Dallas’ lack of police proof may influence instances in Collin, Denton, Rockwall, Kaufman counties

The impact of Dallas’ massive loss of police investigative files may extend into four nearby counties, but at least two district attorneys said Tuesday that the city has not notified them about possible missing evidence.

Collin, Denton, Kaufman and Rockwall counties each include a small part of the city, which means Dallas police cases filed in those counties could have evidence among the 8 terabytes of data lost when a city IT employee incorrectly transferred police evidence from a cloud system to the city’s server.

This is the first indication prosecutors outside Dallas County may need to comb through files and compare them with police evidence logs while the city conducts an audit to determine what was lost. In Dallas County, a murder suspect was freed on bond Monday while the DA’s office and Dallas police sort out whether evidence was lost.

Photos, videos, audio and case notes from criminal cases opened before July 28, 2020, are among the files included in the disappearance. The city initially lost 22 terabytes of the data, but only 8 remain missing and are believed to be “unrecoverable.” The data went missing about four months ago, but the Dallas County district attorney’s office, the mayor, the City Council and the public only found out about it in the past two weeks.

Denton County First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck said she would “venture a guess that we could have cases be impacted but, so far, no news here.” She said no one from her office has been contacted by Dallas police about the missing evidence.

“We would certainly have cause for concern if data/evidence was lost in any case,” Beck said in a text. “If I didn’t watch the news, I wouldn’t know.”

Kaufman County District Attorney Erleigh Wiley said the city has not yet notified her. She said she, too, saw news coverage about what happened and it caught her attention.

Only a tiny part of the city reaches into the northwest corner of the county, and any loss of evidence would involve only a small number of cases in Kaufman County. Wiley said she needed to go through her files to determine which cases, if any, are impacted.

Collin County Criminal District Attorney Greg Willis said in a prepared statement that the office is “aware of the situation and in the process assessing any potential impact on Collin County cases.” The office declined to provide further details.

The Rockwall County district attorney’s office could not be reached Tuesday evening for comment.

Dallas police spokeswoman Melinda Gutierrez said in a written statement that, “If there is an impact to cases filed with Denton County, Collin County, Kaufman County and Rockwall County, it will be extremely small because of the minute number of cases filed in those counties as compared to Dallas County alone.”

Defense attorneys have already started to prepare for an impact on their cases outside Dallas County.

“We’ve mentioned through the defense bar to be on the lookout if you have Dallas cases,” said Vanita Parker, president of the Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association. “If we have any cases involving DPD we’re going to look more closely.”

Defense lawyers will want to know if their cases are among the ones with missing data because information, and the lack of it, can affect a verdict or determine if a case will even make it to trial. State law requires prosecutors to turn over to defense lawyers all evidence against a suspect, even if the prosecution doesn’t intend to use it.

“We would hope that we are made aware if there is evidence missing,” Parker said.

Robbie McClung, a criminal defense attorney who practices in Dallas and Collin counties, said she’s had a number of cases Dallas police filed in Collin County. She said she’s received phone calls from family members of clients wondering whether their cases might be affected. But she said she hasn’t heard from either the Dallas or Collin district attorney’s offices about specific cases.

“I think they’re still scrambling to try to figure out who was affected and who wasn’t,” McClung said.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax, who with his team has claimed “full responsibility” for the missing files, has said other parties were not notified sooner because officials believed the data could be found. City spokespeople did not reply to additional inquiries on Tuesday.

As affected cases are identified, lawyers could file motions to dismiss cases or set aside outcomes.

“If anything, no matter how minute, is lost, there’s no way anybody can say for sure that it wouldn’t have been germane to something in that prosecution,” McClung said. “So that’s why it’s extremely scary for a lot of people.”

Dallas courts have already felt the ripple effect. Murder defendant Jonathan Pitts was released from jail Monday as a result of the data loss.

Jonathan Pitts walked off the escalator after visiting the pretrial services office Monday at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas. Pitts, a murder suspect scheduled to go on trial last week, was released from the Dallas County jail after it was revealed that the city may have lost evidence in his case.
Jonathan Pitts walked off the escalator after visiting the pretrial services office Monday at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas. Pitts, a murder suspect scheduled to go on trial last week, was released from the Dallas County jail after it was revealed that the city may have lost evidence in his case.(Juan Figueroa)

Pitts’ trial, where he is accused in a January 2019 homicide in northwest Dallas, was supposed to start Thursday, but prosecutors said they needed more time to make sure evidence in his case wasn’t lost. State law prohibits a person’s detention when prosecutors aren’t ready on the scheduled trial date. Pitts walked out of the Frank Crowley Courts Building on Monday with an ankle monitor.

He eventually could face trial, and it’s possible the city and prosecutors may determine no evidence is missing in his case. But some defense lawyers predicted last week that Pitts’ release may be the start of a trend.

The Dallas City Council will be briefed about the situation Wednesday during an executive session, which is closed to the public because it “involves security and legal issues.” Council members are scheduled to publicly discuss the data loss during a meeting Thursday that Mayor Eric Johnson requested last week.

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