Special prosecutor to probe former county attorney’s ‘data wipe’
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate claims that former Fayette County Attorney Scott Bennett had official public records wiped from the hard drives of his county-issued computers in violation of the Georgia Open Records Act.
The case began in January as Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown attempted to review documents on Bennett’s desktop computer after Bennett had finished his last day with the county. Brown has claimed that the computer wouldn’t even boot up and it was soon determined that the hard drive had been removed.
An investigation ensued by the Fayette County Marshals Department and Bennett turned in both the removed hard drive and his former laptop, both of which had missing data, according to a marshals department report.
Bennett and Brown had often clashed over legal matters involving the county in the prior two years, and Bennett previously has contended that the reason the documents were wiped is because he knew Brown would snoop through them looking for information to discredit him.
Bennett also has contended that all of his emails were archived by the county’s email system and there were hard copies of all legal and other documents stored in his county office.
Brown at the time of the incident claimed that removal of the hard drive was “theft of county property.” The marshal’s department later determined that theft was not an issue in this case since Bennett had the permission of former County Manager Jack Krakeel to take the desktop hard drive and the laptop elsewhere to have the old data removed.
The County Commission voted April 11 to forward investigative materials in the case to county State Court Solicitor Jamie Inagawa, who handles misdemeanor cases in Fayette County State Court. Inagawa then forwarded the case to the office of Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, who decided to appoint Charles Spahos or his designee to handle potential prosecution of the case.
Spahos is the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia.
Some might consider it suspicious that Bennett’s hard drives weren’t wiped by county personnel, as he took them off-site to presumably be wiped by a private company. The county apparently did not make a routine backup of Bennett’s computers, either, as there is no such reference made in the detailed investigation conducted by the marshal’s department.
As for what was on the hard drives prior to them being wiped, Bennett has said most of the documents were drafts and legal notes such as excerpts from cases germane to legal filings he presented on the county’s behalf.
Bennett told The Citizen in January that he worried about cached data such as health information and social security numbers being on the hard drives, one of his reasons for having the drives wiped.
Frequent Bennett critic and fellow attorney Wayne Kendall has contended that Bennett wanted evidence erased from the hard drives of how Bennett represented several clients in other courts while he was serving as the county’s full-time staff attorney, which would have violated his initial employment contract.
Kendall and Bennett have clashed in court, first in the district voting lawsuit filed by the NAACP and later in a filing in Fayette County Superior Court in which Kendall asked a judge to overturn a late amendment to Bennett’s contract as he was being transitioned out of the role by the end of December. The judge, however, declined to overturn the amendment which previously had been approved by the county commission.
The politics of the commission shifted in January with three new members coming on board, and the three commissioners who had supported Bennett in the past ending their terms of office.