Dallas Police Struggle to Access Evidence Following Hack
Three weeks after a ransomware attack targeted several of the city of Dallas’ servers, police are still having trouble accessing physical and digital evidence, disrupting trials.
The consequences played out Thursday in a murder trial, where a man was found guilty despite evidence being unavailable to jurors or lawyers. Last week, a jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict in another murder trial, where police were unable to produce a phone or shell casings.
“It’s the Stone Age again,” said Douglas Huff, president of the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
“This has pretty extensive implications,” he said. “Ultimately, all of this is causing horrendous delays and a clear message is that justice that is delayed is justice that is denied.”
The ransomware attack initiated by the group Royal on the city of Dallas has stretched into a third week, downing several departments. The city has said it could take weeks or months until services are fully restored.
While the county, which administers the courts, is not directly affected, some cases could be paused because electronic evidence catalogs are inoperable, communication is breaking down and internal police share drives and servers are compromised, according to attorneys.
Before the attack, the Dallas Police Department’s digital media evidence team was already sorting through hundreds of murder and capital murder cases to look for deleted digital evidence — an “incredible problem” affecting people accused of crimes, Huff said. That review is now on hold, according to police spokeswoman Kristin Lowman.
Claire Crouch, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, said Wednesday that it would be impossible to determine whether any cases would be affected by the ransomware attack.
The next day, the office sent out a news release saying prosecutors are working with Dallas police to “mitigate the impact.”
“We understand that timeliness is crucial in maintaining public safety and public trust, and we remain resolute in our dedication to upholding the law and ensuring that cases are filed and prosecuted effectively,” the statement Thursday said.
“We anticipate that the longer this goes on, the greater chance for obligations on the DA’s part will be affected.”
Lowman said city officials are working to bring the police evidence cataloging software back online. Without elaborating, she said police are manually accepting, inventorying and retrieving evidence, and the property unit is locating evidence.
The department did not immediately respond to a request late Thursday afternoon for comment about specific cases cited by defense attorneys as having inaccessible evidence.
Additionally, the city’s municipal courts have slowed to a crawl. According to a notice posted on the Dallas Municipal Court’s website, there will be no court hearings, trials or jury duty for the duration of the outage.
©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.