May 29, 2008
Sheriff still hasn't learned his lesson about deleting emails

Some people never learn.

It may be just one email, but the sheriff's office is trying to explain why it was trying to destroy a key piece of evidence, which has now been subpoenaed by a grand jury investigating that office.

Remember when the sheriff defended that mass deletion of 750,000 emails in the midst of the Ibarra lawsuit? High ranking commanders testified under oath that emails being deleted detailing investigations had been saved.

"Don't worry judge, it exists somewhere else and now we know it doesn't," said Judge David Bernal of the 281st Civil Court in a hearing.

Judge Bernal was reacting to our stories last week. It was our discovery of an email detailing surveillance of the brothers who had sued the sheriff's office for civil rights violations. It is the only written evidence of a surveillance operation now under criminal investigation by a grand jury.

"It was going to be deleted with all these other 750,000 emails if we hadn't stepped in and that's a fact," said KTRK attorney John Edwards.

Previously, KTRK had reported:

We have every report or document the investigative support unit created in the last two years - that doesn't concern an ongoing investigation. And there's nothing, not even a single document or email, on the Ibarra surveillance. So whatever they found they never passed it on, leading to the still unanswered question - why were they doing it and what did they find?

KTRK subsequently raised the question about the relevant email being deleted in the March purge. Background on the email deletion issue is here, here, and here.

The county's explanation was it was the only email being destroyed that should have been saved. The judge wasn't buying it.

"I can't take the representation that it's the only one," said Judge Bernal. "It appears to be is that the more time we spend on this, we get another one."

The sheriff's office also sought for days to keep the email a law enforcement secret.

"That email was produced for lack of a better word not voluntarily," the judge said.

I think it should be clear by now that the Sheriff's office doesn't deserve any benefit of the doubt here.

We have the latest claim from the sheriff's office that his secret squad didn't document surveillance or use of surveillance equipment.

Of course the elected sheriff still refuses to answer these questions as his department was chastised for failing to live up to court orders.

I suppose if I were engaged in such scurrilous behavior, I wouldn't want to take responsibility for it, either. Video of the story, which should have more updates soon now that Judge Bernal has ordered a faster pace to the investigation, is here. What's next, Sheriff Thomas?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 29, 2008 to Crime and Punishment