Seattle to pay out $2.3 MILLION to whistleblowers who revealed mayor engaged in CHAZ cover-up by deleting texts

“There’s been no accountability. These officials basically got away with it and the taxpayers are paying.”

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
The city of Seattle will be forced to pay $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit brought by city employees who were mistreated after they helped reveal that thousands of then-Mayor Jenny Durkan’s text messages had been deleted during the violent riots that rocked the city and the deadly Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in the summer of 2020.

A whistleblower complaint by the employees helped to reveal that the texts of Durkan, former Police Chief Carmen Best, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, and other top officials from the summer of 2020 were intentionally deleted.

Though the King County Superior Court case was resolved last month, the terms of Seattle’s settlement with Stacy Irwin and Kimberly Ferreiro weren’t finalized until this week and the details were released to The Seattle Times through a public disclosure request on Friday.

The $2.3 million payout is in addition to over $770,000, as of April, spent by the city on attorneys to defend the case, the outlet reported.

According to the suit, Irwin and Ferreiro claimed that they resigned as public-records officers in Durkan’s office due to hostile conditions and retaliation. The pair claimed they were “subjected to scorn, ridicule, abuse, and hostility … and the demand to perform illegal acts.”

The pair sounded the alarm in 2021 when they complained to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission that the mayor’s office was mishandling records requests.

An investigation by the SEEC determined that the mayor’s legal counsel, Michelle Chen, had violated the state Public Records Act by using narrow interpretations of certain requests to exclude Durkan’s missing texts and diverged from best practices by not informing requesters the texts were missing.

Under state law, texts and other communications about public businesses by local elected officials must be kept for at least two years and anyone who willfully destroys a public record that’s supposed to be preserved is guilty of a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

The settlement agreement includes $25,000 in lost wages each to Irwin and Ferreiro, while the remainder of the $2.3 million is for general damages and attorneys’ fees.

As part of the settlement, the plaintiffs are required to drop the case, destroy city documents in their possession, and never pursue jobs in the city again. Additionally, both parties are barred from talking publicly about the settlement amount.

Irwin told the Times that records disappeared and yet, “There’s been no accountability. These officials basically got away with it and the taxpayers are paying.”

Ferreiro said, “It’s still a loss for the citizens of Seattle,” because some questions about the actions of city officials “will never be answered.”

In August 2022, then-King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg requested that Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall investigate the city officials’ deleted texts, but Cole-Tindall’s office has yet to announce the results.

Durkan’s office previously claimed that an “unknown technology issue” caused the texts to go missing but a city-commissioned forensic report found that Durkan’s phone was changed in July 2020 to delete texts automatically after 30 days as well as texts stored in the cloud.

Durkan also previously claimed that she dropped her phone in a tide pool on the July 4 weekend of that year.

A subsequent forensic report commissioned by business owners and residents suing the city over the deadly autonomous zone revealed that Durkan texts were manually deleted.

In February, the city settled that lawsuit for $3.65 million, including $600,000 in penalties for the deleted texts.

The settlement came swiftly after a judge sanctioned the city for destroying evidence and noted that Durkan’s excuses “strained credibility.”

Over 27,000 texts were deleted from Best’s phone and the most recent forensic reports show that phones used by Scoggins and others were reset in October 2020.

In 2022, Seattle paid nearly $200,000 and pledged to improve its public records processes to settle a lawsuit brought by The Seattle Times that alleged the city had mishandled requests from reporters who asked for the messages between city officials.

In February, the owner of a Korean restaurant filed a federal lawsuit against the city for the loss of business and expenses incurred during the notorious autonomous zone.

Litigation against the city as a result of the zone has already cost Seattle over $11 million.

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