by Jack Russillo
For more than a month, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant received a series of increasingly threatening emails from a Seattle Fire Department (SFD) employee’s email address.
In total, four emails were sent to Sawant’s official email address. The first was sent on December 17 and the most recent was received on January 18 and ended with the message “Announce your resignation now, or else.” Previous emails from this same account said “If you don’t willing leave [sic], we will make that decision for you by any means necessary” and “If you need help leaving, try jumping head first off the top floor of your building. I’ll even come push you.”
“I believe these emails must be taken very seriously given the current political context with an emboldened right wing nationally, the specific threatening content of the emails, and the fact that they originate from a City of Seattle email account,” said Sawant in a press release. “There should be a thorough investigation into this matter immediately.”
After the first two emails were sent on December 17 and 19, Helen Fitzpatrick, the executive director of administration for the SFD, sent Sawant an email referring to the emails that “may have been sent,” she wrote, to Sawant’s email account, calling them “concerning,” and said that “the SFD employee is claiming that he did not send the emails.” Fitzpatrick also said that the SFD’s Equal Employment Opportunity office “is currently looking into the matter.” After Fitzpatrick’s email was sent on December 31, another email arrived in Sawant’s inbox on January 4.
Two weeks later, Sawant received the latest email and called for other elected officials to pay attention to the menacing messages. Sawant wrote a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan, Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, SFD Chief Harold Scoggins, and President of Seattle Fire Fighters Union, IAFF Local 27 Lt. Kenny Stuart.
“While I appreciate that this message was sent proactively by the department leadership, I am concerned that I have received two more threatening emails since that time from the same employee’s account, and that they are increasingly serious in nature,” wrote Sawant in the letter. “Meanwhile, I have not been informed of any steps taken by the department in the nearly three weeks since.”
The Emerald emailed SFD for comment on the story and received this statement in return:
“The Seattle Fire Department initiated an internal investigation as soon as we were made aware of several threatening emails sent to Councilmember Sawant from a department email address. We immediately alerted SPD [Seattle Police Department] as the City takes all threats very seriously. Additionally, our department previously contacted Councilmember Sawant’s office promptly to notify her of our internal investigation.”
Durkan’s office reported the threatening emails to SPD on January 19, the same day that Sawant published her letter, and SPD has confirmed it is evaluating and investigating the matter. The mayor’s office is working with Sawant’s office to ensure it can appropriately report all threats directly to SPD for evaluation and investigation, as is current protocol in the mayor’s office.
“Any serious threats towards elected officials including Mayor Durkan and Councilmembers will be investigated by the Seattle Police Department,” said Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, in an email statement. “Over the last year, Mayor Durkan and many elected officials have faced an exponential increase in death threats, vandalism, and targeted hate speech. Mayor Durkan has continuously denounced any violence and hate speech towards any elected officials and small businesses. Violent threats, vandalism, and misogynistic and homophobic hate speech are not acceptable in our community.”
“How is it possible that these threatening emails have been allowed to continue?” demanded Sawant in her letter. “If the employee is to be believed that he did not send the threatening emails, has there been no effort by the department to secure his account? Has the employee not so much as been asked to change his password? Why have no further steps been reported to me? I hope that in fact real action has been taken, but these facts begin to strain credulity. Given that the Fire Department appears not to have taken this matter seriously, I request that Mayor Jenny Durkan and interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz follow up with real urgency on this immediate threat.”
Jack Russillo has been reporting in Western Washington since 2013. He covers the environment, social justice, and other topics that affect a sustainable and equitable future. He currently lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured Image: attributed to Seattle City Council (public domain).
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