The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office is accused of deleting thousands of emails and other electronic information, prompting an outside review of possible destruction of public records, according to documents obtained by the ABC15 Investigators.
Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall’s office has launched an inquiry into Sheriff Paul Babeu‘s office. Specifically, LaWall has been tasked to determine if thousands of e-mails were illegally deleted.
Read an email from Pinal County Manager Fritz Behring alerting LaWall and Arizona Solicitor General Dave Cole to his concern that documents may have been deleted improperly.
Improperly deleting or tampering of public records is a Class 6 felony.
PCSO officials deny the allegation and said they have not permanently deleted any files.
In an interview, spokesman Tim Gaffney said that the emails were deleted because of computer storage issues and that everything had been backed up on a hard drive.
Through a public records request, the ABC15 Investigators obtained documents late Thursday night that show top Pinal county officials requesting outside investigators to come in and look at what happened with the missing emails.
In a March 9 email, Pinal County Manager Fritz Behring wrote about the concern to multiple people including LaWall and Attorney General Tom Horne.
“In the process of attempting to comply with a public records request, Pinal County IT staff came upon an email archive file in a ‘P’ (personal) drive on the Sheriff’s portion of the county’s computer network. These files that are set up by the employee or end user, not the IT department. That drive contained 7,220 files,” Behring wrote in the email.
In the same email, Behring said what happened when the county notified the sheriff’s office about the records request and when they went back to find the emails.
“On Tuesday March 6, 2012 I was informed that it is common practice by some in the Sheriff’s Office to not save emails in accordance with the Arizona Electronic Recordkeeping System (ERS) Guidelines. On that date, the Sheriff’s office was notified that this additional archive file had been located. I understand that the County Attorney’s office asked them to review the files for redaction, etc. in preparation for honoring the public records request.
“On Wednesday, March 7, 2012 I directed IT staff to run another back up of a ‘P’ drive on the Sheriff’s Office system. They did that and informed me that thousands of files on that drive had been deleted,” Behring continued.
“The drive had 7,220 files on it just days earlier and as of 3/7/12 it had just 818 files on it. IT staff tell me that many of the deleted files were emails," Behring wrote.
The documents obtained by the ABC15 Investigators do not indicate the nature or topic of the missing emails.
However, according to The Arizona Republic, the records in question were related to a recent public records request filed by the newspaper for “among other things, all emails sent and received by Babeu, Gaffney and Johnson from Aug. 15 to Sept. 30, which includes the period the sheriff's former boyfriend says he was threatened.”
Gaffney and Elias Johnson are media relations employees for Sheriff Babeu. Gaffney said the deleted files were mostly email calendar entries.
Contact investigative reporter Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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