File photo by Patrick Robinson

11-year prison sentence echoes security problems at Nickelsville today

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced an 11-year prison sentence for 37-year-old Shane Stephen Anello on March 29, in part for his guilty plea to a federal charge of unlawful possession of a destructive device.

That charge, according to U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan’s office, stemmed from an April 2012 incident where Anello threw a “firebomb” at a vehicle parked at Nickelsville, the homeless encampment located at the intersection of Highland Park Way S.W. and W. Marginal Way S.W. in West Seattle. Police said Anello threw a Molotov cocktail “at the car belonging to the person who had barred him from returning to the homeless camp.” Luckily, no one was hurt.

Moving into March of this year, Nickelsville continues to have problems with trouble tenants and an inability to legally evict someone from the camp located on public land. Nickelsville resides in legal limbo since the encampment moved back to the Highland Park spot in 2011 (it had been there before, but tenants were evicted from the plot of city land by then Mayor Greg Nickels). After moving back to West Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn announced he would not seek to evict, but stopped short of declaring the site a Tent City with rights to set rules and evict, with the power of police backing if needed.

In a letter posted to the Nickelsville Facebook page on March 23, the Nickelsville Central Committee said they were temporarily removing Porta-Potties from the site in an attempt to force bad actors to leave.

“The reason for this decision was our inability at Nickelsville in preventing the overrun of our community by meth dealers and barred, violent former campers.”

The letter goes on to state, “The basis for this problem with barred campers returning and raising havoc is the failure of the Seattle Police Department to treat our community like ANY of the other organized shelters and encampments in Seattle.”

The problem, according to Seattle Police Southwest Precinct Captain Joe Kessler in speaking at a community meeting on March 26, is that SPD has no power to evict someone from public land.

“The message has been consistent (to officers),” he said. “That is public property, it is owned by the City of Seattle, there is no legal ability for anyone staying there … nor my officers … to evict somebody from public property.”

Kessler also took umbrage at the Nickelsville Central Committee (NCC) contention that his officers are not treating public safety calls at the camp like they would other parts of West Seattle.

“One thing I do take a lot of exception to is some of the comments that have been made by individuals that are associated with (Nickelsville) that there has been no police response. I can tell you there have been hundreds of police responses to that area,” he said. “Every call that has been made in that area, or from anyone involved in that encampment, has been responded to by the Southwest Precinct.”

In their open letter, the NCC wrote, “In a self managed community like Nickelsville, almost everyone has to participate in security, or there IS NO security.” Police have responded to incidents at Nickelsville where the NCC attempted to evict tenants as a group and disputes arose.

Ultimately, Kessler said the ability of Nickelsville residents to legally evict tenants, and call in police to help out if things get ugly, is a matter of policy at the mayoral level, not a decision made at the police department.

Other than asking for increased patrols at Nickelsville in recent weeks, the Mayor has not weighed in on the future of Nickelsville as of March 29. Meanwhile, the Highland Park Action Committee (a community group) sent a letter to McGinn asking that the city evict the homeless encampment.

In part, the HPAC letter states, “... while we have been very patient with having Nickelsville at the bottom of Highland Park Drive, the consensus in the neighborhood is that we are ready to call for an eviction and ask for a move out date.

“You have set a dangerous precedent for all neighborhoods in Seattle, one I am confident not all neighborhoods will be tolerant of. Organizations such as (the NCC, specific name redacted) can now point to Nickelsville and your inaction (and help in some cases) as a justification for squatting illegally on public land for years at a time.”

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