Aug 19, 2022 - Politics

King County sheriff's office investigating missing texts of Durkan, Best

Image of Jenny Durkan and Carmen Best cheering at a Seattle Storm game.
Then-Mayor Jenny Durkan, right, and Police chief Carmen Best, cheered for the Seattle Storm game in 2018. Photo: Genna Martin/Getty Images

The King County Sheriff's Office is investigating whether former Mayor Jenny Durkan, ex-police chief Carmen Best or others broke the law when thousands of potentially key text messages exchanged during the city's 2020 racial justice protests were deleted from their city-issued phones, Axios has learned.

Driving the news: The Sheriff's Office opened the probe July 28 at the request of King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, his spokesperson said in an email to Axios on Thursday.

What they're saying: "The case had never been referred to us, and typically we don't ask for an investigation to be conducted," Satterberg said in a statement to Axios on Thursday.

  • "But in recent weeks and months, I heard from people in the community that this matter was important to them and I considered it my responsibility to make this request to the Sheriff before the end of my term."

Separately, a Sheriff's Office spokesperson told Axios in an email Thursday the agency was "in the early stages of reviewing this matter."

  • "We look forward to sharing periodic updates as appropriate," the spokesperson added.

Why it matters: Anyone who willfully destroys or conceals a public record is guilty of a felony in Washington.

  • Until Satterberg did so, city, county and state officials had avoided calling for or opening a criminal probe into the missing text messages.
  • The text messages are public records required to be kept under state law and could have served as possible evidence in multiple pending lawsuits against the city over its handling of the 2020 protests.

The other side: Durkan has said she accidentally dropped her phone into salt water and denied setting her replacement phone to automatically delete messages.

  • Best testified in a deposition earlier this year that 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.

Context: Since the public first learned about the missing text messages in May 2021 from a city ethics investigation, no one has been held accountable for deleting them.

  • In May, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, interim Police chief Adrian Diaz and City Attorney Ann Davison separately told Axios they weren't planning to pursue a probe.
  • Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office also said it wasn't his responsibility to investigate the matter, saying that duty belonged to local law enforcement.

Catch up quick: The missing texts overlap with a period in June 2020, when police used violence to quell demonstrators and abandoned the East Precinct, and the city allowed protesters to take over six-square blocks of Capitol Hill.

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