City council candidate, accused of hardware store theft, says she has quit her campaign

Denise Yun is running for City Council position #7.

This story has been updated.

A candidate for the Federal Way City Council is under investigation in the alleged theft of property from a Federal Way hardware store the afternoon of July 18.

Nick Rose, who owns Trinity Ace Hardware on Pacific Highway across the street from Federal Way High School, captured the incident on store surveillance footage and said he even personally removed a third hammer from the purse of Denise Yun — who is running for City Council Pos. 7 — before she left the store. He added that he has multiple witnesses to the event.

“I want everyone in Federal Way to know who she is, who she really is, for voting purposes,” Rose said.

In a phone conversation Tuesday, July 25, Yun said she did put the hammers in her purse, but only briefly, to keep them from falling out of her cart. She said Rose also racially harassed her at the store.

“I did not go into this store with the intent to steal hammers,” Yun said.

Yun called a reporter for The Mirror on July 27 after this story initially posted online, and said that she has quit her campaign.

(Video of the incident, which was first reported by KIRO-7, can be found on their website.)

Federal Way police have finished investigating the alleged shoplifting. Federal Way PD Commander Kurt Schwan confirmed July 24 that the case has been sent to the city prosecutor.

The city confirmed that the case has been received, but charges had not been filed as of the morning of July 25.

“The case has been referred to the prosecutor’s office for a potential theft in the third degree charge,” City Administrator Brian Davis said in an email July 25. “The prosecutor is currently reviewing the case. Most likely the matter will be handled by a prosecutor from another jurisdiction to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest given that Ms. Yun is running against a current council member.”

The incident

Rose reviewed store video footage from the incident with a Mirror reporter on July 20. In that footage, a woman — whom both Rose and Yun agreed is Yun — is seen walking over to the tool section of the store, where she peruses the hammers on sale. At the time, her shopping basket was filled with wooden stakes, which Yun said she’d intended to buy for signs.

The tools section sees more theft than any other part of the store, Rose said, so out of caution, he used his store radio to ask an employee to keep an eye on Yun while she shopped.

That store employee soon radioed back that Yun appeared to have put something in her purse. The video footage — which is slightly blurry — shows Yun select three hammers, place them atop the cart, move her cart around a corner, place each hammer one-by-one into her purse, and then continue down the aisle.

The bundles of wooden stakes were unwinding, Yun said, and she had to stop to rearrange everything. She said she decided to put the hammers in her purse at that moment to avoid having them drop on her feet.

It was done for “practicality’s sake,” Yun said, “not to steal.”

The footage next shows her head toward the checkout line from a different angle; Rose said she had gone a longer way around the store. Yun says that by this point, she had taken the hammers out of her purse and arranged them in the cart with the shorter stakes.

Rose said he briefly spoke with her, and as he walked by her cart, he noticed “a shiny wooden handle” visible in her purse similar to the hammers the store sells. He said he asked to look inside her purse.

Yun declined, and Rose told her he was still going to grab what she’d taken, reaching into her purse and pulling out a store hammer. The video footage shows Rose produce a hammer after interacting with Yun near her purse, although the angle makes it difficult to see exactly what happened.

After that point in the footage, Yun turns around and quickly leaves the store without buying anything.

Yun said the footage is misleading because it cuts from her being present in the middle of a store aisle to her being at a register. She claimed that Rose, the store owner, must have deleted or modified the store video, and she said that he did not pull a hammer from her purse.

“He deliberately altered it, and the video does not show he pulled anything out of the purse,” Yun said of the interaction.

Yun also said that Rose had made this racially demeaning comment to her, which is what prompted her to leave: “How many Koreans gave you hundreds in cash to run for office in Korea town?”

“I’m not going to put up with this racial harassment any more,” Yun said.

Rose said he didn’t say anything like the racist statement Yun accused him of, and denied doctoring or altering the surveillance video in any way.

“I want people to see the video and make their (own) decisions,” he said.

Rose said he didn’t know who Yun was when she first ended the store. A store employee later told Rose that the same woman had mentioned she was running for city council and had given the employee her phone number; that number was identical to Yun’s campaign phone number, which is how he later identified her.

Yun corroborated that interaction with a store employee, and said that it proves her point. It would make no sense for her to brazenly steal from a store when she had just identified herself and her campaign to a store employee, Yun said.

On July 21, several days after the theft, Rose said, Yun entered the store, asked to speak with him, and offered to give him $200 in cash. Rose said he denied the offer and an employee told her to take it back and leave. Yun then left, he said. Of that incident, Yun told The Mirror she’d entered the store and offered the $200 as a donation, and was told harshly to leave.

Rose said he wants the hammers back, and also wants the public to be aware of the incident for when they fill out their ballots. He said it’s also hypocritical for Yun to write on her website that small businesses “need to be able to focus on surviving and thriving, not worrying about vandalism and theft.” (That sentence, which appears on her website homepage in the KIRO-7 news story published last week, no longer appears on her homepage as of July 25. In its place now is a statement about how she would vote as a council member.)


Courtesy photo
Denise Yun.

Courtesy photo Denise Yun.

Yun was previously charged in 2000 with shoplifting merchandise from the Bellevue Square Nordstrom.

According to an officer’s report from that case, Yun had attempted to steal $1,451 worth of merchandise. Loss prevention staff told the officer that video surveillance had recorded a woman, later identified as Yun, enter fitting rooms with merchandise that was missing after she left the rooms. She exited the store without paying for anything but one dress.

After being detained and admitting to the theft, Yun consented to a search of her bag, which turned up the missing merchandise. Yun eventually pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, attempted second-degree theft in that case.

Yun, a licensed nurse, had her license suspended in 2003 after pleading guilty to, and being convicted of, second-degree theft for stealing merchandise from the Bon Marche in Tacoma, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

In 2018, the state Nursing Commission agreed to reinstate her credentials, doing so the following year without conditions or restrictions. Yun also confirmed that her license was fully reinstated. The 2003 second-degree theft conviction was vacated in 2020, meaning the charge has been dismissed and Yun is no longer considered guilty of that crime. In general in the legal system, if a conviction is vacated, it is as if the person was never charged at all.

Yun is running against incumbent city council member and current council president Linda Kochmar. In her election announcement, Yun said she would present a fresh perspective and leadership without political ambitions. She said she would prioritize safety for families and small businesses, housing for the homeless, treatment for addiction and support for local business and education in skilled trades.

In campaign materials, Yun also points to her work as a licensed nurse in outpatient treatment for drug addiction, membership on the South King County National Alliance on Mental Illness, and experience as a business development consultant in Federal Way.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Yun immigrated to America with her family at 8 years old, according to her website.