Case against deputy inches forward
Deputy Steve Bowers has been on paid leave since 2017 pending outcome
Questions of ownership and access are at the heart of the ongoing criminal court proceedings against a Taylor County Sheriff’s Deputy.
Deputy Steve Bowers faces a pair of felony misconduct in office charges stemming from releasing case information from unsolved investigations to the producers of a true crime television program in February 2017. Bowers has been on paid administrative leave from the county since the time of the incident as the case was under investigation and then after charges were filed by the state attorney’s general office in fall of 2017.
A key part of the prosecution’s evidence against Bowers is that he had the case files in question stored in his personal DropBox online data storage account and that he had shared the files to other people who were not authorized to view them.
Bowers’ attorney Rick Cveykus of Wausau has argued that the DropBox account was a private account paid for by Bowers and that accessing the account, amounted to an illegal search because the county had not gotten a search warrant ahead of time.
During a motion hearing held Tuesday afternoon at the Taylor County Courthouse, county information technology director Melissa Lind (formerly Seavers) testified for more than 30 minutes about her role in accessing the DropBox account and the process she used.
Lind, who has been with Taylor County for about 19 years also testified about the information technology and computer use policies that have been in place in the county.
According to Lind, the policies that would have been in place in 2017 had been updated in 2012. She testified that as policies are updated employees are alerted and the policies are posted to the county’s intranet server. She said emails would go out to the employees if there were major changes. Lind said that employees would normally be asked by their department heads to sign saying that they had reviewed the policies. The last signed one for Bowers was in 2007.
Lind also testified that as IT director she has access to all county emails. “The administrator has right to everything,” she said. “You have to have someone who has rights.” She said if administrators could not access email accounts, the county would face the risk of being locked out of an account and no one being able to access it.
Lind also noted that IT staff can go in and retrieve emails and reset passwords if employees forget them. “You have to have someone who can perform functions when needed,” she said.
Under terms of the 2012 county computer use policy, which is in the court filings as defensive evidence, the IT department reserves the right to monitor and access any electronic communications at any time.
Lind said they consider electronic communications to be emails and basically anything stored electronically that could potentially be transmitted through email or shared. “Anything not in paper form,” she said.
Under county policy, Bowers had a county-issued cellphone which he was allowed to use for personal use provided it did not incur additional costs for the county. Bowers set up his DropBox account using his countyissued email address.
According to Lind, in March 2017 she was asked by then-sheriff Bruce Daniels to access Bowers’ DropBox account and that she had been told only that there was information on it that should not be released. She said she initially contacted DropBox and said the company was not cooperative in providing access saying there was a process the company would have to go through.
Lind said due to the situation being time sensitive she was directed to take different means to gain access.
She said that she did a password reset using Bowers’ county-issued email. She gained access and then was told what to look for and if any sharing had been done. Lind explained that there was a concern that the information could be downloaded to another device and deleted from the DropBox account. DropBox files are stored remotely and can be accessed through any internet-enabled device.
Attorney Cveykus noted that the value of using Drop-Box is that it is a secure system. He also questioned if she had ever contacted Bowers to ask his permission to access the account. He noted that on March 8, the attorney general’s office had contacted DropBox to have them hold the files and not allow anything to be deleted pending a search warrant.
Cveykus also noted that the servers where data is stored in DropBox are located throughout the United States, but that they are not owned or controlled by Taylor County. He compared the DropBox to the employee’s home computers versus their work computers.
“Do you have free range to search home computers at whim?” Cveykus asked.
“I do not,” Lind replied. She explained that with DropBox the items are synced between local devices and remotely so they are in both places. She noted that if Bowers had used a generic Gmail account she would not have been able to gain access and was only able to do so because he set it up using his county email account.
Cveykus asked if Bowers had used his work email as the recovery email for his bank account did Lind feel she would have the right to access those accounts?
“No. I don’t feel I would have that right,” she replied.
Assistant attorney general Annie Jay said she had additional case law she wanted to share and that she would want to put that information into a brief and will file it by June 1. Cveykus also said he had information to submit in briefs and will respond by June 21 with a rebuttal brief due from the state by June 29. Judge Robert Russell said he would issue a ruling on the motions regarding the admissibility of the DropBox evidence at 1:30 p.m. on July 15.