Hours after a 19-year-old man was fatally shot last year inside a nationally watched protest zone on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Mayor Jenny Durkan urged her police and fire chiefs to come up with new plans for responding to the area and described the situation as “foreseeable and avoidable,” an email that recently surfaced in an ongoing lawsuit shows.

“I know this has been a very difficult time for each of you,” Durkan wrote in the email, sent to then-Police Chief Carmen Best and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins at 8:54 a.m. on June 20, 2020, about the overnight shooting. “… But as we discussed at the outset of the Cap Hill issues, and as you told the public, there can be no part of the city where SFD and SPD do not respond.

“What happened this am was foreseeable and avoidable. It cannot be repeated.”

The mayor’s email, recently disclosed in response to records requests made by the law firm representing the mother of shooting victim Lorenzo Anderson, gives a more blunt assessment than what Durkan and other city officials later publicly conveyed about the first fatal shooting inside the six-block Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, known as CHOP.

It’s also one of several revelations about what went on behind the scenes in the mayor’s administration during last year’s racial justice protests — revelations emerging in the final weeks of Durkan’s tenure during a slew of ongoing litigation against the city.

A recent filing in another lawsuit contends Durkan was actively considering a plan to vacate the police department’s East Precinct and hand the building over to Black Lives Matter activists around the time Seattle police commanders opted to evacuate the station.

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Such new details have surfaced just as legal discovery in litigation against the city has been complicated by the disappearance of potentially key evidence: text messages that Durkan, Best, Scoggins and several other city officials exchanged during a crucial period of last year’s civil unrest.

Many of the missing texts, which City Attorney Pete Holmes’ office has acknowledged were automatically deleted, purged or otherwise lost, covered periods overlapping with June 2020, when police used tear gas on protest crowds and abandoned the precinct, and when the first of two fatal shootings occurred in the CHOP zone that had been ceded to protesters.

Durkan’s email about Anderson’s death bolsters the claims of the dead man’s mother, Donnitta Sinclair, according to her lawyer, Mark Lindquist.

Last month, a judge dismissed Sinclair’s federal lawsuit that alleged the city’s abandonment of the precinct, coupled with its first responders’ failure to assist Anderson after he was shot, amounted to state-created “lawlessness and … a foreseeable danger.” U.S. District Judge John Coughenour concluded Sinclair hadn’t provided sufficient evidence to support her allegations that the city’s actions created danger particular to Anderson and that the city was “deliberately indifferent” to that danger.

Sinclair has since appealed the dismissal.

Durkan’s email, which had yet to be obtained when Sinclair filed her federal suit, “goes right to the heart of the key element of our allegations — that this shooting and the city’s botched response to it were foreseeable,” Lindquist said. Coughenour didn’t rule on whether Anderson’s shooting could be considered foreseeable, nor did the city contest that point when asking for the suit to be dismissed.

“I appreciate her candor and honesty” in the email, added Lindquist, formerly the elected prosecutor of Pierce County. “In my old job, I would call that a confession.”

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A spokesperson for Durkan referred questions to Holmes’ office.

Dan Nolte, a spokesman for Holmes, said in an email: “Rather than explain errors and mischaracterizations in the press, the City expects to litigate its cases in court.”

Precinct transfer

A recent filing in the other federal lawsuit — a proposed class action alleging the city’s tolerance of CHOP and its decision to pull police from the area cost more than a dozen Capitol Hill businesses and residents millions of dollars and violated their rights to live and operate safely — contends Durkan’s office initially planned to “gift the East Precinct itself to BLM,” before considering other properties.

The filing by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the Calfo Eakes law firm, largely bases the contention on a city “draft resolution” to move out of the East Precinct and the Oct. 12 deposition of former Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller. The draft resolution hasn’t been publicly released.

During the deposition, Sixkiller acknowledged Durkan was considering the idea of handing over the precinct and recalled “expressing to her that while she may have a strong desire to put this on the table as a conversation point with folks, that it’s not ready,” according to a transcript.

Sixkiller called the timing of Durkan’s considerations to transfer the precinct — at about the same time police commanders decided to evacuate the building — “purely coincidental.” He said the discussion was in its early stages, adding the idea was dropped after BLM activists told city officials they didn’t want the precinct, the transcript shows.

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About two weeks after Sixkiller’s deposition, Durkan’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas, disputed a statement in a book recently published by Best in which the former chief wrote that BLM activists told her “someone in the mayor’s office had offered them the keys” to the East Precinct.

