‘Data wipe’ probe now at a standstill
Fayette County officials have been unable to recover the information that was “wiped” from the computer hard drives used by former county staff attorney Scott Bennett.
That essentially has stalled a probe by the county marshal’s department, which conducts in-house investigations for county government.
Chief Marshal Ed Collins noted that he will keep the investigation open for now, but since Bennett had permission from then-county manager Jack Krakeel to wipe the data off the two hard drives, there is no criminal case to be made for either theft or misuse of government property.
“Without some evidence as to what was on them, we are really sitting here kind of spinning our wheels,” Collins said Monday afternoon.
Collins said the county’s information systems staff has been unable to recover the data, and that he has been told the drives were formatted, which prevents access to them.
However, there is hope that an individual might come forward with further information about the probe and that is the reason the case is being left open for now, Collins added.
“We’re keeping the option open that someone may say something to move us in a different direction,” Collins said. “... It would be nice to clear up one way or the other.”
Bennett has maintained that no county records were destroyed in the process, as there were hard copies of all legal documents and others stored in his county office along with all his emails that were archived in the county’s email system. Bennett also noted that former county administrator Krakeel authorized him taking the computer off county property to remove the data.
The probe was tipped off earlier this month after Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown attempted to access information from Bennett’s desktop office computer, which led to the discovery that the hard drive was missing along with Bennett’s county-issued laptop.
Collins noted that Bennett returned the hard drive and laptop quickly, and because he was allowed to take them off property with permission of the county manager, it negates any theft charges.
Bennett told The Citizen that one of the reasons he wanted the information wiped off the hard drives was due to his belief that Brown would scour the hard drive to find something to discredit him. Bennett’s contract ended last year and Brown was trying to access the hard drive after Bennett left employment with the county.
Brown has contended that the wiping of the hard drives resulted in destruction of public records contrary to Georgia open records laws.
Brown and Bennett have been political adversaries behind the scenes, and the relationship spilled over into the public domain last week as they faced off in the ethics hearing against Brown on two complaints lodged by former county Commissioner Robert Horgan.