Here’s What We Know So Far About The Dallas Police Suppressed Evidence
Millions of photos, videos and other Dallas Police evidence files kept in online storage were deleted months ago and many are gone forever.
The employee at the deleted files center was fired, several senior city officials apologized for not revealing information that the data had been erased earlier, and a new report laid out the systemic issues that led to the situation.
An audit released Thursday found that 20.7 terabytes have been removed, and some could potentially be recovered if original copies are found.
The city’s next step is to hire a law firm to oversee an independent investigation into the incident. City council member Cara Mendelsohn said she hopes a company’s recommendation is on the council’s agenda for October 27. The selected law firm would hire a forensic computer company to determine what happened and how to avoid future data loss. The FBI office in Dallas also assists the police department.
City news director Bill Zielinski did not respond to messages from The morning news from Dallas on the report.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued a statement Friday calling the results “disturbing and distressing.” He said he wanted a municipal investigation and ethics committee to be briefed on the report.
“All of this raises other questions,” said his statement. “We need action and responsibility.”
Here is a timeline of events since March, when some of the original files were deleted during a data transfer:
March 28: A request is made to move the police files in the cloud archive storage to a physical server in the city.
March 30-31: A nine-year-old IT worker is chosen to move 35 terabytes of files, but begins deleting them instead.
April 2: The employee begins to receive messages from co-workers who notice that items are missing from the archive storage.
April 3: The employee stops the deletion process.
April 5: The employee begins to receive requests for help from police department personnel who cannot find or access the files. The employee tries to restore the data. He also informs his manager.
April 6: The deputy director of infrastructure of the department is informed of the deletion. CIO Bill Zielinski said he was made aware of it the same day and ordered an assessment and report of the incident.
April 7-8: IT determines that 22 terabytes have been deleted. Microsoft is helping the city recover over 60% of files, but 7.5 terabytes are still missing.
April 9: Zielinski said he informed the city’s chief financial officer Elizabeth Reich of the “potential problem” and that they were trying to assess the impact and how to recover the data.
April 13: Zielinski sends an email to Reich and deputy general manager Jon Fortune, who oversees the city’s public safety services, confirming the files have been deleted and plans to meet with top members of the police force.
April 14: Zielinski and other IT staff meet with police officials. Reich and Fortune discuss the lost files and both inform City Manager TC Broadnax. The brief conversations “didn’t quite reach the alarm level” that more people needed to be informed, Broadnax said later. Broadnax said he assumed it would be updated if new information came to light or if the matter needed further attention. Broadnax said he only heard about it after the district attorney’s office asked about the missing files on August 6.
April 14-15: Reich said she called then-council member Jennifer Staubach Gates and told her that a “police record has been deleted”. Staubach Gates was the chair of the Council’s public safety committee and two months away from stepping down from her seat on the Council due to term limits. Staubach Gates said he was told an internal investigation was underway and “the employee would be held accountable and removed from his post.” Staubach Gates said she assumed other council members would be briefed.
April 19: Police Chief Eddie GarcÃa sends an internal email to police staff warning them of the data loss and asking them to check if they have any missing files.
April 29: Dallas police open investigation, Zielinski says to determine if there was criminal intent behind the file deletions. The department does not subsequently judge any apparent criminal intent, but cannot say for sure whether the files were deleted on purpose.
July 6: Reich said she contacted Zielinski to inquire about the status of disciplinary action involving the employee who deleted the files. Zielinski said an internal city investigation was still ongoing.
July 30: Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said he had been alerted by at least two prosecutors that something potentially was wrong with the evidence in the police file.
August 3: A chief administrator sends an email to the police department for more information on any possible problems.
August 6: Fortune and Creuzot said police and IT staff have contacted Dallas County prosecutors to discuss the situation. Broadnax said he was briefed on the meeting the same day and got an update on lost evidence for the first time since April. Fortune said he contacted Dallas City Attorney Chris Caso to ask him to schedule a closed-door briefing with city council on the deleted files on August 18.
August 9: The city’s IT department is responding to follow-up questions from the prosecutor’s office regarding the date range and extent of lost evidence.
August 11: The Creuzot office alerts defense lawyers that the city says it has lost police evidence and is in the process of determining if any files are concerned. Fortune said he personally informed council member Adam McGough, the current chairman of the public safety committee, on the same day.
August 12: Mayor Eric Johnson sends a note to Broadnax, McGough, council member Cara Mendelsohn and others saying he has been “blinded” by the news. A Dallas County prosecutor is asking a judge to postpone the trial of Jonathan Pitts, a suspect in a 2019 northwest Dallas murder, which was scheduled to begin that day. The request was made to ensure that files are not missing in his case. The judge grants the request. Police said the detective in the case confirmed on the same day that no evidence had been suppressed.
August 13: Broadnax sends a note to elected leaders saying that in hindsight, he and his leadership team should have informed the district attorney, mayor and city council sooner about the missing police evidence. His memo also described several changes the city would make, such as notifying elected leaders of data breaches within two hours of becoming aware of it. Two computer scientists will also oversee the movement of computer data. In addition, a 14-day waiting period will be instituted before the data is permanently deleted, and a review will take place to analyze how the city stores and archives the data. He also says he expects an audit to be completed by the end of September.
August 16: Pitts is released from prison. He is due in court in December.
August 18: Dallas City Council members briefed behind closed doors on potential legal and security issues with deleted files.
August 19: Broadnax, Fortune, Reich, Zielinski and GarcÃa are among the top officials questioned by elected officials during a meeting of the city council committee on data loss. Council members express their anger, frustration and disappointment at the lack of communication and the urgency to keep abreast of the issue.
August 27: The city is laying off the IT worker who deleted the files after a review of the entire Dallas data archive since 2018 found perhaps an additional 15 terabytes of missing items. It is later determined that it is closer to 13 terabytes.
August 30: Reich informs city council members in an email that the IT employee has been fired.
September 7: GarcÃa meets with Matthew J. DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Dallas, about the loss of data.
September 10: FBI officials confirm at a council committee meeting that they are helping police investigate the former employee and deleted files. Council members also vote to ask the city lawyer to contact local law firms about handling an external audit of the incident.
September 30: The city’s IT department publishes a 131-page report that describes the service’s systemic issues and how the city stores data. It also recommends improvements in data management practices.