Prosecutors: Seattle FF posed as coworker while emailing threats to city councilmember
Charging documents state the suspect used the email login of another firefighter with whom he had a personal dispute
Sara Jean Green
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — A Seattle firefighter was charged Wednesday with second-degree identity theft and two counts of cyberstalking, accused of posing as a fellow firefighter to use that man's email login to request a new work assignment and send threatening messages to Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, according to King County prosecutors.
Seattle police say Andrew "Andy" Finseth admitted to requesting a password change to another firefighter's email account and sending six messages from that account so his co-worker would be involuntarily transferred to a different station and be punished by the department's chain of command, charging papers say.
The four emails sent to Sawant in December and January express dislike of Sawant's performance as a council member, suggest she jump off a building headfirst, warn her "to get out of the city or else" and say that if she doesn't willingly resign, the decision would be made for her, according to the charges.
"After receiving these emails, Sawant reported that she took the emails seriously as a threat of harm to her, she is afraid and has changed activities in her daily life since receiving them," a Seattle police detective wrote in charging papers.
Finseth, 42, of Shoreline, was hired by the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) in March 2002; the 33-year-old co-worker Finseth allegedly tried to set up was hired in August 2010, according to a Seattle Times database of city employees. Both men work at Station 2 in the 2300 block of Fourth Avenue, the charges say.
Finseth was SFD's 2018 Firefighter of the Year, according to a department video and blog post.
A voice message left on Finseth's phone was not immediately returned Wednesday. Court records do not yet indicate which attorney is representing him.
Second-degree identity theft is a Class C felony while the two cyberstalking charges are gross misdemeanors.
Arrested Friday in an alley east of Station 2, Finseth was booked into the King County Jail before he was released on personal recognizance the following day, jail and court records show. He will be sent a summons to appear for his March 3 arraignment.
A Fire Department spokesperson said Friday that Finseth had been placed on paid administrative leave pending resolution of the legal process and an internal investigation.
Prosecutors have requested that Finseth be ordered not to have any contact with Sawant or his fellow firefighter and not to leave the state without a judge's permission, say the charges.
The charges against Finseth say he and the other firefighter have a "history of negative interactions," including an allegation that Finseth made derogatory statements about the other man's religion when they were driving to an aid call together in 2019. SFD conducted an internal investigation at the time but the findings were inconclusive; during the investigation, the other firefighter disclosed that he and Finseth had been involved in a physical fight several years earlier, the charges say.
A fire captain responsible for staffing assignments received an email from the 33-year-old firefighter's city account on Dec. 19, requesting transfer to a different unit and the captain began processing the request, say the charges against Finseth. A few days later, the captain and firefighter were working together at Station 2 and the captain mentioned the transfer request, which the firefighter said he didn't send, according to the charges.
The firefighter then located the deleted email requesting the transfer along with two emails sent to Sawant on Dec. 17 and 19, which he also denied writing; the firefighter changed his password after a second transfer request and another email to Sawant was sent from his account on Jan. 4, the charges say.
A fourth email was sent to Sawant on Jan. 18, according to the charges.
During the police investigation, detectives determined Finseth was off duty on each of the days the emails were sent from his co-worker's account from IP addresses that were traced to Finseth's Shoreline residence and the Everett church he has attended since at least 2005, say the charges. His fellow firefighter was at work on all but one of those days, investigators found.
According to police, "Finseth reported that he did not have any intentions of harming Sawant and did not want harm to come to her," but sent emails to Sawant because he knew his co-worker lives in her district, the charges say.
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