Erased county computer: ‘No intent to illegally take’

Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown. Photo/Ben Nelms.

However, probe into wiped data continues, says Fayette chief marshal

An investigation by Fayette County Chief Marshal Edward Collins into the missing hard drive from former county attorney Scott Bennett’s work computer concluded that there was no intent to illegally take or withhold the computer or hard drive. Pertaining to the data on the hard drive, Collins said that issue is still under investigation.

Bennett prior to the conclusion of his work in December as county attorney said he had his laptop computer “wiped” before turning it in. Bennett maintained that no county records were destroyed in the process. He said there were hard copies of all legal and other documents stored in the county office, adding that all his emails were archived by the county’s email system. Bennett further noted that outgoing County Manager Jack Krakeel had authorized him to take the computer off county property to have the data removed.

Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown on Jan. 4 met with Collins and requested an investigation after finding Bennett’s computer missing in early January. Brown in a Jan. 4 letter said the hard drive from Bennett’s computer had been “stolen,” that Bennett had been terminated under unusual circumstances relating to current litigation and he questioned “Mr. Bennett’s action [which] I believe could be either unethical or illegal.”

Collins said an initial search for the missing computer and hard drive showed they were missing. Collins on Jan. 7 said a conversation between Bennett and county information systems (IS) director Russell Prince determined that Krakeel had given Bennett permission to take the hard drive to be cleaned of personal information such as passwords and his Social Security number. Collins then contacted Krakeel, who advised that he had given Bennett permission since there were no IS staff members available at that time to “clean” the hard drive.

Bennett later on Jan. 7 brought the laptop computer and hard drive to Collins. Having reiterated what Krakeel said, Bennett told Collins all the information needed by the new county attorney was in file cabinets and on the county network, according to the investigation. Bennett also advised that he was available to discuss any ongoing issues with the new county attorney, the report said.

Asked why he waited until Dec. 31 (Bennett’s last day on the job) to attempt the cleaning, Bennett said he had been working on and finalizing a county condemnation case, Collins said.

Citing his conclusion, Collins said, “At this point in the investigation, no intent to illegally take or withhold the computer or hard drive was discovered, but the issue of the missing data the hard drive may or may not have contained is still under investigation.”

There was no room for doubt that Bennett would be losing his position as county attorney when the new board was seated in January.

Bennett in prior statements said his main concern about the hard drives on his county computers was that Brown would seek to go through the computers and try to find something to discredit him.

“This is all because Steve wanted to go through my hard drive to try and drag something up on me,” Bennett said previously. “He told somebody that. He said he was convinced I had done something unethical and he was going to find it on my computer.”

Husband and Fat...
Husband and Father of 2's picture
Joined: 07/23/2012
County Computers

First Off, I do not agree with what Krakeel and Bennett did. It was wrong, spiteful, and at minimum demonstrated thier lack of ethics.

That being said, this should be simple:

Krakeel was the County Manager on the date that the information was wiped from his and Bennetts computers. The county manager is charged with the responsibility of implementing and administering the policies and procedures established by the Commissioners.

The Chief Information Officer of the county is responsible for the formulation and implementation of the IS business plan

Now the questions that need to be asked is:
1. What is the plan in place to retrieve data from computers for county employees who leave the job(fired/quit/ect...)
2. Both people were known to be leaving. Why didnt IS have a plan to back this up before the 31st? Why did they not have staff responsible to take the equipment back?

Now Mr. Commissioner. It was a common fact that you were going to look into thier files once they left. As a commissioner, why didn't you look into the policies of retrieving information from departing employees beforehand?

Seems that there are policies that need to be addressed. Delegate and place Mr. Barlow in charge of policy review instead of the drug testing.

johenry's picture
Joined: 08/22/2006
This makes me sick!

It's bad enough they do stupid stuff for four years but they have to erase everything on the way out too???

The nut job attorney is worried that Steve Brown is going to find something to discredit him. It sure sounds like the attorney has been up to no good!

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Joined: 04/23/2007
Public Property

So, let me get this straight, the guy who destroyed public property without anyone's permission gave the city attorney permission to destroy public property that was in the city attorney's possession?

No one is going to tell me that these two don't understand the definition of public property.

