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Here’s what we know so far about deleted Dallas police evidence


Millions of Dallas police photos, videos and other evidence files held in online storage were deleted months ago and many are gone forever.

The employee at the center of the deleted files has been fired, several top city officials have apologized for not revealing information that the data was erased sooner and a new report laid out systemic issues that led to the situation.

An audit released Thursday revealed that 20.7 terabytes have been deleted, and some of it could potentially be recovered if original copies are found.

The city’s next step is to bring in a law firm to oversee an independent investigation of the incident. City Council member Cara Mendelsohn has said she hopes to have the recommendation for a firm on the Oct. 27 Council agenda. The law firm that is selected would hire a computer forensic company to determine what happened and how to prevent future data losses. The FBI’s Dallas bureau also is helping the police department.

The city’s chief information officer, Bill Zielinski, did not return messages from The Dallas Morning News about the report.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued a statement on Friday calling the findings “troubling and distressing.” He said he wants a city committee that deals with investigations and ethics to be briefed on the report.

“All of it raises further questions,” his statement says. “We need action and accountability.”

Here’s a timeline of events since March, when some of the initial files were deleted during a data transfer:

March 28: A request is made to move police files in archive storage on the cloud to a physical city server.

March 30-31: A nine-year information technology employee is picked to move 35 terabytes of files but begins deleting them instead.

April 2: The employee begins getting messages from colleagues who notice items disappear from archive storage.

April 3: The employee stops the deletion process.

April 5: The employee begins receiving requests for help from police department staff who can’t find or access files. The employee tries to restore the data. He also notifies his manager.

April 6: The department’s infrastructure assistant director is told about the deletion. Chief Information Officer Bill Zielinski said he was told the same day and ordered an assessment and a report on the incident.

April 7-8: The IT department determines 22 terabytes were deleted. Microsoft helps the city retrieve more than 60% of the files, but 7.5 terabytes are still missing.

April 9: Zielinski said he informed city Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich of “the potential issue” and that they were trying to assess the impact and how to recover the data.

April 13: Zielinski emails Reich and Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune, who oversees the city’s public safety departments, confirming files have been deleted and makes plans to meet with top police staff.

April 14: Zielinski and other IT staff meet with police officials. Reich and Fortune discuss the lost files and both inform City Manager T.C. Broadnax. The brief conversations “didn’t quite rise to the level of alarm” that more people needed to be notified, Broadnax says later. Broadnax said he assumed he would be updated if new information came to light or if the matter required further attention. Broadnax said he didn’t hear about it again until after the district attorney’s office asked about missing case files on Aug. 6.

April 14-15: Reich said she called then-Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates and told her a police “archive had been deleted.” Staubach Gates was the chair of the Council’s public safety committee and two months away from leaving her Council seat due to term limits. Staubach Gates said she was told an internal investigation was in progress and that “the employee would be held accountable and removed from his or her position.” Staubach Gates said she assumed other Council members would be informed.

April 19: Police Chief Eddie García sends an internal email to police staff warning of lost data and asks them to check if they have missing files.

April 29: According to Zielinski, Dallas police begin an investigation to determine if there was criminal intent behind the file deletions. The department later deems no apparent criminal intent, but can’t say definitively whether the files were deleted on purpose.

July 6: Reich said she contacted Zielinski to ask 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 was alerted by at least two prosecutors that something was potentially wrong with police case file evidence.

Aug. 3: A chief administrator emails the police department to get more information about any possible issues.

Aug. 6: Fortune and Creuzot said police and IT staff contacted Dallas County prosecutors to discuss the situation. Broadnax said he was told about the meeting on the same day and got an update on the lost evidence for the first time since April. Fortune said he reached out to Dallas City Attorney Chris Caso to ask about scheduling a closed session briefing with the City Council about the deleted files on Aug. 18.

Aug. 9: City IT department responds to follow-up questions from the DA’s Office about the date range and scope of lost evidence.

Aug. 11: Creuzot’s office alerts defense attorneys that the city says it has lost police evidence and is determining if cases are affected. Fortune said he personally told Council member Adam McGough, the current public safety committee chair, the same day.

Aug. 12: Mayor Eric Johnson sends a memo to Broadnax, McGough, Council member Cara Mendelsohn and others saying he was “blindsided” by the news. A Dallas County prosecutor asks a judge to delay the trial of Jonathan Pitts, a suspect in a 2019 northwest Dallas murder, which was supposed to start that day. The request was made to ensure files aren’t missing from his case. The judge grants the request. Police said the detective in the case confirmed the same day that no evidence was deleted.

Aug. 13: Broadnax sends a memo to elected leaders saying that in hindsight, he and his executive team should have told the district attorney, the mayor and City Council sooner about the missing police evidence. His memo also outlined several changes the city would make, like informing elected leaders about data compromises within two hours of learning about them. Two IT employees will also oversee the movement of computer data. Also, a 14-day waiting period will be instituted before data is permanently deleted, and a review will take place to analyze how the city stores and archives data. He also says he expects an audit to be finished by the end of September.

Aug. 16: Pitts is released from jail. He is scheduled for court in December.

Aug. 18: Dallas City Council members are briefed in closed executive session about potential legal and security issues related to the deleted files.

Aug. 19: Broadnax, Fortune, Reich, Zielinski and García are among top officials questioned by elected leaders during a City Council committee meeting on the data loss. Council members express anger, frustration and disappointment at the lack of communication and urgency in keeping on top of the issue.

Aug. 27: The city fires the IT employee who deleted the files after a review of Dallas’ entire data archive since 2018 finds possibly 15 more terabytes of missing items. It’s later determined that it’s closer to 13 terabytes.

Aug. 30: Reich notifies City Council members in an email that the IT employee was fired.

Sept. 7: García meets with Matthew J. DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas bureau, about the data loss.

Sept. 10: FBI officials confirm during a Council committee meeting that they are aiding police in investigating the former employee and the deleted files. Council members also vote to direct the city attorney to reach out to local law firms about handling an outside audit of the incident.

Sept. 30: The city’s IT department releases a 131-page report that lays out systemic issues in the department and how the city stores data. It also recommends improvements in data management practices.



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