Burien city manager moves to replace police chief as camping ban fight rages

Apr 11, 2024, 7:55 PM | Updated: 8:03 pm

Photo: A homeless encampment, now removed, in Burien in 2023....

A homeless encampment, now removed, in Burien in 2023. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Burien’s police chief could soon be forced out, as conflict escalates between the city’s leaders and the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) over a controversial camping ban.

Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon’s office confirmed to KIRO Newsradio a letter sent to King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, informing her he planned to seek a replacement for current Burien Police Department Chief Ted Boe. Burien contracts with KCSO for police services via an interlocal agreement (ILA).

Bailon wrote he could “no longer trust” Boe to fulfill the terms of that agreement and that his actions “no longer represent the City of Burien’s best interests, vision and goals.”

His letter did not mention Burien’s recently updated camping ordinance as a specific reason for the move. But Cole-Tindall directly implied as much in her response Thursday afternoon. She fired back at Bailon’s accusations, saying she asked for details on “why the city manager has reached this conclusion. Bailon has yet to provide this requested information.”

Boe, a 24-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, has led Burien’s police department for the past six years. Reporting to both Bailon and KCSO, he has been largely caught in the middle of an increasingly bitter back-and-forth between the two sides.

Burien is already in a legal battle with KCSO, alleging in a lawsuit last month that the county breached its ILA for refusing to enforce a camping ban adopted (and repeatedly amended) by the city council. At the same time, King County and KCSO filed their own complaint with the United States District Court, asking a judge to weigh in on whether the ordinance is constitutional.

Exclusive: City of Burien sues King County for breaking contract in homeless camping ban

Cole-Tindall has instructed her deputies serving Burien not to enforce the section on public camping, pending the judge’s decision. All criminal code violations are still being enforced.

Burien cracks down on public camping

The first ordinance, passed last September after months of debate, prohibited anyone from “resting, sleeping or lying down on public property” between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Those caught doing so could be fined and charged with a misdemeanor. However, the ordinance stated that police could not arrest or move people if there was no available shelter. This caveat was added to remain in compliance with a federal court ruling that does not allow homelessness to be criminalized without shelter resources in the area.

Background: Overnight camping ban going into effect in Burien

The next month, Burien’s city council updated the ordinance, expanding the hours to between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. Another update, passed in March, went even further. In addition to banning public camping around the clock, it expanded prohibited zones to include, among other things, all sidewalks. Tents and campsites were also not allowed within 500 feet of daycares, parks, libraries and schools.

But Burien’s definition of “in the area” faced intense scrutiny. The law provides a very vague description of what constitutes “shelter” and how far away it can be located. The ban itself currently faces multiple lawsuits from local housing advocate groups and unhoused people, who claim it is essentially zoning them out of the city.

Most notably, the original ordinance gave the city manager power to set aside places for people to camp overnight. As of this writing, Bailon has not publicly done so. That language was also stripped out of later versions of the ordinance and replaced instead with amendments giving the city manager broad power to eliminate tents and unhoused individuals from nearly any non-residential location in Burien.

King County sheriff challenges Burien camping ban

Over the past seven months, it has fallen to King County deputies to enforce Burien’s rapidly changing statutes. It culminated in Cole-Tindall’s direction to halt enforcement and dueling lawsuits filed by both sides.

Past coverage: Burien police officer not enforcing city’s new camping ban

“I do not want any of you to find yourself in a situation where you are asked or expected to do something that could violate legally established rights,” the sheriff wrote in an email shortly after the section of the Burien Municipal Code (BMC 9.85.150) was updated to its most recent version in March.

Burien Mayor Kevin Schilling criticized Cole-Tindall’s decision not to inform him or any other city council members about her directive.

“The City of Burien pays millions of dollars to the King County Sheriff’s Department with the expectation that they will enforce our city codes and laws to keep the community safe and publicly accessible for all,” Schilling said in a statement to The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “Right now, the Dow Constantine appointed sheriff is prioritizing politics over public safety.”

It’s unclear if Cole-Tindall made the announcement at the behest of King County Executive Dow Constantine, who appointed her to the position.

King County sheriff questions Burien leaders’ motives

On Thursday, Cole-Tindall called Bailon’s request for a new police chief “surprising.” She cited recent crime prevention and arrest statistics under Boe and highlighted decreases in auto theft, residential burglary, vandalism and assault in Burien compared to last year.

“The facts show that Chief Boe is doing a great job leading the Burien Police Department,” Sheriff Cole-Tindall said in her statement.

She also pointedly questioned Bailon’s motives, referencing Boe’s sworn testimony last month in the lawsuit over the ban’s constitutionality. In it, he described an increasingly tense and deteriorating relationship with Bailon.

“On March 11, the city manager met with me and could best be described as curt in his interaction,” Boe wrote in the court documents. “It is clear to me that he is angry that the county is challenging the ordinance and that he blames me for the sequence of events that culminated in the filing of this lawsuit.”

Cole-Tindall implied Bailon’s push for a new police chief stemmed from that testimony and cautioned him against the move.

“State law prohibits any local government from retaliating against a person for raising concerns with the constitutionality of government action,” she wrote.

She also pointed out Bailon has directed the city to stop paying the county for its police services.

“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,” Cole-Tindall finished.

Bailon’s letter to KCSO can be read in full here and Sheriff Cole-Tindall’s response here.

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Burien city manager moves to replace police chief as camping ban fight rages