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Homeless tents cleared from Locomotive Park

WENATCHEE — On Feb. 1, a city of Wenatchee parks employee was allegedly threatened by a man with a knife at Locomotive Park. Two days later, the city removed boulders from the park to make way for a landscaping project. On Monday, police cleared tents from the park.

It was an eventful week for the small park near the George Sellar Bridge.

City officials say the alleged assault didn’t directly cause the events that followed, but it did speak to an ongoing problem at the park.

“Dealing with the tents yesterday at Loco Park is not an outcome of the knife waving last week,” Wenatchee Police Capt. Edgar Reinfeld said Tuesday. “It is a continuous evolution of trying to deal with the park problem.”

He called the incident a “low point” for the city, adding, “certainly it was very upsetting for the parks employees. They’ve been threatened many times and assaulted once in a while, and we’ve been working with them to try to improve it.”

The suspect, 22-year-old David Padilla Sanchez, is charged in Chelan County Superior Court with second-degree assault and felony harassment. He’s being held at the Chelan County Regional Justice Center on $50,000 bail.

The city removed boulders in the park two days after the assault, though Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director David Erickson said the timing was coincidental and that the city has planned to take them out since last year.

In a Feb. 3 interview, Erickson said the city initially wanted to remove the boulders after the ground had been frozen for a couple weeks, but the winter is almost over and he didn’t think conditions would improve.

The city will also remove several hazardous trees, plant new trees and put down grass in place of the boulders.

City ordinance 6A.18.260 essentially makes tent camping in city parks a misdemeanor crime, which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,000. Reinfeld said police are currently instructing people in violation of the ordinance to move along, but if formal action is deemed necessary, officers can issue a ticket with a court date or make an arrest.

“I do not see arrests being a deal unless somebody is out there, you know, building a house and tearing up the grass and doing a lot of damage,” he said.

He clarified that in that type of instance, police would likely make an arrest for malicious mischief and not encroaching on the park.

“We’re definitely in the education and gentle enforcement phase with this that people cannot be setting up shop inside parks,” Reinfeld said. “If they’re there during the day and they’ve got their stuff with them, that’s not the problem. The problems come when they damage park property — sprinklers especially are frequently destroyed.”

He explained that it’s not unusual for people who spend time at the park during the warmer months to flip picnic tables on top of sprinklers to keep their belongings dry.

Locomotive Park is the only city-owned park to experience tent encampments, Reinfeld said. Wenatchee Riverfront Park and Walla Walla Point Park, owned by the Chelan County PUD, often address similar problems with its security officers.

Part of the push to rid Locomotive Park of tents is to allow the area to be more useable for the general public, he said.

“It’s one of our No. 1 complaints from people that can’t access or use this park, especially with this cool, big historical artifact in it,” Reinfeld said. The 15-acre park features a historic locomotive display.

“You can’t set up your stuff on park property so the parks can be easily maintained and so they’re accessible for all users,” Reinfeld said.

On Monday, police told Everardo Campoz, who was staying at Locomotive Park with a tent and mattress, to leave. He told a Wenatchee World photographer that he planned to move to a different park.

That’s not unexpected, Reinfeld said. Police are working with a similar issue in Olds Station. There are motorhomes parked along the street — some are people’s homes, others are used for storage. Police are able to tow the RVs used for storage but not those that are lived in, he said.

“But we know every time we do that, folks move and they go somewhere else where they think they’re not going to be bothered, so we know contacting people in the park means we’re shifting the issue to another place,” Reinfeld said. “But we’re trying to hopefully get them in one of the shelters, at least enroll in some services … and maybe get to where we’re not quite not taking up so much public property.”

He noted that police can ask people staying at tents in parks to move along at night, but it’s not a common practice.

“I will tell you we’re not big on trying to get people to pack up and then move in the dead of the night,” Reinfeld said. “It’s not really all that effective because there’s really nowhere to have them go.”

A cold weather shelter is available at Gospel House, 810 S. Wenatchee Ave., and other shelters are open in the Wenatchee Valley. The Chelan-Douglas Local Homeless Housing Task Force may have a low-barrier shelter by the end of the year.

Chelan and Douglas counties nearing creation of low-barrier shelter

WENATCHEE — Chelan and Douglas counties may have a low-barrier shelter by the end of 2021, as a local task force must move forward in order to use a time-limited state grant.

