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Saturday, February 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Author of Straub investigation defends findings against Mayor David Condon’s staff

The law firm responsible for issuing a report that found top members of Mayor David Condon’s staff intentionally withheld potentially embarrassing public records until after his re-election is not backing down.

The Seabold Group, which employs former federal prosecutor Kris Cappel, issued a two-page news release Thursday defending the report and Cappel as “fair, honest and dispassionate.”

An attorney representing City Administrator Theresa Sanders called the report “defamatory” and showed “a complete lack of credibility” in a letter to the firm dated July 29. Sanders was named as one of the officials who produced records detailing harassment claims against former Police Chief Frank Straub that were not released until weeks after Condon’s re-election.

But Cappel and the Seabold firm said they are standing behind the report.

“Seabold Group would make the same findings today regardless of any criticisms that have been lodged by those who may disagree,” the news release said.

Condon and Sanders have dismissed the report’s findings of intent on the part of public officials who blocked the release of the documents. The material included notes Sanders took in an interview with former police spokeswoman Monique Cotton in April 2015, during which Cotton alleged Straub “grabbed her ass” and “tried to kiss her.” Cappel’s report finds those allegations were not fully investigated by Sanders and City Attorney Nancy Isserlis, but dismissed the harassment claim as the reason Straub was forced out.

Isserlis also knew of the records, which were flagged as needing review because of “pending litigation” and were not released to the City Clerk’s office until a week after Condon won a second term.

The release also addresses concerns raised by city council members about a phone call made by city officials the day before the report was released to the public. Laura McAloon and Rick Romero - Condon’s appointees to a panel overseeing the investigation - called Cappel that day. City Council members have said they believe the call was inappropriate and may have influenced the decision to remove Condon’s name, as well as his spokesman Brian Coddington’s, from the finding about withholding records. An earlier version of the report concluded Condon and Coddington also were involved in withholding of documents.

Cappel reviewed her work after that phone call and found the evidence to be “inconclusive,” according to the release.

“There was no effort by either Ms. McAloon or Mr. Romero to persuade the independent investigator to change any findings,” the release said.

Seabold’s news release also rebuts claims from McAloon and Romero that they were surprised the two names appeared in the report released Monday.

The previous Friday, Cappel had a 90-minute debriefing session on the report that “involved, among other things, issues surrounding disclosure of public records and identified current and former City of Spokane employees responsible for withholding information related to public disclosure requests,” the release said.

McAloon, Romero and City Councilman Breean Beggs, all of whom were part of that Friday phone call, said they didn’t keep notes during the discussion.

Condon has said he will not dismiss any of his staff as a result of the report, citing an agreement with City Council President Ben Stuckart in February that those who participated in the investigation would not be punished for speaking with Cappel. Stuckart has said he should not have signed that agreement.

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