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Law & Justice

Gov. Little sues to break up tent protest near Idaho Capitol

Three tents on a grassy area across the street from the Idaho Capitol.
George Prentice
Boise State Public Radio
Shortly after the beginning of the 2022 session of the Idaho Legislature, nearly two dozen tents were pitched outside the Capitol.

Gov. Brad Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden have filed a lawsuit aiming to break up a tent encampment at the Idaho Capitol Annex.

“Idaho will not tolerate public encampments and destruction of public property,” Little said in a statement.

“Idaho is not San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle, where public officials have engaged in failed experiments to permit and encourage public camping disguised as protests,” he said.

The encampment, supported by the Boise Mutual Aid Collective, has been set up since early January in protest over ballooning housing and rental prices, as well as what protesters say is a lack of services to help those who are unhoused.

In a statement posted to Instagram Tuesday night, the group said it is "appalled that the Idaho state is trying to repress the rights of people experiencing houselessness to protest."

Idaho federal district Judge Lynn Winmill issued a permanent injunction against the state in 2014 after it sought to break up a similar tent protest in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Winmill said the state cannot remove tents or prevent people from staffing those protests. Otherwise, he said, it violates protestors’ First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit said people aren’t allowed to sleep, cook, make fires or keep personal belongings at the protest site.

“They are abusing the Capitol Annex by littering it with feces, vomit, urine, rotting food, needles, alcohol containers, and cigarette butts,” state officials said.

“The conditions are so abysmal that Central District Health has advised [Idaho Department of Administration Director Keith Reynolds] that the tent city is a public health hazard.”

A spokesperson for Central District Health didn’t respond to a request for comment.

"No, the lack of affordable housing is the actual public health crisis," the Boise Mutual Aid Collective said in its social media post.

Police have arrested at least 12 people at the protest on outstanding warrants and have issued more than 20 citations after giving repeated warnings, according to the suit.

Calling it a “locus of criminal activity,” the Little administration claims “drug dealers visit the tent city to sell their wares,” fights break out requiring police intervention and a person at the tent city “battered a state legislator while he lawfully stood on state property.”

That last claim refers to an encounter between state Rep. Chad Christensen (R-Iona) and a woman at the site who said he had filmed her inside her tent.

During the incident on Feb. 21, Christensen recorded the woman seemingly grabbing for his phone. She was cited for misdemeanor battery, according to Idaho State Police.

The encampment has become a flashpoint in the gubernatorial primary.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R), who is challenging Little’s re-election bid, said in a campaign video that “radical activists” are occupying Boise and their efforts “will only escalate as long as Idaho has a governor who continues to appease them.”

Anti-government activist and independent candidate for governor, Ammon Bundy, also filmed a campaign video blasting Little for allowing the protest to continue.

A press release from the governor’s office announcing the lawsuit said those who are unhoused have options for shelter – specifically, the Boise Rescue Mission.

“Contrary to rumors, we are not a ‘high barrier’ shelter and we offer safe, clean shelter, three meals daily and many programs and services all designed to help people recover from homelessness,” said Boise Rescue Mission CEO Rev. Bill Roscoe.

However, as pointed out in a longstanding court battle involving a former Boise ordinance banning outdoor camping, the Boise Rescue Mission requires those who stay to participate in religious programming.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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