Seattle to pay $2.3M to whistleblowers over ex-mayor Durkan’s 2020 deleted texts

SEATTLE — The town of Seattle can pay $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit introduced by workers who helped reveal that 1000’s of then-Mayor Jenny Durkan’s textual content messages had been deleted in 2020 amid protests over George Floyd’s demise by the hands of Minneapolis police.

The phrases of the town’s settlement with Stacy Irwin and Kimberly Ferreiro had been finalized this week and launched to The Seattle Occasions by way of a public disclosure request Friday, the newspaper reported.

After their whistleblower criticism in 2021, additional scrutiny confirmed that texts of different prime officers additionally weren’t retained from that interval in 2020 when police used tear gasoline towards Black Lives Matter protest crowds and quickly vacated a police precinct throughout weeks of demonstrations. Protesters additionally quickly occupied a small space of the town often called the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone.

The $2.3 million payout is along with almost $800,000 spent by the town to defend the case.

Irwin and Ferreiro mentioned they had been mistreated as public-records officers in Durkan’s workplace for objecting to how the workplace was dealing with requests by reporters and others for information, together with Durkan’s texts, in line with their lawsuit. They mentioned they had been “subjected to scorn, ridicule, abuse and hostility … and the demand to carry out unlawful acts.”

They had been compelled to resign slightly than proceed to endure the hostile work environment, in line with their lawsuit.

The settlement says the settlement isn’t an admission of wrongdoing and prohibits the events from speaking publicly concerning the settlement quantity.

Irwin mentioned she is relieved to finish “a darkish chapter” in her life, however stays upset about having to rebuild her profession and disturbed by what occurred.

“There’s been no accountability,” she mentioned. “These officers principally acquired away with it and the taxpayers are paying.”

Ferreiro described the mayor’s workplace as a “stress cooker” and mentioned the expertise drove her to maneuver out of Washington. She views the settlement as a win for whistleblowers, however stays a loss for Seattle residents as a result of some questions concerning the metropolis officers’ actions “won’t ever be answered.”

Deputy Metropolis Lawyer Scott Lindsay mentioned in an electronic mail that the town lawyer’s workplace is “happy we had been capable of resolve this matter.”

Durkan didn’t return a request for remark from the newspaper.

Irwin and Ferreiro grew to become whistleblowers once they advised the Seattle Ethics and Elections Fee concerning the mayor’s workplace mishandling public information requests. An investigation by the ethics fee decided that the mayor’s authorized counsel, Michelle Chen, had violated the state Public Data Act through the use of slim interpretations of sure requests to exclude Durkan’s lacking texts.

An lawyer for Chen known as the investigation unfair, amongst different issues arguing it did not account for the involvement of others.

Texts and different communications about public enterprise by native elected officers have to be saved for at the least two years, underneath state regulation. Anybody who willfully destroys a public file that’s purported to be saved is responsible of a felony, punishable by as much as 5 years in jail.

Durkan’s workplace initially cited an “unknown know-how challenge” behind the lacking messages. A city-commissioned forensic report later discovered that Durkan’s cellphone was seemingly modified in July 2020 to delete texts routinely after 30 days and was additionally set to delete texts saved within the cloud.

Different officers with lacking 2020 texts included then-police Chief Carmen Finest and fireplace Chief Harold Scoggins, amongst others. Over 27,000 texts had been deleted from Finest’s cellphone, whereas telephones utilized by Scoggins and others had been reset in October 2020, a forensic report discovered.

Final summer season, then-King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg requested Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall to analyze the deletion of Durkan’s texts and people of different metropolis leaders. Cole-Tindall’s workplace has but to announce any outcomes.

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