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Youngstown can’t retrieve text messages sent by DeMaine Kitchen

Published: Fri, October 11, 2013 @ 12:05 a.m.

By David Skolnick



The city will not be able to retrieve any text messages, including supposedly inappropriate ones, sent by DeMaine Kitchen, the mayor’s chief of staff/secretary and a mayoral candidate, to a city council employee who contends he sexually harassed her.

AT&T, the city’s cellphone company, doesn’t store text messages sent to and from their customers unless that service is specifically requested, according to the law department.

The city doesn’t use that service, which comes with a fee.

This information was provided Thursday by the law department. The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV had made public-record requests to obtain copies of text messages of Lyndsey Hughes, the city’s downtown director of events, special projects and marketing, and of Kitchen.

Kitchen was asked Monday by WFMJ reporter Michelle Nicks at a candidates forum if he would provide copies of text messages and emails between him and Hughes.

Kitchen said, “It’s all public record,” and, “It’s already in the city’s possession.”

Kitchen’s work cellphone, however, hasn’t been produced. He said it was lost or stolen. Kitchen has turned in other city equipment including his vehicle and keys.

He is on a leave of absence, which started Sept. 30 and runs until Nov. 11. He’s said the leave is to concentrate on his mayoral campaign.

Attempts Thursday to reach Kitchen by The Vindicator were unsuccessful.

In a Sept. 13 letter to city Law Director Anthony Farris, Hughes’ attorneys wrote: “Kitchen sent a series of text messages attempting to explain himself and promote [legitimize] his attraction to Ms. Hughes. She ignored him.”

Hughes’ attorneys also couldn’t be reached Thursday by the newspaper to confirm the existence of the sexual text messages supposedly sent by Kitchen.

Hughes declined to provide them to The Vindicator when asked about the texts last week.

It isn’t known if Hughes or her attorneys have turned over text messages supposedly sent by Kitchen to her to Steve Sample, a retired Summit County sheriff’s deputy hired by the city to investigate her sexual harassment complaints.

This is the first time the city is hiring a non-city employee to investigate sexual-harassment complaints since council adopted a policy on the matter in 1999.

In that Sept. 13 correspondence to Farris, Hughes’ attorneys wrote that he should consider “this letter as a formal request” that the city “preserve all potentially relevant evidence in this case, including evidence that is maintained electronically or digitally,” as well as “evidence in document form.”

The attorneys also wrote the city has an obligation not to destroy or overwrite “data, including backup storage mechanisms, vis-a-vis all electronically stored data that relate to Ms. Hughes and her employment.”

Hughes contends Kitchen, a 2nd Ward councilman who left that job in August 2011 to become chief of staff/secretary to Mayor Charles Sammarone, sexually harassed her on and off since January 2011.

That includes, according to her attorneys, inappropriate comments, rubbing his genitals on her, inappropriate text messages and smoothing his pants to show his genitals to her.

Kitchen has strongly denied he ever harassed Hughes, and questions the timing — just before the Nov. 5 general election — because she is supporting Democrat John A. McNally IV for mayor.

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