KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Police reports detailing the sweep of an encampment on Kalamazoo's northeast side are shedding light on what led up to several people being arrested.
The Ampersee encampment is a piece of property in which people struggling with houselessness have been setting up temporary residences. Recent estimates saw the number of people go from about 100 people living there, down to about 50 by the time it was eventually cleared entirely on October 8.
The city of Kalamazoo has been debating for months on how to deal with the population calling the Ampersee encampment home.
Officers with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety were called out to the property on Wednesday, October 6, and began the process of talking with people living there, and clearing some of the items deemed more dangerous.
"We were threatened to be arrested, and all kinds of stuff, by these people if we don't leave our homes,” Ian Valenzuela, a resident at the encampment, told FOX 17 on October 6.
Two days later, on October 8, officers returned with intentions to clear the property once and for all.
Community activists there that day on the ground tell FOX 17 they were under the impression that residents and their supporters were going to be having a discussion with local community leaders on site.
When they arrived and saw the number of officers present, it quickly became clear that no additional conversation would be happening.
A police report obtained by FOX 17 has one officer saying that as they approached the property, they "noticed several individuals standing in a line with their arms linked together."
Another officer wrote, "it was obvious that officers were going to face significant resistance as we could see several people with weapons including, sticks, pipes, and hatchets."
A cell phone video shot by community activist Monica Washington-Padula show the scene as police began the process of trying to arrest those with their arms linked together.
“Excuse me, can he breathe? Can he breather?," Washington-Padula asks an officer standing by.
That officer wrote in a report, "I yelled again for Padula not to step any closer or she would be arrested, as I stepped toward her and put my hands on her chest to prevent her from moving any further forward. Instantly she struck me in the forehead with the metal flagpole she was holding in her left hand."
Washington-Padula and 6 others were arrested that day.
But she says the reports are not an accurate representation of what happened.
“I maintain my innocence regarding the use of a flagpole to injure or assault anyone,” she told FOX 17.
“It was an Anishinaabe First Nations flag... Part of the reason I was there demonstrating was to remind the city that their original displacement was the indigenous people here, and it was likewise done in a very violent and persistent way."
Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema spoke at a commissioners meeting Monday night about what led to the city's decision to sweep the camp.
“The conditions there presented significant risks to the health and safety of those living at the encampment, those who visit the site to provide support and services, as well as those living and working nearby,” he said in the meeting, which lasted over 5 hours long.
“The encampment was located in a Brownfield site, which by definition is unsafe and unhealthy for human habitation, due to hazardous substances in the ground. The encampment grew significantly in recent months, with many inhabitants coming from outside of Kalamazoo.”
Public comments at the meeting lasted several hours, with the vast majority upset by how the encampment sweep transpired.
“I am calling to demand the city to stop the sweeps and drop the charges,” one caller said.
Another saying, “I've never been more embarrassed by the city that I lived in, based solely on how KDPS has been treating other citizens from Kalamazoo.”
For those now swept up in legal trouble for defending their houseless neighbors, they hope the charges are dropped, and real solutions are considered by city and state officials.
"We were not just going to turn our backs on them, and just let the sweep happen without resisting and demonstrating, that the sweeps are being done in an inhumane way," Washington-Padula said.
“That's why I was there demonstrating, was to demonstrate this as a historic precedent that had been set and was continuing, and then also to demonstrate that as a citizen and neighbor, I am not okay with this violation of human rights.”
You can read all of the police reports below: