- Former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan was accused in court documents of manually deleting text messages related to the lawless CHOP zone
- A new forensic report conducted on behalf of business owners and residents suing the city concluded she deleted nearly 200 text messages
- She had previously been found to have deleted over 5,000 messages after setting her phone to automatically delete them after 30 days
- The report also concluded that the texts of several other key officials were destroyed in manual resets in July 2020
- It remains unclear what was said in those messages
- Plaintiffs claim the city officials were trying to hide evidence about the Capitol Hill Organized Protest
Former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has been accused in court documents of manually deleting texts related to the lawless CHOP zone created in the city during the 2020 Black Live Matter riots.
According to a new forensic report conducted on behalf of business owners and residents suing the city for its botched response to the riots, Durkan manually deleted nearly 200 text messages in July 2020, around the time CHOP was created.
The anti-cop zone, set up in the ritzy Capitol Hill neighborhood, stood for Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, and was also known as CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone).
It was billed as a peaceful utopia free of police violence, but quickly descended into anarchy, with one teenage boy even murdered.
Local businesses watched in despair as customers stayed away for fear of violence – while Durkan vocally supported the hellish enclave.
In response to a Donald Trump tweet condemning the area, she tweeted: ‘The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone is not a lawless wasteland of anarchist insurrection – it is a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world. Given his track record, it’s not hard to believe that Trump is wrong, yet again.’
She has previously been found to have deleted over 5,000 messages from the time after she changed her settings to automatically delete messages after 30 days.
The new report also concluded that the texts of several other key officials were destroyed in manual phone resets in July 2020, one month after Black Lives Matter protestors took over an area near Capitol Hill and the East Precinct, and set up their own barriers.
At first protesters called 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 the weekslong riot in June 2020, one teenager was killed and several others were wounded in three other shootings.
Now, a group of residents and business owners are suing city officials, saying they ‘intended to deprive Plaintiffs of crucial evidence’ by deleting their text messages about the riots, though it remains unclear what was said in those texts.
They are accusing City Hall of ‘spoliation of evidence’ and are asking a federal judge to find the city liable for the crimes committed at the CHOP, or by advising a future jury to infer spoliation, according to the Seattle Times.
City officials, though, have asked the judge to throw out the case — with City Attorney Ann Davison’s office accusing some of the plaintiffs themselves of deleting their own texts about CHOP.
They argue that the city government under Durkan sought to de-escalate the protests rather than neglect it, as the plaintiffs claim.
And a spokesperson for Durkan, who did not seek re-election following the CHOP riots and was replaced by current Mayor Bruce Harrell, told the Times she ‘believes strongly 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 purposely inaccurate and misplaced “Hail Mary” attempt to save a case that lacks merit.’
Durkan’s text were originally disclosed as missing to the public by whistleblowers in her office in early 2021, an apparent violation of public records law which requires that certain texts be preserved.
Anyone who willfully destroys a public record that is supposed to be kept is guilty under the law of a felony, punishable by five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
But a previous forensic analysis, commissioned by City Hall in response to questions abut how officials managed the June 2020 protests, found that Durkan’s phone was set the following month to automatically delete texts after 30 days, resulting in the loss of 5,746 texts.
It also indicated that Durkan’s phone had been set to delete text messages stored in the cloud at around the same time.
She has since directed responsibility on the city’s information technology department, saying it provided her with a new phone on July 9, 2020 — in the period during which her text-retention setting was changed to 30 days.
But the city department said it is not part of its practice to change text retention settings, and both forensic analyses have identified July 4, 2020 as the date her phone was set to delete texts stored in the cloud.
Durkan has said in a deposition that no one else handled her phone that day, the Seattle Times reports.
The new report now shows that in addition to those more than 5,000 text messages deleted from before June 25, 2020, 191 more were lost later, between June 25 and November 16.
It concludes that the text messages were manually deleted.
Durkan now claims that problems arose with her phone after she dropped it in a tidepool on the Fourth of July.
Her spokesperson told the Times that the texts are ‘mostly innocuous and irrelevant’ and are ‘wholly consistent with her public statements at the time.’
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 were not yet recovered from the period when police deployed tear gas on protesters and abandoned the East Precinct.
At the time, the newspaper reports, the city’s attorney’s office said texts were missing from Durkan, then-police chief Carmen Best, fire chief Harold Scoggins, assistant police chief Eric Greening, police chief strategy officer Chris Fisher, emergency operations official Kenneth Neafcy and public utilities official Idris Beauregard.
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 15,000being deleted from Fisher’s phone.
Best has since admitted that she periodically deleted her texts.
And the city has defended its factory resets on its phone because the officials were ‘locked out’ of their phones.
It remains unclear what the text messages that were deleted said, but the forensic report compiled by Leatha Consulting LLC says the deletions ‘each resulted in a loss of text messages that the city had an obligation to preserve.’
It also said the technology issues could have been resolved without resetting the phones and losing the texts.
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