SEATTLE - The King County Sheriff's Office confirmed to FOX 13 that it is in the early stages of investigating missing text messages from then-Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and other city leaders from 2020.
Nearly 10 months' worth of Durkan's text messages were unaccounted for following an investigation triggered by a whistleblower into the mayor's office mishandling a series of public records requests.
The texts that were not acquired include messages from August 2019 to June 2020, during which demonstrations and the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) took place in Seattle and SPD officers had to vacate the East Precinct.
"The King County Sheriff’s Office is in the early stages of reviewing this matter. We look forward to sharing periodic updates as appropriate," the KCSO said in a statement to FOX 13.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told The Seattle Times that "it wasn’t clear to me that anyone was going to start this investigation without prompting."
Durkan's office attributed the disappearances to "unknown technology issues," however, internal emails appear to show that officials had already known for months why the texts were gone and why they disappeared, The Seattle Times reported.
The settings were changed from ‘retain’ to ‘delete,’ the Seattle City Attorney's Office said in August of 2021.
Under state law and guidelines, local elected officials’ texts and other communications about public business must be retained for at least two years before being transferred to the state archives for further assessment. Anyone who willfully destroys a public record that’s supposed to be kept is guilty of a felony, according to state law.
"I’m glad that the prosecutor made this decision, it is long overdue," said Mike Fancher, President of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.
"The investigation that was done in this case by the city was woefully inadequate," he said.
The Coalition has been critical of the city’s transparency with public records for years and has called for an overhaul of its public records practices.
"The truth is we don't know what happened and until we know, it’s hard to figure out how the city moves beyond this," he said. "This is just one of many, many problems in the city of Seattle relative to openness, transparency and accountability."
Responding to the King County Prosecutor’s request for a criminal investigation, Seattle City Attorney’s Office told FOX13 in a statement, "The City Attorney’s Office has spent significant time and resources on an investigation of these text messages, including an outside forensic examination of why the text messages were missing and whether they could be recovered."
"That substantial effort uncovered no evidence to suggest intentional wrongdoing by current or former city officials. As a result, the City Attorney’s Office saw no basis to request a criminal investigation" the statement said.