The Chelan-Douglas Local Homeless Housing Task Force is aiming to have a low-barrier shelter complete by the end of 2021 or early 2022, Sandra Van Osten, city of Wenatchee housing program coordinator, said in an email. Chelan and Douglas counties received a $642,636 grant to find land, construct and operate a low-barrier shelter. They have until June 30, 2023, to complete the project.

Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said the task force and other interested parties have been looking at low-barrier shelters in Washington as examples.

“We went to Moses Lake in the middle of January to see the low-barrier shelter they built,” Kuntz said. “It looks great. It’s an outdoor facility. It’s totally fenced in. It’s got like 30 or so small little sheds like you might see at Lowe’s or Home Depot.”

The task force will convene within the next few months to make a final decision on how to proceed with the program, Van Osten’s email said.

The task force is looking at sites in East Wenatchee and Wenatchee where a shelter could be placed, but questions still remain about the cost to operate it, Kuntz said. Kuntz is not on the homelessness task force and does not know all the details.

“It doesn’t make much sense if you have enough money to build it, but not enough to operate it,” he said.

Both Chelan and Douglas counties have money that goes toward reducing homelessness. But people on the task force are concerned about diverting money away from rent assistance toward a low-barrier shelter, Kuntz said.

A low-barrier shelter allows people to stay somewhere overnight without some of the conditions of other shelters. It can allow people to bring their dogs, accommodate those with disabilities and some shelters allow people under the influence of substances.

The task force right now is anticipating the shelter will serve adults only, including couples and multi-person households, Van Osten said. They will not be allowed to use drugs and alcohol on-site, but can show up under the influence of substances, as long as they are not disruptive and abide by health and safety rules.

Employees at the shelter will be trauma informed and be able to provide immediate help to those using the shelter, she said. The purpose of the shelter will be to help people find food, medical care and get them into permanent housing.

Right now, no local governments provide shelter services in Chelan and Douglas counties, except through hotel vouchers and the temporary cold-weather shelter. Instead, all shelters are operated by private agencies, including religious organizations with their own rules and regulations.

The low-barrier shelter will replace the cold-weather shelter once it is complete, Van Osten said.

If Chelan and Douglas counties had a low-barrier shelter, it would make it easier to enforce city codes about camping in public parks, Kuntz said. City police now cannot force people to leave, as there are no places for them to go.

Task force members are considering criteria for the location, such as access to transportation, keeping it away from schools and making sure a shelter will not impact neighborhoods, Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay said at a Jan. 19 commission meeting. Overbay is a member of the homelessness task force.

The shelter in Moses Lake has a heated bathroom that can be used at night, Kuntz said. Residents are also given a meal when they show up and a meal when they leave.

Task force members are also interested in the shelter in Moses Lake, because it is easy to move, he said.

The debate over a low-barrier shelter and how to get additional housing for unsheltered homeless has been an ongoing issue for the task force.

In 2019, the state Department of Commerce threatened to pull $1 million in funding from the task force because it was not housing enough homeless people, according to previous reporting. The state wanted communities to shelter 60% of homeless individuals and in 2019, Chelan and Douglas counties were sheltering 39%, according to state metrics.

The low-barrier shelter would help the task force toward that 60% goal.

Democrats to outline case at Trump's impeachment trial with new video

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democrats on Wednesday will show new security camera video depicting the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters as they open their formal case charging the former president with inciting insurrection.

Senior aides to the House of Representatives managers prosecuting the case said they will also argue that Trump’s false claims of fraud in November’s election laid the ground for the Jan. 6 assault.

The House has charged Trump, a Republican, with inciting an insurrection by exhorting thousands of supporters to march on the Capitol, where Congress was gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

Democrats played dramatic video of the Capitol attack on the first day of the trial in the Senate on Tuesday and planned to show more on Wednesday.

“We will be using footage never seen before that shows a view of the Capitol that is quite extraordinary and a view of the attack that has never been public before,” one senior aide said.

In an assault that stunned the world, the rioters stormed the Capitol in a futile effort to stop Biden’s win, sending lawmakers into hiding and leaving five people dead, including a police officer.

Trump made multiple false assertions that he lost the election only because of widespread fraud.

