Daniel Walters photo
Councilwoman Kate Burke was concerned about Phil Tyler's history before she ran for office.
Councilwoman Kate Burke has known about the rumors concerning Phil Tyler and domestic violence. Last year, before she announced her run for office, she called the Inlander
, wondering what we knew about Tyler's record.
She herself had been a victim of sexual harassment
, she told us. And she didn't want to throw her support behind someone who had a past of violence against women.
At that time, we didn't have many details. But after we published our story on Tyler Thursday
, Burke issued a fiery statement. It didn't mention Tyler by name,
but criticized the practice of simply, well, issuing fiery statements instead of making genuine changes.
"We’re not looking for videos, hashtags, press releases or symbolic gestures," Burke writes. "I expect multiple conversations about these issues and I will not stop until our voices are heard clearly."
More than that, she says, there needs to be systemic change.
"From our wastewater treatment plant to our police force to the highest levels of city government, there are major issues with abuse and perpetuating the cycle of abuse, harassment and enabling," Burke says.
In a short interview Friday, Burke says her statement had been sparked by her irritation at the vague statement sent by the mayor, police chief and fire chief yesterday
. Burke points to areas where she believes the mayor and Police Department have failed to stand up for women
In her statement, she refers to the spate of sexual harassment and assault scandals in the Spokane Police Department. She also specifically alludes to the harassment
one former employee endured at the wastewater treatment plant in 2013.
Friday, Burke also cited the fact that former Spokane Police Guild President John Gately, who had been accused of tipping off a fellow officer cover up a rape
, still has a job at the Police Department.
"It makes me sick," Burke says. "This is a community we’re supposed to feel safe in. This is the community we’re supposed to call home. And the leaders don’t care. Stand up with
us or don’t. We can’t have it both ways."
While Tyler has vehemently denied any physical violence against his former wives, Burke says she "absolutely" believes his ex-wives.
"Why would these women want to go through this tragic event all over again, unless they wanted to get this person displayed as a person actually is," Burke says.
But she also says she believes Tyler's current wife, Meg Demand, who emphatically denied that she'd ever seen Tyler commit an act of domestic violence against her or anyone else.
"If Meg isn’t in a domestic violence relationship right now, I believe her," Burke says.
Here's her full statement:
By now, the word is out. Someone who has been elevated as a Spokane leader betrayed our trust and the trust of women in our community. I believe the women. I am in full support of the comments from the YWCA and NOW organizations.
But this isn’t about one person, this is about a system. Our leaders are failing us. From our waste water treatment plant to our police force to the highest levels of city government, there are major issues with abuse and the perpetuating the cycle of abuse, harassment and enabling. What women need is the ability to thrive and achieve without being preyed upon and supportive folks around us when it happens.
We’re not looking for videos, hashtags, press releases or symbolic gestures. I expect multiple conversations about these issues and I will not stop until our voices are heard clearly.
Daniel Walters photo
Councilwoman Karen Stratton continues to be critical of the way the city has handled issues around harassment and assault.
I believe the women," Councilwoman Karen Stratton says. "Because there are so many similarities [between their stories.]"
But like Burke, Stratton was bothered with the mayor's statement.
"While I am glad the administration is stepping up and standing up for women, I also have frustrations that this is the same administration that did nothing to prevent and defend [former police spokeswoman] Monique Cotton
and [former wastewater treatment worker] Sonya O’Brien from being tormented and harassed at the city," Stratton says.
The mayor moved Cotton away from the police department after she alleged she was being sexually harassed by the police chief, and the city also kept the alleged harassment secret, at Cotton's request. But Stratton says that wasn't good enough.
"Transferring her probably in their mind was a good way to start," Stratton says. "If you’re going to do that you’ve got to be transparent."
Daniel Walters photo
Councilman Mike Fagan at a heated NAACP meeting last year.
Back in 2016, when Tyler applied to for a vacant city council seat, Mike Fagan — Burke's fellow District 1 councilman and the sole conservative on the council — had Tyler as his number one pick.
Right before he was to make his decision, however, he got a call from Bonnie Rae, the mother of Chloe Senger, Phil Tyler's first wife. She alleged that Tyler had been violent with her daughter.
"I had to wrestle with the fact I was getting these notifications in the 11th hour," Fagan says. "Why didn’t I get this information a little bit earlier?"
Ultimately, he says, he kept Tyler as his number one pick, though the council chose Breean Beggs to fill the vacancy instead.
Since then, however, Fagan's view has changed.
When I called Fagan for comment before our story ran, Fagan requested we meet in person because of the seriousness of the issue. We sat down at a Starbucks in Hillyard last month.
Fagan did not hold back.
He quickly compared Tyler to fellow former NAACP President Rachel Dolezal, who lied to the community and became a nationwide scandal.
