Former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has been accused in court documents of manually deleting text related to the lawless CHOP zone created in the city during the 2020 Black Live Matter riots.
Durkan manually deleted nearly 200 text messages at the time, according to a new forensic report commissioned by business owners and residents who are suing the city over its botched response to the riots.
She was previously found to have deleted over 5,000 messages from time after changing her settings to automatically delete messages after 30 days.
The new report also concluded that the texts of several other key officials were destroyed by manual phone resets in July 2020, a month after Black Lives Matter protesters took over an area near Capitol Hill and the East Precinct and their erected their own barriers.
At first, protesters dubbed the area the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), but that changed to the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or The CHOP, which lasted for weeks.
During weeks of unrest in June 2020, three other shootings killed one teenager and wounded several others.
Former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has been accused in court documents of manually deleting text related to the lawless CHOP zone created in the city during the 2020 Black Live Matter riots
Black Lives Matter protesters took over an area near Capitol Hill and the East Precinct in June 2020 and erected their own barriers. They originally named the area Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), but that changed to the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or The CHOP
Now a group of residents and business owners are suing city officials, saying they wanted to withhold crucial evidence from plaintiffs by deleting their text messages about the riots, though what was said in those texts remains unclear.
They accuse City Hall of “evidence-stealing” and are asking a federal judge to hold the city liable for crimes committed in the CHOP or by advising a future jury to conclude evidence-stealing, according to the Seattle Times.
However, city officials have asked the judge to drop the case – with prosecutor Ann Davison’s office herself blaming some of the plaintiffs for deleting their own texts about CHOP.
They argue that the Durkan city government tried to de-escalate the protests, rather than neglecting them as the plaintiffs allege.
And a spokeswoman for Durkan, who did not seek re-election after the CHOP riots and was replaced by current Mayor Bruce Harrell, told the Times she “strongly believes in the public’s right to know what their government is doing.”
But she called the lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Washington last week, “a deliberately inaccurate and misplaced Hail Mary attempt to salvage a case lacking merit.”
Within weeks, gunfights erupted at the lawless camp near the Capitol
Durkan’s text was originally announced missing to the public in early 2021 by whistleblowers at her office, in apparent violation of the Public Records Act, which requires the preservation of certain texts.
Anyone who willfully destroys a public record intended to be preserved is guilty of a felony under statute punishable by five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
But an earlier forensic analysis commissioned by City Hall in response to questions about how officials were managing the June 2020 protests found that the following month, Durkan’s phone was set to automatically delete texts after 30 days, which was what led to the loss of 5,746 texts.
It also suggested Durkan’s phone was set to delete text messages stored in the cloud around the same time.
She has since handed responsibility to the city’s information technology department and said they provided her with a new phone on July 9, 2020 — the period when her text retention setting was changed to 30 days.
However, city officials said it was not part of their practice to change text retention settings, and both forensic analyzes have identified July 4, 2020 as the date when their phone was set to view texts stored in the cloud have been deleted.
Durkan has said in an affidavit that no one else answered her phone that day, reports the Seattle Times.
The new report now shows that in addition to the more than 5,000 text messages deleted before June 25, 2020, 191 more were later lost between June 25 and November 16.
It concludes that the text messages were deleted manually.
Durkan now claims her phone had problems after she dropped it in a flood pond on July 4th.
Her spokeswoman told the Times that the texts were “mostly harmless and irrelevant” and “completely consistent with her public statements at the time.”
In the aftermath, questions have surfaced about the government’s response to the unrest
Meanwhile, the Seattle Times reported more than a year ago that texts from a number of other officials – including the city’s fire and police chiefs – were missing or have yet to be found from the time police used tear gas on protesters and the East Precinct left .
At the time, the newspaper said, city prosecutors said texts from Durkan, then-Police Commissioner Carmen Best, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Deputy Police Commissioner Eric Greening, Police Chief Strategy Officer Chris Fisher, Emergency Operations Officer Kenneth Neafcy and Idris Beauregard, Public Utilities Officer.
According to the new report, their phones were each reset in October 2020, resulting in more than 27,000 texts being deleted from Best’s phone and over 15,000 from Fisher’s phone.
Best has since admitted she regularly deleted her texts.
And the city has defended its factory resets on its phone because officials were “locked out” of their phones.
It remains unclear what the deleted text messages testified to, but the forensic report prepared by Leatha Consulting LLC states that the deletions “each resulted in the loss of text messages that the city had a duty to keep.”
It also said the technology issues could have been resolved without resetting the phones and losing the texts.