“You’re going to hear the provocation. You are going to hear how Trump inflamed his base leading up to it with his lies about the election being stolen; how they have to ‘stop the steal.’ He wanted a landslide,” the senior aide said in a briefing before the trial resumed at noon EST.

“Jan. 6 was the culmination of his conduct not a beginning of it.”

On Tuesday, the Senate voted that the impeachment trial could move ahead even though Trump’s term ended on Jan. 20. Six out of 50 Republican senators broke with their caucus to side with Democrats.

Tuesday’s split vote suggests Democrats face long odds in securing a conviction and barring Trump from seeking public office again. A two-thirds majority in the Senate must vote to convict, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy Trump’s still-potent popularity among Republican voters.

Nine Democratic House members acting as Trump’s prosecutors on Tuesday accused Trump of encouraging his backers to block the peaceful transfer of power, a hallmark of American democracy.

“If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there’s no such thing,” said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, who delivered an emotional speech recounting how he became separated from his daughter and son-in-law during the violence.

Trump’s lawyers argued that the former president’s rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and that the individuals who breached the Capitol, not Trump, were responsible for their own criminal behavior.

The lawyers sought to portray the trial as a sham aimed at ending Trump’s political career while ignoring basic principles of fairness and due process.

“We are really here because the majority in the House of Representatives does not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future,” Bruce Castor, one of Trump’s lawyers, told senators.

The Democratic-led House impeached Trump one week after the riot, making him the first U.S. president to be impeached twice.

Trump’s first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden during the presidential campaign, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.

Party leaders have agreed on a fast-moving schedule that could lead to a vote on conviction or acquittal by early next week. Some Democrats had expressed concern that a prolonged trial could delay progress on Biden’s agenda, including a proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Biden was not planning to watch the trial, the White House said, and spent Tuesday meeting business leaders in the Oval Office. Asked about the proceedings, the president said he was focused on his own job.

“The Senate has their job; they’re about to begin it. I’m sure they’re going to conduct themselves well,” he said.

No U.S. president has ever been removed from office via impeachment. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 but they also were acquitted. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face impeachment over the Watergate scandal.

Wenatchee School District levy passing after Tuesday's ballot count

WENATCHEE — Tuesday was a good night for school levies across North Central Washington. The levies need a simple majority to pass.

The Wenatchee School District’s replacement EP&O levy is passing with 62% of the vote. This levy will collect $2.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation over four years, starting in 2022.

“Tonight’s early results are very encouraging. We’re very optimistic,” said Superintendent Paul Gordon. “There’s a lot of good news for the Wenatchee School District — all of our 7,600 students, our staff, our parents and our community. I’m so proud of everybody and all the hard work put into it. I’m really proud of our board of education who stepped up and did a phenomenal job of supporting this levy.”

In the weeks leading up to the election, it was thought the Wenatchee levy would need 40% of November’s general election turnout — around 10,000 ballots — to validate. Gordon operated under this premise right up to the final days before the election only to find out he had been mistaken all along.

“When we had that information, we thought we were dead in the water. Some of the companies saw that in the newspaper and reached out. They told us they had switched that a couple years ago in legislation. So it was a recent switch. Bad on us for not understanding that early,” Gordon said. “The worst thing that we did was get more people to go out and vote.”

As of election night, 8,335 ballots were counted, which is outstanding for a special election, Gordon said. There are 2,076 ballots left to count in Chelan County.

Gordon said levy campaign volunteers were out working hard, never assuming this levy was going to pass.

“We were talking to anybody and everybody who would not mind spending 5 to 10 minutes of their time. We were willing to talk and answer questions,” he said.

Here are results of some of the other ballot measures:

  • Cascade School District is currently passing both of its levies. The replacement EP&O levy had 60% of the vote as of Tuesday evening. This levy will collect 99 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation over four years starting in 2022. The technology, safety and security improvement levy is receiving 62% of the vote. This levy would collect 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation over four years starting in 2022.
  • The Manson School District replacement EP&O levy is passing with 69% of the vote. This levy will collect $1.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2022 and $1.32 per $1,000 in 2023.
  • In Douglas County, the Orondo School District capital levy for health, life safety and security improvements is passing with 59% of the vote. This levy will collect 73 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation over five years starting in 2022.
  • In Grant County, the Ephrata School District EP&O levy is passing with 65% of the vote. This four-year levy would collect $1.85 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2022, $1.94 in 2023, $1.99 in 2024 and $2.03 in 2025.
  • The Wahluke School District capital levy for health, safety, security and infrastructure improvements is failing with 59% against. This three-year levy would collect $1.90 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2022, $1.86 in 2023, and $1.82 in 2024.
  • The Grant County Fire District 10 approved Proposition 1 by 69% to increase the size of the board of commissioners from three to five.

