FBI to investigate if Dallas Police data loss was intentional as city requests outside review

UPDATE AT 6 p.m. with additional details and commentary from the former U.S. prosecutor in Dallas.

Dallas FBI to help police determine if former city employee intentionally lost electronic evidence and other files as city searches for law firm to conduct external forensic audit of data debacle officials said on Friday.

Albert Martinez, executive deputy chief of police, told a new city committee to examine the matter that Chief Eddie García met on Tuesday with Matthew J. DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Dallas.

“We needed outside expertise,” Martinez said.

DeSarno has agreed to help the police department’s public integrity unit examine the circumstances of 22 terabytes of deleted data to determine whether a crime has been committed, he said.

The police department first looked into the matter, but could not conclude whether the deletion of the data was intentional, Martinez said. But since then, the department has learned that the same computer scientist also allegedly lost data on two other occasions, he said.

This additional data loss is what prompted the police chief to contact the FBI, which has expertise in cybercrime.

Separately, the city’s new ad hoc committee on general inquiries and ethics voted on Friday to ask the city’s lawyer to contact local law firms about handling an external audit of the incident.

Bradley Lollar, Deputy Public Defender for Dallas County, listens to a question from a member during a Dallas City Council Committee meeting at Dallas City Hall on Friday, September 10, 2021, in Dallas. (Elias Valverde II / Personal photographer)

City attorney Chris Caso said he hoped to be able to provide the committee with a list of the top three companies in about 30 days. The committee would then recommend a law firm to city council for approval.

Council member Cara Mendelsohn said she hoped the recommendation from an outside company would be on the city council’s October 27 agenda for a vote.

The chosen law firm would hire a forensic computer company to help determine what happened and how to avoid future data loss.

The city’s information technology department plans to conclude its own internal review of the incident by September 30, CIO Bill Zielinski said. This report should also detail the amount of lost data recovered, he said.

At the same time as the presidential inauguration was taking place in Washington, DC, several Dallas police officers are parked in their vehicles around Dallas City Hall on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 in Dallas.  (Smiley N. Pool / The Dallas Morning News)

The IT worker, who was fired at the end of August, declined to comment The morning news from Dallas.

During an audit of the city’s archives, officials said they discovered a total data loss of about 22.5 terabytes, which equates to about 7,500 hours of HD video; about 6 million photos; or 150 million pages of Microsoft Word documents.

The first batch of missing data was for cases one to three years ago, Martinez said. The timing of the latest missing evidence is still uncertain, he said.

Regarding the first batch of missing data, the former employee was supposed to move 35 terabytes of archived police files from online storage to a physical drive in the city starting March 31, city officials said.

It must have taken about five days to move the information. But the employee “didn’t follow proper procedures” and ended up removing 22 terabytes from the city’s network drive. The city said it recovered all but 7.5 terabytes.

It is not known how many cases are involved, but Martinez said domestic violence and child abuse cases were among them. He also said the ministry is confident that it has backups of the files. The city also said it was possible for the internal audit to reveal more missing evidence.

García said it was “more likely than not” that violent crimes against people were not among the cases affected by the suppressed evidence.

Photo file.

Erin Nealy Cox, the former U.S. prosecutor in Dallas, addressed the council after being asked to comment. Nealy Cox, who has a background in cybercrime, resigned as the city’s Supreme Federal Prosecutor in January after having held the position since 2017. She said she joined the local law firm, Kirkland & Ellis , as a partner about two weeks ago.

The scope of the city’s outside investigation, she said, should be narrowly defined as parallel investigations are investigating different elements of the problem, such as possible criminal involvement. Whichever law firm was selected, would question witnesses, examine documents, examine cloud archives and the servers involved, she said, among other forensic techniques.

Nealy Cox also said the FBI would likely do an initial investigation or assessment. And if it finds any evidence pointing to a crime, the FBI will coordinate with the US attorney’s office a full-scale criminal investigation, she said.

Brad Lollar, a deputy public defender, told the committee on Friday he was handling 11 Dallas Police Department capital murder cases, in addition to two other murder cases.

Four of them are expected to be tried before the end of the year, he said.

“I can’t tell them right now if we have all the evidence. “

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