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“Did someone tell Carmen that we did – possibly,” Formas wrote in an email to The Seattle Times, “but I can definitely confirm no one was offered keys or the building ….!”

Formas also downplayed that Durkan’s office seriously considered such a plan, saying the idea emerged from “a few demand letters to hand over the building” and Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s commitment to draft legislation about the issue.

“[W]e did have conversations about [the] building, community room, buildings nearby, city buildings in the area, that could meet the spirit of transferring property to the black community (and we did transfer a few properties last year),” Formas said in her email.

Neither Sixkiller’s deposition nor the recent court filing say which activists were engaged in discussions about the precinct.

A June 15, 2020, letter from the organization Black Lives Matter Seattle King County to Durkan and other leaders, obtained by The Seattle Times through a records request, demanded that the precinct be ceded to the organization as part of a process to repurpose the building with Public Health – Seattle & King County for community needs.

“This one leaped out”

Durkan’s email about the first CHOP shooting didn’t surface during legal discovery but instead through public records requests that Lindquist said his firm filed separately with the mayor’s office, police and fire departments, seeking emails exchanged among Durkan, Best and Scoggins.

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“We got some other records, but this is the one that leaped out,” Lindquist said of the email. “Jenny is not only an attorney, but an experienced attorney. She knows what ‘foreseeable and avoidable’ means both in common sense and in the legal sense.”

Lindquist said he expects the email from Durkan, a former U.S. attorney, will be “persuasive evidence” to help prove the city’s culpability in a lawsuit in King County Superior Court filed on behalf of Anderson’s estate, which includes his mother as a beneficiary, as well as in her separate federal claims should they survive the appeal. “Foreseeability” is one of the legal elements Sinclair would need to prove in her federal claims that the city’s tolerance and lack of policing of CHOP amounted to a state-created danger, Lindquist said.

The city has yet to provide the email in response to two similar requests for her communications and those of police officials communications about the CHOP shooting, made 17 months ago by The Seattle Times. The Times has since sued the city over the way Durkan’s office and other city departments have handled requests related to her missing texts and other records related to last year’s demonstrations.

When the city won pretrial dismissal of Sinclair’s federal suit in November, its lawyers noted they were prepared to argue the city could not have foreseen that Anderson would run into 18-year-old Marcel Long the morning he was shot. Bad blood between the two men allegedly led Long to shoot Anderson on the sidewalk across the street from Cal Anderson Park, according to police.

Long has been charged with first-degree murder.

Police officers and fire department medics weren’t able to reach the shooting scene because of unsafe conditions, city officials have said. Anderson, and another man who was shot and wounded, were taken to Harborview Medical Center by private citizens, while fire medics waited outside the protest zone, citing the standard policy of waiting for police to secure potentially dangerous areas before entering.

Police also said the officers who tried to access CHOP were met by a hostile crowd and left for safety reasons. Sinclair’s lawsuit argues any crowd hostility toward police stemmed from their failure to respond to the shooting scene.

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In her email about 6 1/2 hours later, Durkan, who noted Best was out of town at the time of the shooting, instructed the police and fire chiefs “to develop true operational plan[s] so we do not get a repeat of that again.”

Durkan didn’t reiterate the “foreseeable and avoidable” language from her email during a news conference that she, Best, Scoggins and others held to address Anderson’s fatal shooting two days later. By then, a second shooting had occurred inside CHOP that wounded a 17-year-old.

Instead, the mayor cited “escalating violence” and safety concerns during the CHOP’s “nighttime atmosphere,” as well as gun violence locally and nationally, as concerns that needed to be addressed.

“The city will not allow for gun violence to continue in the evenings around Capitol Hill,” she said. “And if individuals continue to remain at the park we will be looking at additional steps to ensure community safety.”

Best, meantime, blamed the City Council for approving a measure to ban police use of certain crowd-control weapons for impeding officers’ ability to potentially help Anderson.

“A life might have been saved if not for the circumstances created by hasty legislation,” Best said.

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But the council’s ban hadn’t taken effect when Anderson was shot.

When a reporter later questioned officials about the chief’s statement, Durkan responded: “I didn’t imply that he could be saved, I said it’s very tragic that he died. I don’t think anyone was contradicting what the facts are, but it’s a bigger existential issue. We have to stop the gun violence everywhere in Seattle.”

Two days after another shooting in CHOP on June 29 killed 16-year-old Antonio Mays Jr. and wounded a 14-year-old boy, Durkan ordered police to clear the protest zone.