KALAMAZOO — A Kalamazoo man said he was forced to strike a deal with the city to avoid charges related to the illegal Bronson Park Freedom Encampment in the summer of 2018.
In September, dozens of people occupied the park to protest a lack of resources for the homeless. Police later disbanded the encampment.
"They took everything. They took everything from a lot of people, so it's hard to get a hold of people right now," Chris Wahmhoff, a protester, said.
Wahmhoff is one of more than a dozen people arrested and charged with violating city ordinances. He and a few others got these charges dropped by making an agreement with the city. Wahmhoff said he didn't want to lose his job and legal help was scarce.
"The settlement for these people was survival mode, doing what they had to do to survive in this situation. But there's still going to be a lawsuit coming and there's still going to be accountability for this city," he said.
According to Kalamazoo City Attorney Clyde Robinson, his office agreed to drop charges on the condition that protesters promised not to pursue legal action against the city for violation of constitutional rights and destruction of property.
"That was a matter so as to not burden the court with a lot of cases and it was agreed rather than take resources that would be used to prosecute and call impossible juries, it was resolved that they would give up any action they might have against the city," Robsinson said.
Robinson said it was against the law to camp overnight in the park and there were other resources available for the homeless.
"This whole thing began because there is no resources, from day one that has been the argument," Wahmhoff said.
Wahmhoff said the deal with city leaders only pertained to the day of the arrests and it's still possible for a more general lawsuit to be filed.
"There will be accountability. There was a lawsuit when they broke all of this up, there was a lawsuit being formed and that is not going to go away," Wahmhoff said.
There are still a few members of the protest movement who face charges.
Robinson said some of them were supposed to appear in court Thursday, but never showed. Warrants were issued for their arrest.