Sounds a bit like a conspiracy to me, but to conceal what?

Let's assume for a moment that there's nothing amiss here, do these two guys have any idea how to protect their character, honor and integrity? If we assume this, what does this say about the depth of intelligence that has been running our county government?

OMG, if we don't have a grand jury look into this someone is crazy.

Robert W. Morgan
Robert W. Morgan's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
Consider the alternative for Bennett

What if he jokingly sent an e-mail that said that Brown comes to the meetings in an altered state like he was part-drunk or simply that his official picture looks spooky. You think Brown is going to laugh that off? No, he'd go on a very expensive witch hunt with taxpayers footing the bill. Thank you Mr. Bennett for saving the taxpayers.

tortugaocho's picture
Joined: 12/05/2005
PTCO---Sorry, no grand jury on this

Sorry PTCO....Don't get me wrong--- I agree with you. You are absolutely right. Of course Bennett knew it was wrong. This was a guy who typed up a lawsuit, handed it to a lawyer and said "Sue us and we will enter in to a Consent Order" and then paid him legal fees which was also against the law. The judge (former lawyer) didn't care. No one cared about the failed ethics of our District Attorney testifying for a child molester. No one cared about a judge humping his own courtroom public defender in broad daylight on videotape. No scolding-- got his full pension and none of the defendants were told about it.

Lawyers protect lawyers and good ole boy Ballard won't touch this in a million years.

But is our own Commission making the same mistake? Eric Maxwell made one good contribution-- he got rid of New Yorker McNally, the attorney who apparently overbilled us for decades. I say apparently because no one knows what he made. He billed every single department individually and no one knows if he actually topped $500k a year as suspected. He authored the Open Meetings messes. And now this Commission has rehired him.

Bennett was a bad choice for in house counsel. The idea is still a good one. But don't expect anyone to do a damn thing about his mischief.

You are also right about the one intriguing aspect--- who else was involved in this apparent "conspiracy" ?

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Joined: 04/23/2007
Tortugaocho - Grand Jury

Perhaps you're right, but the law was clearly broken in this case. The question is what other laws were broken? Federal law?

Mr. Ballard wouldn't want the Feds crawling all over his turf. No, I think a grand jury is a real possibility, especially if the commission gets behind it.

We'll see.

NUK_1's picture
Joined: 12/17/2007

considering one of the buffoons in this matter was the acting county attorney who is SUPPOSED to know about the LAW, specifically Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act of Georgia, I can't accept ignorance at all.
Hell, Bennett lays it all out in his own words why he wanted to destroy data from his county computer. This is a rather blatant violation to me.

There's a really bad smell here.

americanpatriots's picture
Joined: 04/05/2010
Bennett is not believable

Does anyone really buy Bennett’s excuses?

He and Krakeel knew what they were doing was wrong.

Destroying information subject to the Ga. Open Records Act was patently illegal and both of them should be held accountable.

Bennett, as the former county attorney, had to know that Krakeel had no authority to give him permission to erase his county-owned computers.

NUK_1's picture
Joined: 12/17/2007
have to agree with americanpatriots...ugh

Oh well, I have also agreed with you about the BOE for a long time too, so I guess we have some common ground.

Destroying data from county property is never acceptable and "they" know this. This IS a direct violation of the Open Records Act and just claiming "hey, we got hard copies of everything" is BS since that can't be verified against data destroyed(at least for now) from hard drives. What makes it worse is that Bennett's big reason for wanting to do this is so Steve Brown doesn't dig up something on him. Hey, if you were doing what you were supposed to-and not anything you weren't- you have no worries here.

What Bennett SHOULD have requested is an image of his hard drive be made on his last day so that there was an original and unaltered copy of what was there the day he left. That shields him from any "modifications" after the fact if he was thinking someone may attempt that.

This story leaves out how Bennett and the County worked out a severance deal before the new commissioners were seated by a 4-1 vote with McCarty going against Brown on this one.

Also, there are better pictures of Brown available than the one used in this article :)

highflyer2's picture
Joined: 03/29/2007
My my my

Looks like the County Marshals have been busy this year ridding the county of all the bad people! Wonder who watches them? Just saying

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