They reported businesses for violating stay-at-home orders. Now they say they’re facing threats
(CNN) – Some Washington residents who reported stay-at-home order violations say they're now receiving threats after the contact information they provided for the complaints was posted online.
On March 30, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a website for the public to report businesses violating his "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order. Residents can fill out a form with an alleged violation, which is forwarded to the appropriate agency.
Their complaints and contact info -- which is a public record under state law -- was posted to a Facebook page and blog. That's led to threats against them, according to Inslee's office.
"The governor strongly condemns harassment of any kind," Inslee's Deputy Director of Communications and press secretary Mike Faulk told CNN in a statement. "We find it extremely troubling that people who were trying to keep other Washingtonians healthy by reporting violators are subject to this. This threatening behavior is unacceptable and repugnant."
Steve Bernd, spokesperson for the FBI's Seattle field office, confirmed to CNN they were aware of reports that residents had received threats but, citing FBI policy, would not confirm or deny an investigation's existence.
"I can assure you we work with our law enforcement partners and are prepared to act should a federal violation occur," he told CNN.
The complaints with personal contact information were released through state public records requests; public records show requests from 33 entities, mostly private individuals and a few media organizations.
It's indicated on the form that all information submitted is a public record and that anonymous reports are allowed. The reported threats come as Washington begins to slowly reopen its economy.
Earlier this week counties that met specific criteria were allowed to move into phase two of four in the state's "Safe Start" plan. That phase allows personal services and retail to reopen with restrictions.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson told CNN that anyone receiving threats should contact their local law enforcement immediately.
Personal contact information was shared online
At least two entities shared or published the personal contact information, along with the complaints: a Facebook page belonging to the Washington chapter of the far-right group, and an online blog.
CNN is not naming the group, the blog or the blog's owner because they are still publishing the personal contact information of residents that filed complaints.
"After review of the list, it was clear that over 90% of the reports were fraudulent," the far-right group's president, Matt Marshall, tells CNN, without offering any evidence to support that claim.
"We vehemently condemn anyone who would make those threats," Marshall said. "If there is any evidence that any of our members made any threat, please notify local law enforcement."
Expressing similar sentiments, the blog's owner told CNN, "Anyone who makes threats against people who filed these complaints should be prosecuted."
Marshall and the blog's owner say they initially saw nothing wrong with publishing the contact info. They both say that's because it's public information and they can publish it freely.
"Public records are public," Marshall said. "Anyone can access this. Phone numbers can be found in phone book too."
But Marshall now tells CNN he thinks it might have been a good idea to have not shared the list without first redacting the personal contact information.
The two say they did not file a public records request for the data but declined to say who sent them the list.
"Face your accuser"
The blog's owner and Marshall share the belief that the majority of complaints filed were fraudulent but did not offer any substantial evidence to support that.
They told CNN they believe that most employees who reported their employers were doing so to shut down the businesses so they would be able to collect unemployment. They believe that the employees would make more money on unemployment.
They also argue that some complaints were filed by businesses trying to shut down their competition.
They also both say they never called anyone on the list to investigate the complaints.
Marshall, listed as a state GOP precinct committee officer and Eatonville, Washington, school board director, says he shared the list because he believes everyone should be able to, "face your accuser."
Before it was removed by Facebook, one post on his group's page read, "Want to snitch on your neighbor? Don't expect to hide behind you [sic] computer screen."
Another post says, "we can now track the brown shirts," accompanied by a screenshot of a resident's purported personal contact information. The "brown shirts" is a reference to Nazi storm troopers that helped Adolf Hitler obtain power.
The backlash over the incident appears to have cost Marshall. On Wednesday morning, he says Facebook deleted his page.
He also says that his own far-right group members are getting threats.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told CNN the page was removed in error but did not say why it was taken down in the first place.
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