That June, as cops lobbed tear gas from behind barricades, and protesters on the streets surrounding the precinct called for the Police Department to be defunded, Durkan’s office behind the scenes briefly contemplated handing over the multimillion dollar property that had become the focus of the demonstrations.
Calvin Goings, the director of the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS), emailed three memos and a draft resolution to Durkan on the afternoon of June 8, 2020 — at about the same time police were abandoning the East Precinct on Capitol Hill.
The draft resolution for transferring the property to Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC) included a July 1 effective date, and Durkan’s office subsequently discussed the possibility with the nonprofit, which at one point pushed to remake the building as a hub for public health and community care.
“Good afternoon Mayor, Please see the attached documents as requested. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns,” Goings wrote at 3:10 p.m. on one of the most chaotic days in recent Seattle history, after more than a week of confrontations between police and protesters that the Durkan administration was struggling to control.
The summer of 2020 was an impactful period, yet many City Hall deliberations — such as work on a potential East Precinct transfer — happened behind closed doors, leaving journalists and residents in the dark. Text messages exchanged among a number of key decision makers, including Durkan and her police and fire chiefs, have gone missing.
More than a year and a half later, the East Precinct memos, obtained by The Seattle Times this month through a records request, are the only details that City Hall has publicly disclosed about the potential transfer, shedding some light on an idea that Durkan has since distanced herself from. They’re already playing a role in at least one lawsuit against the city, brought by businesses and residents over the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP).
The city didn’t end up transferring the East Precinct property, which police reoccupied on July 1, 2020. Durkan, whose term expired last month, dropped the idea after “the very preliminary work by FAS and the realities of policing confirmed it was neither feasible nor in the best interest of public safety,” Chelsea Kellogg, a spokesperson for Durkan, said in an email last week.
BLMSKC ultimately supported a position held by the Rev. Harriett Walden, a community leader who spoke out in favor of police returning to the building, Kellogg added. Walden noted that the first Black member of the Seattle City Council, Sam Smith, had supported the establishment of the East Precinct, which opened in 1986 after years of controversy.
BLMSKC was not closely involved with the protests on Capitol Hill, nor with the CHOP. Walden didn’t know about conversations with the mayor’s office about transferring the East Precinct building to BLMSKC, she said this month.
Police Department officials also weren’t included in the conversations, according to spokesperson Sgt. Randy Huserik. “We were not aware of any plans on the city’s part to permanently leave the precinct, or any plans to share the space with the community,” he said in an email Friday.
In a recent deposition, former Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller said the Durkan administration nixed the East Precinct transfer possibility after the activists decided they didn’t want the property. It was a coincidence that the draft resolution was shared on the same afternoon the precinct was abandoned, Sixkiller said.
The Times contacted BLMSKC board members about the matter.
“Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County will not make a statement at this time,” board member Anthony Canape said in an email Monday.
The Durkan administration’s work on a potential East Precinct transfer didn’t surface publicly until Sixkiller was deposed and until former Police Chief Carmen Best mentioned the matter in a book last year.
Since then, Durkan representatives have denied the building was offered and downplayed the notion that City Hall seriously pursued a transfer, attributing the idea to some demand letters from activists and to City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who on June 11, 2020, tweeted she would sponsor legislation to convert the property into a community center.
“There was no plan to transfer the East Precinct and from the time SPD made the decision to temporarily evacuate the precinct for safety reasons, it always planned to return,” Kellogg said.
But the FAS memos from June 8, 2020, demonstrate that Durkan’s office was interested in a transfer before the precinct was abandoned and before Sawant weighed in. A June 15 letter from BLMSKC demanding a transfer and offering to contribute millions of dollars to repurpose the building was circulated by mayoral staffers. And additional FAS memos from June 17, 2020, indicate the administration continued for more than a week to explore the possibility of permanently relocating East Precinct police operations.
Kellogg suggested Durkan didn’t ask for the June 8, 2020, draft resolution.
“Interesting that you assume and state that the Mayor asked for a draft resolution on this property when that is not how the process works,” she said. “FAS oversees both city owned property and many real estate deals.”
FAS spokesperson Melissa Mixon said the mayor’s office triggered the work.
“The Durkan administration directed FAS — in its capacity as the city’s real estate and facility management agency — to outline the process to transfer the East Precinct to BLMSKC,” Mixon said this month.