Athens County Prosecutor Says Missing Records Went To Landfill

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Records belonging to the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office are missing, and County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn says he believes he knows what happened to them — they were taken to the dump when the sheriff’s office was getting rid of other records.

Sheriff Patrick Kelly acknowledges that some records belonging to the sheriff’s office were taken to the landfill — he says in accordance with proper procedures for records disposal — but not records from the prosecutor’s office.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation is aware there was “some incident with documents,” but she did not know if the matter is under investigation.

Ohio law has specific procedures for disposing of official records.

The prosecutor’s office records were stored in a building at the Athens County Fairgrounds that is under control of the sheriff’s office. Records from the sheriff’s office also were stored there, and Kelly said records were moved from there to the county’s building on North Lancaster Street.

“There were records from your office stacked at the fairground building, as were mine, and those records were placed on a trailer and transported to Lancaster Street,” Kelly said in a letter Tuesday to Blackburn that The Messenger obtained through a public records request. Kelly’s letter was in response to one the same day from Blackburn asserting that “numerous” boxes of records were missing.

In a letter Wednesday to Kelly, Blackburn said that he talked with an employee of the Athens County Engineer’s Department who said he had taken a truck load of boxes to the landfill, including the same kind of boxes that contained the prosecutor’s records from the same location in the fairgrounds building where the prosecutor’s records were stored.

“Therefore, it does appear that our files … have been taken to the landfill,” Blackburn wrote. “My office has been in contact with the landfill and they have estimated that the items taken last week are buried in an area covering one acre and up to twenty feet deep. Also, these files likely went through the trash grinder and if located are now shredded.”

Blackburn said the records relate to criminal cases that date back to the tenure of former prosecutor C. David Warren, and had not gone through the proper approval procedures for disposal. He said his staff inventoried the records at the fairgrounds building about four weeks ago.

County Engineer Jeff Maiden said he first became aware on Monday that his department was being used by the sheriff’s office to haul records to the landfill. Maiden said County Commissioner Charlie Adkins alerted him Monday that a load of records was about to be transported from the downtown sheriff’s office to the landfill. Maiden said he stopped it, and the records were instead taken to the North Lancaster Street building. However, Maiden said he learned that earlier some records were taken to the landfill. Maiden said it’s not unusual for officeholders to ask the engineer’s office to haul items, and said his office had been told that the sheriff’s office had some trash and junk that needed hauled.

“As far as I’m concerned, we were misled,” Maiden said.

Maiden said he did not know if the records taken to the landfill had gone through the proper approvals for disposal — although Kelly asserts that his records that were taken the landfill had been microfilmed and that he followed proper disposal procedures.

According to Blackburn, records must be maintained for a specific period of time, the length depending on the type of record, and some types of records must be microfilmed before disposal. He said the Athens County Records Commission must approve the disposal, and the records must be offered to the historical society.

County Auditor Jill Thompson, a member of the records commission, said she does not recall the sheriff coming to the commission recently for approval to dispose of records.

Blackburn said he does not believe the sheriff’s office intentionally destroyed his office’s records.