The former federal prosecutor examining the firing of police Chief Frank Straub is pushing back against accusations that her investigation of Spokane City Hall is flawed.
Kris Cappel, a principal in the Seattle investigation consulting firm the Seabold Group, is facing criticism that her three-month investigation is incomplete due to a lack of willing participants, including Straub, as well as members of the city’s police and legal departments.
City Hall has been engulfed by problems in the aftermath of Straub’s forced resignation. He had been accused of sexually harassing his spokeswoman, Monique Cotton, and of launching into tirades that some of his top administrators said crossed the line into abusive management. Cotton was hurriedly transferred to the parks department, something she demanded with the backing of an attorney. City officials denied for months that there were any troubles between Straub and Cotton, though the mayor knew of the allegations last April.
Since Cappel has begun her investigation, City Hall has quieted, waiting for her to do her work. But as people central to the investigation left city employment or decided against participating in Cappel’s investigation, questions about the inquiry’s integrity have been raised.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart has criticized Mayor David Condon for not forcing employees to participate. Bob Dunn, Cotton’s attorney and a successful litigator against City Hall, also criticized the investigation, suggesting it is a “whitewash of some kind to cover their tracks and go through the necessary hoop-jumping.”
On Monday, Cappel said in an email that she normally doesn’t comment on investigations, but decided she had to respond to “individuals offering incorrect facts and uninformed opinions about the status and the progress of this investigation.”
Cappel said she would release a statement Tuesday, but on Monday she shared an email thread between her and Dunn.
The emails contradict statements made by Dunn to The Spokesman-Review last week, in which he said Cotton was “approached to participate months ago, of course it got derailed. … We haven’t heard anything more back.”
The emails show Cappel wrote Dunn on March 18, the fourth time she had asked Dunn to schedule a meeting with Cotton.
“Just checking in to see if you will have an opportunity to talk with Monique about participating in the investigation,” Cappel wrote.
Nearly seven hours later, Dunn responded.
“I have been and still remain in trial so this has been zero priority to me,” Dunn wrote, the entire content of his response.
Calls seeking comment from Dunn and Cotton, who resigned from the city in February, were not returned Monday afternoon.
Cappel has not released the names of people she’s interviewed or asked to interview, but some names have surfaced.
Notably, a majority of Spokane City Council members have been interviewed.
Stuckart, Councilwoman Karen Stratton, Councilwoman Candace Mumm and Councilman Mike Fagan have been interviewed by Cappel, as has former Councilman Mike Allen. Jon Snyder, who left the council to work in Olympia, said he is trying to schedule an interview.
Stuckart, Stratton and Mumm all confirmed they revealed to Cappel what was said at a private meeting held among council members and other city leaders the day before Straub was fired.
Fagan said he told her what he could, though he said he couldn’t recall what exactly was said at the meeting.
“This is one of the human failings we have unless we have 100 percent memory recall,” he said. “Unless one of us council members secretly recorded that meeting, there is no damn way any of us are going to remember what was said.”
Still, Fagan said, council members were told Straub was asked to resign following complaints of combative management style from his senior staff, the same justifications Condon told reporters the following day. Fagan said he remembered no discussion of sexual harassment at the meeting.
Other council members aren’t publicly revealing what they heard, and they have been warned they could face criminal charges if they reveal what was said at the Sept. 21 “executive session.”
In an email sent to Stuckart and others in February, Assistant City Attorney Pat Dalton wrote that “information obtained from an executive session of the City Council or City Park Board may not lawfully be disclosed by a participant in the executive session.” Dalton warned those who were considering releasing confidential information to “consult with his or her personal attorney, at least as to the potential violations of state law.”
In December, Stuckart requested that the meeting’s confidentiality be waived so council members could speak with an investigator looking into the turmoil in the police department and City Hall. The council agreed to “waive privilege” by a 4-2 vote.
Alhough Stuckart, Mumm and Stratton still would not disclose what was said at the meeting to the newspaper, they said Cappel asked about it, and they answered her questions.
“I was truthful,” Stratton said. “I told her everything that I knew.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.