Seattle Police Officer Claims Camp Cleanup Ruined His Health

Attorney Lincoln Beauregard says the city should have known about the risk of contamination at a homeless encampment

Published in 2019 Washington Super Lawyers Magazine — July 2019

Seattle Police Officer Timothy Gifford was part of a large team of city workers who cleaned up a homeless camp south of downtown earlier this year. In September, Gifford sued the city for $10 million, alleging he was exposed to harmful toxins while working at the site.

His attorney, Lincoln C. Beauregard with Connelly Law Offices in Seattle, says his client was not issued proper testing or safety equipment to deal with toxic materials. The suit says nearly 60 workers may have been exposed to PCBs.

“Officer Gifford expressed to me a great concern for seeing to it that other officers and employees were warned about the situation and that it never happens again,” says Beauregard.

Beauregard says Gifford had been managing a lifelong liver condition but was in good health, and that his health has now declined and he has developed early onset Type 2 diabetes. Gifford, who had been on a team that encourages homeless campers to move into shelters and tears down unsafe camps, has been reassigned to harbor patrol. 

Several months after the cleanup, a Seattle utility inspector found high levels of PCBs at the former homeless camp. It is unclear how the site might have been contaminated.

“This is not confirmed,” Beauregard says, “but it is suspected by the investigators that a homeless person tampered with some electrical equipment which contained the [toxic] product.”

Beauregard believes the city of Seattle, which sued PCB manufacturer Monsanto in 2016 for contamination in the Duwamish region, should have been aware of PCBs in the homeless camp. “They either knew or should have known,” he says. 

The city fenced off the area in July, and the police department sent an email alerting workers who had helped clean the site to contact a lieutenant working with public health officials on responding to the situation.

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