A Durango man was in “fair” condition Thursday at Mercy Regional Medical Center after being stabbed once in the chest.
The incident occurred about 5:20 p.m. Wednesday at a homeless camp behind the Durango Tech Center, west of downtown Durango.
It is the second stabbing incident in about two weeks at the camp.
Micheal Cooper, 23, and Adam Newbry, 30, were arguing over a makeshift barbecue pit when Cooper hit Newbry with a “big stick,” said Chris Burke, spokesman with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office. Newbry reacted by stabbing Cooper in the chest with a knife, he said.
The big stick appeared to be a training sword with tape on one end, Burke said.
Investigators believe Newbry defended himself from an attack, and therefore, they haven’t charged him with a crime. The case remains under investigation, Burke said.
“Multiple witnesses were interviewed, confirming Newbry acted in self-defense,” he wrote in a statement to the Herald.
Two men were stabbed early Aug. 28, possibly in retaliation for breaking up an incident of domestic violence at the camp. Both men were treated and released at Mercy.
Law enforcement identified the suspect as Hernando Tsosie, 39, who pleaded guilty in July to invasion of privacy for sexual gratification for peeping into a women’s bathroom stall at the Durango Welcome Center.
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said the violence is “unfortunate,” but the community shouldn’t overreact.
“It underscores the challenges that we face in dealing with an at-risk population that is in a remote location,” he said.
He compared it to problems experienced in low-income housing projects in big cities.
“When a bad incident happens, do you immediately go in and evict everyone? Probably not,” he said. “We’ve said all along, the current location is not the place that we believe is appropriate for this camp.”
Durango city officials set out to identify a permanent location for a homeless camp earlier this year, but those efforts largely stalled when city officials said the city shouldn’t be responsible for running such a camp, and instead set out looking for a group that could oversee it.
Smith said he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.
On one hand, several legal rulings suggest anti-camping bans are unconstitutional. On the other hand, it’s a largely untested law.
“Do we want to be the test case for litigation, or do we want to take this and see what we can do to mitigate our problems?” Smith said. “We chose mitigation over litigation.”
The Sheriff’s Office is working with community partners to identify solutions, including vouchers for at-risk homeless people who can be placed in units and a long-term supportive housing model, he said.
“The latest incident has given us additional pause and is making us evaluate everything that is going on,” Smith said. “We will continue to be vigilant and try to provide the best security for the people on the hill as well as our citizens. It’s a tough situation for everyone in America, and we’re not immune to it.”