News 5 Investigates

Jun 5, 2014 8:49 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: Computer hard drives collected in sheriff’s office scandal

7 hard drives have been taken as evidence in the scandal surrounding Sheriff Terry Maketa. The County announced Thursday the drives were collected to preserve any evidence that could help outside legal counsel investigate allegations of sexual favoritism and mismanagement involving the sheriff.

This announcement came two weeks after this scandal came to light, buying time to erase files. If indeed critical information is erased, how hard is it to retrieve? Or, is the information gone forever?

Right now, there's no evidence suggesting any data was deleted. Even if it was, county leaders are confident forensic internet technology specialists can recover it.

"We are doing everything we can in cooperation with the investigation to make sure that all relevant information is preserved and that the investigators have the data they need to proceed," county commissioner Amy Lathen said.

In addition to collecting hard drives, the County is backing up files on computers.

"Copies have been made from various other computers," commissioner Dennis Hisey said. "My computer was one of them. They take snapshots (of the contents) and that's what has been recommended."

Two of the hard drives collected belonged to Sheriff Maketa and Undersheriff Paula Presley. The remaining hard drives are said to belong to employees involved in equal opportunity complaints against Sheriff Maketa.

Regardless of whether files have already been erased, data recovery experts say it can be recovered.

"The is still recoverable up until the point when another item gets saved to the computer and overwrites it," Shawn Kanopp with Smart Data Recovery said.

In layman's terms, when you delete a file, it's pushed off to the side, freeing up space on a hard drive so new documents can be saved.

It's only over extended periods of time that those old files get erased and are permanently gone.

"As time goes on, the likelihood that the space gets used again goes way up," Kanopp said. "Within a 7-day timeframe, there's a high likelihood there's nothing that's going to written over that file."

As the investigation continues, additional computer hard drives may be collected. Until then, the County is being tight-lipped about what specific computer files they are searching for.

County commissioners could not comment on the likelihood of files being deleted during the two-week period since the scandal began.

However, deleting documents during an active investigation could be considered tampering with evidence.

County commissioners also could not comment on exactly how much money this investigation surrounding Sheriff Maketa is costing taxpayers.

Stay with News 5 for updates on this developing story.



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