Jun 8, 2022 - News

Ex-Seattle police chief testifies that she deleted text messages in bulk

Then-Seattle police chief Carmen Best speaks outside the abandoned East Precinct in June 2020. Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images
Then-Seattle police chief Carmen Best outside the abandoned East Precinct in June 2020. Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images

Former Seattle police chief Carmen Best testified late last month that in 2020 she periodically deleted texts in bulk from her city-issued phone after independently deciding the messages didn't contain significant information that would require them to be saved.

Details: Some of those destroyed texts could have been messages Best exchanged with then-Mayor Jenny Durkan, the ex-cop acknowledged when questioned by trial lawyer Karen Koehler during a May 24 deposition, in a transcript first obtained by Axios.

What she said: "Just periodically I deleted messages in bulk," Best testified. "I didn't look through … any specific message ... just if they're transitory ... at some point, I just would delete those off, and that was it.

  • Again, I wasn't targeting any specific person or anything like that."

Why it matters: Best's testimony offers new details on the evolving explanation about why months worth of text exchanges vanished amid Seattle's controversial handling of racial justice protests in 2020.

  • No one has been held accountable more than a year later for deleting the records.

The intrigue: Despite lingering questions and calls for a probe into whether anyone broke the law, top city and state officials aren't pressing for further investigation.

Meanwhile, taxpayers have footed a bill of more than $600,000 for a forensic analysis that failed to recover the texts and a settlement of a public records lawsuit over the messages.

  • Several other lawsuits are pending that touch on the missing exchanges as potential evidence.

Catch up quick: Best and Durkan are among nine city officials with missing texts from the period overlapping with the June 2020 protests.

  • During demonstrations, police used tear gas and other force to quell activists and abandoned the East Precinct, and the city allowed protesters to take over six square blocks of Capitol Hill for weeks.
  • Best's texts are also missing from late June 2020 when two Black teenagers were fatally shot inside the protest zone, when city officials considered slashing the police budget, and when she abruptly retired from the department.

The other side: Durkan has denied that she switched her phone to a setting that automatically deleted more than 2,000 texts.

  • Best told The Seattle Times last year she had no idea what happened to her missing texts and assumed they'd been backed up.

The latest: Best's May deposition was taken on behalf of more than 20 people suing Seattle and King County, including relatives of Summer Taylor, a 24-year-old activist struck and killed by a motorist during a freeway protest march.

  • Best testified that she deleted texts "from all sorts of folks," including community members and staff.

Yes, but: At least some of Best's missing messages unquestionably contained city-related business and were required to be kept.

  • The South Seattle Emerald reported last week that city logs of assistant police chief Lesley Cordner show exchanges with Best about securing and removing sensitive materials from the East Precinct on June 8, 2020 — the day police abandoned the station.

And, Best's deposition suggests she continued to periodically delete what she considered "transitory" texts from late May until she left the department in early September 2020.

  • By then, multiple public records requests and lawsuits had been filed.
  • That means whether Best believed her texts were transitory or not, she was obligated to keep them under public records law and evidence rules.
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