by Carolyn Bick
The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.
During interviews with the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) in 2021, after her retirement, former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best told investigators she was not involved in plans to abandon the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct on June 8, 2020. But text messages obtained by the Emerald tell another story.
According to texts between Best and Assistant Police Chief Lesley Cordner, it appears that Best was in contact with former Mayor Jenny Durkan about the Seattle Police Department (SPD) removing items from the East Precinct and that she was aware, on the morning of June 8, 2020, of a plan to remove firearms, ammunition, and evidence from the building by 5 p.m. that day. (Note: The Emerald has redacted phone numbers that appeared in the above-linked text log transcript.)
This is not what Best told OPA investigators, according to the OPA’s Case Closed Summary (CCS) on the matter, and not the story she continued to tell media almost a year after the incident.
According to the CCS, Best told OPA investigators that “a decision was made to remove staff and supplies” from the East Precinct, based on Durkan’s decision to open the area for protesters to march.
“However,” the CCS says, “[Best] reiterated that she ‘wasn’t a part of that decision.’”
The CCS says that “[a]lthough [Best] stated she knew there were concerns about the building, she told OPA that she ‘wasn’t involved in the discussion about what, you know, who was moving what material and when.’”
Though her answer became more equivocal when investigators asked Best when she became aware that City employees were taking steps to remove items from the East Precinct — the CCS states that Best said, “Yeah, I don’t, I don’t remember. I know I was aware of it at some point, you know, but I don’t know if that was before or after the fact to be honest with you” — her answer still appears to be false.
According to the text log the Emerald obtained, at 10:27:44 a.m. on June 8, 2020, Best received a text message from Cordner. It reads, “From Sixkiller” — presumably meaning former Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller — “I want to see a plan to remove firearms, ammunition, and evidence from the East Precinct today. That plan should be fully capable of being executed by 5 p.m. today.”
Best replies, “Did he send to you?”
Cordner says, “Yes, they wanted to meet right now, but I am on the call. Plus I need to know how you feel about it.”
“The mayor already discussed with me and I will take it,” Best’s message to Cordner reads. The time stamp on this text message shows Best sent it at 10:31:29 a.m. on June 8.
Cordner then asks, “Do you want us to proceed? It will take planning and logistics. We can produce a plan.”
“Yes,” Best replies, “but tell them they need to go through me and you need my approval.”
“Will do,” Cordner says. “I will email him [Sixkiller] back.”
“Thanks. Too much freelancing and directing our command staff,” Best responds.
Half a minute later, at 10:38:53 a.m., Cordner replies, “Approval to even start a plan? Or approval to pull the trigger on it?”
“Yes, start on it, but make them go through me. Sigh …” Best writes back.
“Will do. I will respond to him and add you to the email,” Cordner says.
“Copy,” Best replies.
Later in the day, at 4:32:27 p.m., SPD Assistant Chief Deanna Nolette sends the following message to Best, Cordner, SPD Assistant Chief Thomas Mahaffey, SPD Capt. Steven Hirjak, and former SPD Capt. Bryan Grenon: “We are going to have to unplug the computers and close the computer ports in the East PCT [Precinct]. If anyone gets in they won’t get our data or get behind our firewalls.”
It is unclear whether Best read this message when it was sent, because it was sent to a group of people. However, the text log has this text marked as Read. Additionally, the text log shows that Best “liked” the above message from Nolette at 5:51:41 p.m.
Readers may recall that, according to the OPA’s CCS, officers were told shortly after roll call on June 8, 2020, that they were to secure the building and remove “sensitive items,” which the OPA says Witness Officer #4 told investigators took place “from approximately noon or 1:00 P.M. until approximately 6:00 P.M.”
Best continued to deny any knowledge of or involvement in the decision to leave the East Precinct for almost a year after the fact, as evidenced in this interview on the Reducing Crime podcast. Best framed it as a “command decision” and that “these things happen.”
“I want to preface this by saying often there’s dynamic situations,” Best told Reducing Crime interviewer Jerry Ratcliffe. “Things are happening in the middle. You’re in charge and you’re making decisions. And I think people question, ‘Why weren’t they talking to you about it? You’re the chief.’ I said, ‘I would have preferred that happen, to be honest with you. But also, there’s lots of things that happen in the field that are happening right then.’”
Best went on to say that “[o]nce the decision was made that we were going to do it and we took the barricades out, they decided, ‘We’re going to get our people out of here. We’re going to get our sensitive material out of here. The building’s under threat.’” It should be noted here that Best appears to lump together evidence, equipment, and personnel when describing the action.
The Emerald also discovered in this interview that Best directly linked the creation of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) to the abandonment of the East Precinct, saying, “The leaving the precinct was a real problem, because that was the precipitating factor to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, the CHAZ, which at some point, turned into the CHOP. But leaving that precinct really, no pun intended, sort of triggered that whole thing, that whole set of events.”
However, in her OPA interview, Best told investigators that she “was uncertain whether the decision to evacuate the East Precinct contributed to the establishment of CHOP/CHAZ, calling such a connection ‘all speculation.’”
The Emerald reached out to SPD for comment on the afternoon of June 2, and received the following short reply that evening: “Here is what the depart is able to say on this topic. ‘In light of ongoing litigation, inquiries on this topic should be directed to the City Attorney’s Office.’”
The Emerald immediately reached out to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office (SCAO) and will update this story if the SCAO responds.
📸 Featured Image: Photo by Susan Fried.
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