"The guy’s as fake as Rachel. Period," Fagan said. "I feel very comfortable in saying that."
Fagan acknowledges upfront he has other reasons for disliking Tyler.
Last year, Fagan, along with Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell, was part of an NAACP meeting intended to address, along with other things, controversial jokes Fagan
had made about trans bathroom access and a photo featuring Burke and Bill Clinton.
At the end of the meeting, Tyler announced that he was stepping down from the NAACP, possibly to run for office
. Fagan felt ambushed and used.
"He is definitely 180 degrees from the way he portrays himself publicly," Fagan says.
Like Tyler, Fagan is a military veteran.
In fact, he was a criminal investigator with the Army. And in that role, he says, he's seen a hell of a lot of domestic violence situations, both across the United States and all over South Korea.
"Back in my day, it was the biggest crime in the military," Fagan says. "I’ve seen some pretty ugly shit. I’ve seen beat kids, burnt kids. I’ve seen a couple of beat husbands too. It is considered the most dangerous crimes to go walking into."
The stressors of the military made domestic violence a particularly common scenario, Fagan said. The long separations between spouses, while military members were deployed, could lead to accusations of infidelity, Fagan says. And the low pay can lead to conflict over finances. Either one can become a trigger for domestic violence.
"I'm old school," Fagan says. "You don’t ever hit a woman. There is no reason for it at all."
Fagan says he believes there's probably truth to the allegations against Tyler. That's what his gut as a former law enforcement officer tells him.
"You've got to meet those allegations head on
. If there’s truth, behind the allegations, you have to belly up to the bar. Apologize," Fagan said. "'Yeah, I did it, I screwed up, I'm really sorry. Here's what I’m doing to make sure it’s not happening again.''
After reading the article, Fagan reiterated that he believes the women making their accusations.
"Based on everything that I’ve seen as it rolled out I have no reason to disbelieve that it occurred," Fagan says. "Even despite the vehement denials on Phil’s part. I would just hope that he sees his way to getting some help, really."
Daniel Walters photo
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear says she "stands by these three brave women and all others who are the victims of violence."
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who represents the South Hill along with City Councilman Breean Beggs, issued this statement on Facebook today, saying she believed the women making allegations against Tyler.
We have now heard both sides of the debate regarding accounts of domestic violence perpetrated by one of our community leaders. Since this came out on Thursday I spent time talking to others in our community and waiting for a response from the accused.
I was sickened by the severity of violence that these women experienced. For my entire life women have been disbelieved, marginalized and accused of sensationalizing violence done to them.
One of my first pieces of legislation concerned human trafficking and the violence perpetuated against women and children. Domestic violence is in that same arena of preying on vulnerable individuals.
This is not about one person perpetuating violence. This permeates all levels of our society. When we see it we need to call it out.
I stand by these three brave women and all others who are the victims of violence.
Daniel Walters photo
City Council President Ben Stuckart at the 2017 Spokane Women's March.
City Council President Ben Stuckart, contacted before the story ran, indicated that the fact that three different women had spoken out made for some persuasive evidence.
"If there’s that many — three different allegations — that’s very serious and we should all be taking that very seriously," Stuckart said.
"I absolutely believe these women. Mr. Tyler has mentioned his interest in serving on the City Council. There is no place on the council for men who abuse women and especially for men who refuse to take responsibility for their actions," Stuckart wrote in a statement
on Facebook on Friday night.
Breean Beggs was cautious in his words but says that he believes that domestic violence occurred.
As a lawyer, City Councilman Breean Beggs is careful to choose his words carefully.
"I believe that the women experienced abuse," Beggs says. "My understanding is that, in at least one case, a judge case ruled after a full hearing, that domestic violence had occurred. That’s been established."
He says he hasn't spoken with the women or with Tyler about the allegations, and he's not sure he can speak for every detail, but he has no reason to "disbelieve" what the women have said. So, personally, he believes that physical domestic violence did occur.
"The majority of people who survive physical and sexual assault do not report," Beggs says. "I believe that anyone who has the courage to report should be welcomed and supported for
their courage and to discover, if appropriate, what they need going forward."
Daniel Walters photo
Councilwoman Candace Mumm declined to say whether she believed the specifics of the Phil Tyler allegations, but says the accusations were troubling.
"In general, I think victims who are brave enough to tell their story need to be believed," Councilwoman Candace Mumm says. Still, she doesn't want to weigh on the accuracy of the allegations in this specific case, noting that she hadn't spoken to Tyler or his victims about the allegations, nor seen all the court records.
"My comment would be that the recent revelations and allegations are troubling," Mumm says. "At this point, I’m not interested in supporting him for any public office."
She notes that, even though Tyler has denied the physical abuse allegations, he has acknowledged that some of his words could be interpreted as verbal abuse.
"Verbal abuse is still abuse," Mumm says.