Fife police in hazmat suits clear out motel occupiers who refused to pay

FIFE, Wash. — Fife police in hazmat suits move in on a the Travelodge motel Wednesday to clear out 40 homeless residents staying there without paying.

Homeless advocates with Tacoma Housing Now brought the residents there from two Tacoma encampments. They booked 16 rooms and paid for a one-night stay on Christmas Eve, but had no plans to leave – or pay any further bills.

Fife police say it took them several days to implement  a response plan. When officers showed up Wednesday, so did protestors on both sides.

“I’m here to support the police,” said Darren Coperson, who lives in the area. “It’s madness,” he said.

“Housing is a human right,” said Courtney N. Love, another Fife resident, who was supporting the cause of the housing advocates.

The Fife police chief said in a statement while the group’s cause was “worthy and noble,” Tacoma Housing Now victimized the motel’s owner, put him at risk of going out of business, and ultimately committed a crime. People involved could face felony-level criminal charges.

The motel manager told KIRO7 on Tuesday he was on the verge of having to close altogether and lay off his 10 employees.

“At this time, they have robbed me,” said Shawn Randhawa, the Travelodge manager. “These people booking for one night, cheat me into it, and now are trying to tell me I’m doing something (wrong)?”

Fife city manager Hyun Kim said the city worked with Tacoma Rescue Mission to offer shelter beds to every single occupant. The mission said only one person accepted. Mission employees helped drive some other occupants back to encampments in Tacoma.

An advocate with Tacoma Housing Now, who just wanted to be identified as Sam, people declined shelter offers because, “the conditions you have to comply with for those options don’t meet the needs of anyone who is here.”

He said another offer from LiHi of 10 tiny homes for couples and groups also wouldn’t work.

“They wanted to split pods and units of people,” Sam said.  “Nobody here is really being offered an actual living situation,” he said.

Fife’s city manager said two people in the group - a couple - are sick with COVID and they will be going to an emergency COVID shelter in Tacoma.

People say it’s unfortunate the whole situation dissolved into this mess.

“Fife has got issues. I don’t think this is helping, I really don’t think this is helping,” said Frazer Loveman, who works in the area.

Police say everyone left voluntarily and caused no trouble while they were there. After police left, KIRO 7 did witness someone break the glass to a fire extinguisher case and take the extinguisher.

It’s unclear if and when the owner of the property will get paid.

Fife says it is now a civil matter between the advocates and the property owner.

“I feel so sorry for the owners. It’s not a nice situation to be in, is it,” Loveman said.

Fife police also said in the statement: “Procedures have now been put in place to ensure that if something like this were to occur in the future, it would be met with swift and certain actions reaffirming the position that Fife is not a city that is welcoming to criminals or people engaging in criminal activity, no matter how noble or important the underlying cause.”