Still questions over timeline of Mayor Durkan’s missing texts in wake of forensic report
A newly-released forensic report confirms that missing text messages from former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s phone were the result of a retention setting in her phone being reconfigured in early July of 2020.
In August of 2020, Durkan’s then-legal counsel, Michelle Chen, discovered that the mayor’s text messages between August 2019 and June 2020 had not been retained. According to whistleblower complaints from Public Records Officers Stacy Irwin and Kim Ferreiro, Chen later directed them to “narrowly interpret 48 pending requests … identified as requesting the Mayor’s text messages,” in an attempt to conceal the fact that the messages were missing.
It was later discovered that text messages spanning the summer of 2020 from devices belonging to then-Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, multiple members of SPD’s command staff, and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins had also disappeared.
That had a California-based cybersecurity company tasked by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office with compiling a forensic report to determine how the texts from city leaders had gone missing. Released last Friday, the report found that sometime between July 4 and July 22, 2020, the retention setting on Durkan’s phone was changed to automatically delete any text messages older than 30 days on a nightly rolling basis. The setting was then reconfigured to retain all messages indefinitely sometime between July 22 and July 26.
For Chief Best, the report found that she had deleted text message conversations “periodically,” consistent with an explanation she had delivered in a deposition.
Missing messages from both Durkan and Best also coincided with ongoing social justice protests across the Seattle area, as well as the creation of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest in late June, and its subsequent dismantling days before Durkan’s retention settings were changed to automatically delete old messages.
According to a statement from Durkan to the Seattle Times, her phone had “fallen into salt water” on July 4. She claims that when she was issued a new phone on July 9, the city’s information technology department had configured the phone with the 30-day text message retention setting. That said, the forensic report indicated that the setting may have been reconfigured prior to her being issued the new phone, casting some doubt on her alleged timeline.
There are also questions surrounding why the city’s IT department would configure a new phone with settings that would compromise record-keeping.
“When I worked for the City of Seattle I had two city issued iPhones during my tenure, and both were setup to retain messages forever,” former Communications Director for Seattle’s Office of Economic Development Joe Mirabella said on Twitter. “IT knew messages needed to be retained and everyone who works for the city is trained in records retention.”
That said, Durkan asserts that the report proves she was not the one responsible for deleting the missing messages, and that she had believed her phone was retaining her texts all along.
“As I have said all along, I did not change the retention settings on my phone and intentionally delete any data,” she told the Times. “The forensic report confirms my actions did not delete messages from the phone.”
Meanwhile, there are multiple active lawsuits filed against the city involving the missing texts. That includes Irwin and Ferreiro — the two initial whistleblowers — who are suing over claims that they were retaliated against and eventually forced to quit their jobs as public records officers. The Seattle Times is suing over how its public disclosure requests for the messages were handled.