In court records, Jenny Durkan, a former mayor of Seattle, is charged with manually erasing writings pertaining to the CHOP zone that was established in the city during the Black Lives Matter riots in 2020.
Durkan at the time deliberately erased over 200 text conversations, according to a recent forensic investigation done on behalf of business owners and people suing the city for its inadequate reaction to the riots.
She was previously discovered to have destroyed more than 5,000 messages after changing her settings to delete texts automatically after 30 days.
The research came to the additional conclusion that in July 2020, one month after Black Lives Matter protesters gained control of an area close to Capitol Hill and the East Precinct and erected their own barricades, the messages of a number of other important officials were erased in manual phone resets.
The Capitol Hill Organized Protest, also known as The CHOP, was the name given to the region by demonstrators for many weeks. Initially, they dubbed it the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ).
One kid was murdered and numerous others were injured in three more gunshots during the CHOP in June 2020.
Now, a group of locals and business owners are suing municipal authorities, claiming that by erasing their text messages regarding the disturbances, they “intended to deprive Plaintiffs of important evidence.”
According to the Seattle Times, they are accusing City Hall of “spoliation of evidence” and seeking a federal court to hold the city accountable for the crimes done at the CHOP or by instructing a future jury to infer spoliation.
However, city authorities have requested that the court dismiss the lawsuit, alleging that some of the plaintiffs themselves deleted their own communications concerning CHOP.
They contend that, contrary to what the plaintiffs say, Durkan’s administration worked to defuse the demonstrations.
Additionally, a representative for Durkan, who was succeeded as mayor by Bruce Harrell after the CHOP riots and did not run for re-election, told the Times that she “believes firmly in the public’s right to know what their government is doing.”
But she described the complaint as “a purposefully misleading and misdirected “Hail Mary” effort to preserve a case that lacks substance,” which was filed in the Western District of Washington last week.
Whistleblowers in Durkan’s office first made the public aware that her messages were missing in early 2021; this seems to have been a breach of the public records legislation, which calls for the preservation of specific texts.
Anyone who knowingly destroys a public document that is required to be preserved is guilty of a crime that carries a five-year jail sentence and a $1,000 fine.
However, an earlier forensic investigation, ordered by City Hall in response to inquiries about how authorities handled the demonstrations in June 2020, discovered that Durkan’s phone had been configured the next month to delete messages automatically after 30 days, resulting in the loss of 5,746 texts.
It also showed that Durkan’s phone had been configured to erase cloud-stored text messages at around the same time.
Since then, she has placed the blame on the city’s information technology division, claiming that it gave her a new phone on July 9, 2020, at the time that her text-retention setting was changed to 30 days.
Her phone was scheduled to erase cloud-stored messages on July 4, 2020, according to both forensic studies, but the city department said that changing text retention settings is not something they often do.
The Seattle Times quotes Durkan as saying in a deposition that nobody else touched her phone that day.
According to the updated analysis, 191 more text messages lost between June 25 and November 16 were added to the more than 5,000 deleted before June 25, 2020.
The text messages were manually removed, it is concluded.
Durkan now claims that she dropped her phone in a tidepool on July 4 and that this caused issues with it.
According to her spokeswoman, the messages are “largely harmless and inconsequential” and “wholly consistent with her public remarks at the time,” as reported by the Times.
The city’s fire and police chiefs were among the authorities whose messages went missing at the time when police used tear gas on protestors and abandoned the East Precinct, according to an article by the Seattle Times published more than a year ago.
According to the newspaper, at the time, the city’s attorney’s office claimed that texts from Durkan, the police chief at the time Carmen Best, the fire chief Harold Scoggins, the assistant police chief Eric Greening, the police chief strategy officer Chris Fisher, the official in charge of emergency operations Kenneth Neafcy, and the official in charge of public utilities Idris Beauregard were missing.
The latest investigation claims that in October 2020, both of their phones were reset, erasing more than 27,000 messages from Best’s phone and more than 15,000 from Fisher’s phone.
Since then, Best has acknowledged that she sometimes erased her messages.
Because the officials were “locked out” of their phones, the city has justified the factory resets on its phones.
Although the contents of the deleted text messages are still unknown, the forensic report created by Leatha Consulting LLC states that each deletion “resulted in a loss of text messages that the city had a duty to preserve.”
The technological problems, it said, could have been fixed without resetting the phones and erasing the messages.