“Using Sheriff Cole-Tindall’s logic,” he wrote, “Chief Boe’s sworn statement (submitted March 13) may be a retaliation by King County and Chief Boe against the Burien City Manager due to the Manager’s efforts to seek a new Chief of Police.”

Bailon wrote that Cole-Tindall issued a “false claim” regarding retaliation.

Boe has served as Burien’s chief since 2018. In November 2022, he declined to take a promotion as the KCSO Patrol Operations Division Chief.

At the time, Bailon said: “Chief Boe has cultivated tremendous success in leading his team, and we look forward to his continued success for many years to come.” On Thursday evening, a city of Burien news release from 2022 that stated Boe’s decision to pass over the promotion and Bailon’s comments was no longer on the city website.

According to the Sheriff’s Office’s statement this week, Bailon did not respond to Cole-Tindall’s request for examples of factual incidents that demonstrate why Boe should be removed from leadership.

“Sheriff Cole-Tindall told City Manager Bailon that the timing of his request to remove the chief raised its own concerns,” the statement read. “Chief Boe has provided sworn testimony in a lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of Burien’s current public camping ordinance. State law prohibits any local government from retaliating against a person for raising concerns with the constitutionality of government action.”

When asked to respond to Cole-Tindall’s claims of retaliatory action, Burien Mayor Kevin Schilling declined to comment Thursday evening.

Burien’s ordinance is also being challenged in King County Superior Court by three homeless people and the nonprofit Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.

Burien updated a citywide camping ban March 4 and included a map, showing swaths of city property off-limits to homeless people. It created “buffer” zones that prevented people from camping within 500 feet of schools, day care centers, libraries, parks and other “critical areas.”

The interlocal agreement, according to claims in Burien’s lawsuit, requires both parties to undergo a resolution process before taking legal action. Burien claims that did not happen and should have. The city has said on its website that King County “placed its judgment over that of Burien’s duly elected officials.”

Cole-Tindall and King County argue deputies are sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution, “not the whims of humans who issue directives contrary to the Constitution,” according to their federal case.

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According to the federal complaint, Burien leaders told staff to “place a hold on any invoices received from the King County Sheriff’s Office until further notice” — essentially refusing to pay the agency.

“Until the city resolves this breach of its agreement with the Sheriff’s Office, there is little need to account for the city manager’s undisclosed concerns,” the Sheriff’s Office’s statement read.