Cashmere woman pleads not guilty to involvement in jail escape

OKANOGAN — A 65-year-old Cashmere woman accused of aiding an Okanogan County Jail escapee in a weeklong flight from custody pleaded not guilty Monday.

Authorities say Teresa Kay Lancaster helped inmate Christian E. White, who allegedly broke out of the jail Jan. 5 with Kristofer Wittman, to flee from authorities. White and Lancaster were arrested Jan. 12 in Portland, Oregon, by U.S. Marshals.

Wittman was arrested the next day south of Malaga by authorities in Chelan County.

Lancaster on Monday entered not guilty pleas in Okanogan County Superior Court to charges of second-degree rendering criminal assistance, criminal conspiracy and accomplice to second-degree escape. Trial is set for March 2. She is being held at the jail on $35,000 bail.

White and Wittman are believed to have escaped by crawling through ventilation ductwork in an area that was annexed into the jail several years ago and has vulnerabilities the original jail does not, Sheriff Tony Hawley said Jan. 13. Wittman, 28, allegedly attempted to escape from the same area Dec. 26. It’s not clear how he made it to the Wenatchee Valley.

Law enforcement learned of Lancaster’s alleged involvement when she called the jail after the escape.

Investigators say Lancaster called the jail the morning of the escape to report that she’d given White a ride from the jail under the belief that he was free on bail but then kicked him out of her car after learning he’d escaped.

An Okanogan County deputy followed up with Lancaster and grew suspicious because of inconsistencies in her story, the affidavit said. Lancaster hung up after the deputy read her her Miranda rights.

(In a probable cause affidavit filed Jan. 5 in Douglas County Superior Court — the court presiding over the alleged crime that landed White in jail — Lancaster was referred to as a man named Terri Lancaster.)

Detectives later reviewed jail video calls from White to Lancaster between Jan. 1 and Jan. 4 in which they plan for Lancaster to pick up White from the jail.

In the first call, White proposes a hypothetical scenario to a reluctant Lancaster, according to the Okanogan County affidavit.

White: “My window is open, I’m climbing out, you going to come get me?”

Lancaster: “Of course I’d come get you, but I don’t want you to get in more trouble.’

White: “So you’re telling me no.”

Lancaster: “‘I’ll come get you, I just don’t want you to get in more trouble.”

White: “I was just kidding.”

On Jan. 4, White gave her instructions to park at a church across from the jail, to bring a change of clothes, and noted that a bondsman should be available between 8 to 10 a.m.

In total, White made 10 video calls to Lancaster in the four days leading up to his escape, including eight calls Jan. 4 when Lancaster was in a vehicle and said she was on her way, the affidavit said.

On Jan. 6, Wenatchee Police reported to Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office they’d learned that a room at the La Quinta Inn and Suites on North Wenatchee Avenue was rented to a woman whose phone number returned to Lancaster, the affidavit said. In a search of the room, police found a note from White that said Lancaster had no knowledge of the escape and that she tried to convince him to turn himself in.

It was apparently the second note White had left in as many days. When jailers learned he was no longer in custody, they found a note from White stating he was in fear for his life due to COVID-19 and the jail wasn’t doing enough to protect inmates from the virus.

Wittman allegedly left a note as well: “Watch one hand while the other one leaves. See you on the flip side.”

White and Wittman are each charged in Superior Court with second-degree escape.

Wittman, a Bellingham resident, appeared Monday in Superior Court for a pretrial hearing to determine evidence. He entered a not guilty plea Jan. 25.

White, a 53-year-old Rock Island resident, has not yet been transported back to the Okanogan County Jail.

Hawley said Monday that White has been held at the Southern Correctional Entity in Des Moines for violating the terms of his community custody, or parole, since Jan. 19. He added it’s not clear when White will be transported to Okanogan County.