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Monday, June 1, 2020

Anti-harassment petition overturned in district court

The Western Front

By Sophia Galvez

Hans Erchinger-Davis, the Executive Director of the Lighthouse Mission Ministries of Whatcom County filed an anti-harassment petition against Mark Stidham, a volunteer with the shower truck, which operates through the nonprofit organization HomesNOW! on, July 11.

The anti-harassment petition was a response to two incidents, according to Erchinger-Davis.

The first incident took place when a group of HomesNow! affiliates went to Lighthouse Mission Ministries to protest homelessness in Bellingham. Stidham and the others that went to the Lighthouse Mission Ministries were upset about the fact that the Lighthouse Mission Ministries had turned someone away during the harsh snowstorm in Feb. 

Through the course of their protest, the group — which included Mark Stidham  who goes by Markis Dee — began to videotape the Lighthouse Mission Ministries, which alarmed those staying and working at the shelter, and then the police were called in response to a report was made , according to Erchinger-Davis.

Erchinger-Davis then said he warned Stidham over Facebook to not come back to the  Lighthouse Mission Ministries and Stidham had come to his workplace, but not to his home or any other personal space. 

Erchinger-Davis said he had direct messaged Jim Peterson, one of the founders of HomesNOW!, to talk about Stidham’s behavior, but Peterson did not respond. 

Erchinger-Davis and Stidham met in what he described as “an effort to reconcile.” 

Erchinger-Davis later spoke about tiny homes, which, alongside city-sanctioned tent encampments, are part of the goal of HomesNOW! in a radio interview. Stidham described his interview as a “terrible smear job of tiny home living in Bellingham.”

Stidham responded by posting on Facebook that he wanted someone to cut off Erchinger-Davis’ head and dribble it like a basketball.

Stidham’s attorney, Paul Richmond, said Stidham had “legitimate concern about The Mission’s practices during cold nights,” which is what motivated Stidham and the others in the group to go to the Lighthouse Mission Ministries in the first place. 

Stidham stated that he and others affiliated with the shower truck and HomesNOW! “went out altruistically to bring aid, we brought boots, hats, water and more,” during his response to Erchinger-Davis’ allegations in the Whatcom County District Court.  

“We gave people rides to the Drop-In Center to give people shelter,” Stidham said. “During that, there were several people that were not admitted to the shelters available [at the Lighthouse Mission Ministries], according to Stidham. 

Stidham posted about his displeasure with the Lighthouse Mission Ministries on his Facebook page on Feb. 7, 2019. 

The Lighthouse Mission Ministries responded by posting on Facebook. 

After this, Erchinger-Davis filed the anti-harassment petition. 

An anti-harassment order would mean that Stidham could not be in the same room as Erchinger-Davis. 

“I was not trying to incite any violence against Erchinger-Davis,” Stidham said. Stidham did not consider himself banned from the Lighthouse Mission Ministries at all because, according to Stidham, Peterson had not relayed Erchinger-Davis’ Facebook message to him. 

Stidham went on to say, “I need to keep my advocacy up,” which he would be unable to do if he could not attend any of the city and public meetings concerning homelessness that Erchinger-Davis attended after the anti-harassment order were to go through. 

In his closing statement, Erchinger-Davis’ attorney Philip Buri said, “the constitution does not cover true threats” regarding the First Amendment. Buri stated that Stidham’s Facebook message to cut off Erchinger-Davis’ head and bounce it like a basketball was a true threat because of the context in which it was said after Stidham had already been a part of a group that Erchinger-Davis had called the police on regarding their behavior.  

Buri requested that Stidham be banned from threatening Erchinger-Davis and be banned from contact with Erchinger-Davis. 

Richmond responded, saying that “there was not, at any point, a direct threat of violence” and that Stidman responded because he believed “there are real concerns about the Mission admitting people during the cold winter.” 

Richmond added that Stidham’s post was not meant to be taken literally, saying “my client is posting on Facebook a metaphor, not a specific call to action.”

The judge pro tem of the District Court, Jeffrey Lustick, concluded that “in the context of what is a pattern of harassment, there needs to be more than one instance of harassment. You need a pattern of behavior or a substantial threat.” 

Lustick went on to say that he “can’t say that the act of filming someone and blasting it on their Facebook page is a threat,” as the filming happened at a public place and, according to Lustick, “Facebook is the modern equivalent of the public streets.” 

According to Lustick, Erchinger-Davis would not have been comfortable meeting with Stidham if he felt truly threatened. 

Additionally, if the anti-harassment order were to be issued, it would have the undesirable effect that [Stidham] could no longer take place in meetings that are vital to his advocacy for the homeless community, according to Lustick. 

In conclusion, Lustick ruled that he could not grant Erchinger-Davis an anti-harassment order of protection, and rescinded the anti-harassment petition.


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