Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond says there may be hope for recovering dash camera videos that disappeared in a "catastrophic data loss" in mid-January, but not until subsequent legal action is settled.
All dash camera footage for all 130 patrol deputies between the affected dates was lost after a software failure on Jan. 13, according to a letter hand-delivered to the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office last week. The footage could not be recovered, as that was the only server used to store the videos. The county's district attorney and defense lawyers have said the loss potentially could jeopardize criminal and civil cases.
At the request of District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe, Hammond addressed the county commission Wednesday morning, explaining that an out-of-state company reached out to the sheriff's office upon reading about the loss of videos.
The company asked if they could "have a go at it," Hammond said, adding that the company feels confident it will be able to recover the missing footage.
However, according to Hammond, he can't respond to the company because of pending legal action.
The data loss came amid several federal lawsuits, most of which involve alleged police brutality and have not yet gone through the discovery phase — when attorneys review evidence they've requested.
"Lawyers in several of the cases have filed injunctions, asking that the judge not allow us to do anything with what we've got," Hammond said. "So we have to wait now on that ruling before we can find out if this will be helpful."
The Times Free Press has been unable to locate such an injunction. But at least two attorneys have filed motions in federal court requesting a judge to order the county to preserve all electronic evidence and to allow the plaintiffs to conduct a forensic examination of all technology involved with preserving dash camera videos.
Those cases involve alleged misconduct by now-criminally indicted former deputy Daniel Wilkey, whose charges include six counts of sexual battery, two counts of rape and nine counts of official oppression.
A judge will have to hear arguments before granting the attorneys' requests.
According to the letter, the department made a copy of the data and sent it to Drive Savers, a vendor for "catastrophic data recovery," but had no luck restoring the footage.
"Because of the loss of the data that we had in the system, we did reach out to several companies across the U.S. who are premiere in trying to recover data that's lost and eventually were told it just wasn't possible," Hammond said. "We also reached out to county IT and they agreed that it was impossible."
A sheriff's office official said in a letter to the district attorney last week that the office had contacted "industry leaders for catastrophic data recovery, Drive Savers and Kroll Onsite," ultimately hiring Drive Savers, which was unsuccessful in restoring the footage.
A Drive Savers representative refused to answer questions about the situation, citing privacy concerns.
The loss of the dash camera video — which is a public record — comes at a time when Hamilton County is under scrutiny for how it handles records. Attorney John Cavett filed an open records lawsuit against the county, and attorney Robin Flores has repeatedly accused the county of slow-walking records requests in order to run out the statute of limitations. In addition, a citizen has accused the county of stonewalling records requests, and the county destroyed records sought by a Times Free Press reporter.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.