Former Seattle police chief admits deleting texts in wake of 2020 Capitol Hill protest
Two years ago, the Seattle Police Department abandoned the Capitol Hill East Precinct, leading to the creation of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). At the time, former Police Chief Carmen Best distanced herself from that decision.
Whether Best approved the move remains an open question that is difficult to answer due to missing text messages. In a deposition obtained by Axios, Best said she deleted texts she sent during the 2020 protests.
Two years ago, in June 2020, protestors responding to the murder of George Floyd took to the streets across the United States — pushing for an end to police brutality and violence against Black people.
That included here in Seattle, where demonstrators marched on freeways and gathered on Capitol Hill.
On June 8, 2020, Seattle Police made a pivotal move: They abandoned the department’s East Precinct on Capitol Hill, creating space for the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or CHOP, to coalesce. In a taped message meant for police officers, then-Police Chief Carmen Best distanced herself from that decision.
In the weeks following, two people were shot and killed inside the CHOP and several more were injured. Mayor Durkan eventually ordered the area cleared at the end of June.
Former Chief Best maintains that she didn’t approve leaving the East Precinct.
But it’s hard to know for sure, because text messages sent by the former police chief during the 2020 protests are missing. In a new deposition obtained by Axios Seattle Reporter Lewis Kamb, Best said she deleted those missing texts herself.
"She acknowledged that she was deleting her text messages in bulk from the summer of 2020 basically — over a period of late May to when she left the department in early September," Kamb said.
Best said she had determined the messages were "transitory" — in other words, they didn't contain any significant information that would require her under state law to save the messages.
But Kamb notes that, when she was deleting messages, the city was already facing multiple lawsuits and public records requests about the protests.
"And both of those would have triggered, basically, requirements to keep whatever existing text messages she had, even if they were transitory," Kamb said.
Best isn't the only city official accused of deleting text messages — former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan also had missing texts, which were automatically deleted from her phone due to its settings.
Thousands of text messages are missing and Kamb tells Soundside that we may never have a full view of what happened during Seattle's Black Lives Matter protests as a result.
"That kind of information, behind-the-scenes communications of what was going on between two very key individuals, the mayor and the police chief, are gone to history. We don't know where they are. Now we don't know what truly happened behind the scenes. Those records were supposed to be kept. They were supposed to be archived and available for the public in perpetuity."
Best could face repercussions for the deleted texts — it is illegal under state law. But as of now, no one is pressing for an investigation. Instead, Kamb notes there's a lot of finger pointing among Seattle's new administration about who is responsible for conducting that investigation.
So far, no one has stepped forward to do so.
Correction: In the interview Lewis Kamb refers to Summer Taylor using she/her pronouns. Summer used they/them pronouns.