Sheriff P. J. Tanner SUED - Beaufort, SC

Sheriff P. J. Tanner SUED - Beaufort, SC

Posted in the Beaufort Forum


Lexington, SC

#1 Jan 4, 2010

In 2005, Abbeville resident Paul Trask's son, Paul III, died in a car accident near Fripp Island in Beaufort County. Trask, who owns the Plaza Stadium Theatre in Beaufort, had many questions about the accident. But when he requested investigators' e-mails, he was told they no longer existed.

Trask since has filed a lawsuit against the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and the S.C. Department of Public Safety seeking e-mails and other documents. According to court documents in the case, investigators said they deleted e-mails. In addition, investigators also used personal e-mail accounts to discuss the case and have yet to turn over those documents.

"They just destroy it," Trask said of e-mails. "These are important public records. They have to be preserved."

Trask has also sued the county and the Coroner's Office, claiming negligence in the death investigation.

In the case of Sanford's office, his attorneys argued they did not have to provide e-mail for staff members who no longer worked for the two-term Republican governor. That included former spokesman Joel Sawyer, who had announced his resignation but had yet to leave his position at the time of the request.

"We are also not able to disclose any e-mails ... because we have no e-mail records from these individuals who no longer work in our office," Sanford's attorney wrote in a response to a public records request from The State newspaper.

Lawmakers investigating the governor this summer compared missing records to the destruction of evidence. But none of the legislation so far filed in response to the Sanford scandal addresses the preservation of e-mail and other documents.(Lawmakers have filed bills to deal with other aspects stemming from the Sanford investigation, including requiring security protection for the governor and having the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket.)

The S.C. Policy Council, a conservative government watchdog group, began an audit of the e-mail of selected public officials last summer but has yet to release its results.

The Archive Department's Emerson notes another problem with record-keeping in the age of technology: It is up to state agencies to update the records and foot the bill for technology.

"It's like it's destroyed if you can't access it," Emerson said.

Trask said the issue needs more public awareness.

"It is infuriating that ... there is such a systemic failure," Trask said. "There's no budget; that's the problem.

"The public doesn't care about this sort of thing unless they need those records."

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