By BOB PALMER
Jimplecute News Editor
Editor’s Note: 6/6/19, 11:58 a.m.
This is an updated report of the initially published story on Jimplecute1848.com Friday, May 31 at 4:46 p.m.
JEFFERSON – An assistant Texas attorney general said Friday her office will open an investigation into Marion County’s failure to provide copies of Sheriff David McKnight’s text messages and other forms of electronic communication requested by the Jefferson Jimplecute within the 10-day period provided by Texas law.
On May 15, the Jimplecute, acting under the provisions of the Texas Public Information Act, requested Marion County Auditor Shanna Solomon furnish the Jimplecute with “billing records for all electronic devices purchased or leased, paid for or expensed to Marion County for Sheriff David McKnight and Chief Deputy Frank Carson (sic) for the billing period that includes Wednesday, April 24, 2019.”
Additionally, “records and copies of any electronic communication created, transmitted, received, or maintained on any device if the communication is in connection with the transaction of official business by Marion County for Sheriff David McKnight and Chief Deputy Frank Carson (sic) from April 17, 2019 through May 12, 2019.”
The name of the Marion County Chief Deputy is Frank Cason rather than Carson.
Although Solomon did furnish billing records, copies of text messages and other forms of electronic communication were not delivered to the Jimplecute by May 30, the tenth business day following May 15.
Tamara Smith, an assistant attorney general in the Open Records Division, said she had received copies of correspondence between the Jimplecute and county officials, as well as, the Jimplecute’s Texas Public Information Act request.
“We will be looking into it,” Smith said.
Assistant County Attorney William Gleason told the Jimplecute Wednesday that he had reviewed text messages from McKnight on Cason’s telephone.
“There are some that are embarrassing,” Gleason said. Gleason said he would deliver copies of the messages before 5 p.m.Thursday to the Jimplecute, but the deadline passed without the requested copies being delivered.
Attempts to reach Gleason on Thursday and Friday were not successful.
The Jimplecute contended in a letter dated May 31, “cell phone text messages and other electronic communication requested by the Jimplecute can only be requested from Verizon by (Solomon), the auditor and custodian of the Verizon account, or any other county official that supervises official business conducted by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.”
County Auditor Shanna Solomon did attempt to obtain copies of the text messages, County Attorney Angela Smoak asserted late Friday after an earlier version of this report was published on Jimplecute1848.com. Solomon also verbally told the Jimplecute that the county’s cell phone provider had emailed that she could not ask for the copies. Smoak confirmed in writing Verizon’s refusal to provide the text messages to Solomon and advised the Jimplecute she would still try to locate the public records.
“We are attempting to locate the information requested through other means and if that information is obtained we will forward,” Smoak wrote.
Smoak admitted that the unavailability of records requested by the Jimplecute through a Texas Public Information Act request on May 15 was “mistakenly omitted from the county’s previous response [May 29].”
The county attorney noted that since there is no criminal case or court action associated with the request for information, a subpoena of Verizon records is not possible.
“We are unable to lawfully request a court order, warrant or issue a subpoena and are not required to create documents to comply with your request.” Smoak stated.
The Jimplecute has since attempted to request copies of its own previous text messages through Verizon and was able to confirm that a warrant or subpoena would be required to access text messages for a user.
On May 29, Gleason in a response to the Jimplecute’s request, argued the TPIA request should be directed to Sheriff David McKnight.
“The Public Information Act designates each county officer as the officer for public information created or received by that person’s office,” Gleason wrote. “By way of example, the auditor is the officer’ custodian of records maintained in her office (i.e. billing records). But the auditor is not the custodian of records maintained by the sheriff’s office, the county attorney’s office or the district clerk’s office.”
In response, the Jimplecute sent a TPIA to Marion County Sheriff David McKnight requesting the aforementioned text messages from his department on Friday.
A satirical post to a Facebook page entitled “Marion County Sheriff’s Department” on April 24 lit the fuse on the controversy resulting in the demand for the sheriff’s text messages announcing the employment of Elmer as the department’s new animal control officer.
“We would like to introduce Elmer,” the announcement read. “Elmer will specialize in animal control and will be a perfect fit with our constituents who are concerned with our furry friends. Elmer says, ‘If you want them caught, fed or skint, just flag me down.’”
The language of the post and its accompanying picture of what was later identified as an unkempt homeless man quickly stirred reactions from animal rights advocates.
“Ideally, all law enforcement officers would understand that animal welfare, public trust in the integrity of our judicial branch, and appropriate use of technology by those public servants are serious issues,” Kimberly Parsons, Friends of Jefferson Animals president, said.
Initially, McKnight told the Marshall News Messenger that he did not know who made the post. “I don’t know how it happened,” McKnight said, speculating the site may have been hacked. “We didn’t make this post, someone had to have hacked into the account somehow but I took it down.”
On May 2, however, McKnight said he accepted “full responsibility.”
“It’s my department and I’m the sheriff,” McKnight said.
In response to an earlier TPIA request, McKnight stipulated only he and Cason could post to the department’s Facebook page.
McKnight also revealed that no criminal investigation had been made, no one was punished for the post and no attempt had been made to contact Facebook to determine who may have made the post.
The Texas Public Information Act grants the public access to many government records. The Jimplecute pointed out to Gleason the records include text messages by government officials on both private phones and phones owned by the county.
“A Texas Attorney General’s ruling (No. 2011-08166) has determined text messages are public records. Phone calls and text messages made from cell phones either owned or paid for by the county are public records,” the Jimplecute wrote May 23. Personal electronic devices used for official business are also covered by TPIA.
Further, “the Facebook page, “Marion County Sheriff’s Department” is a de facto government site since the site is maintained by the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. Text messages relating to content of the site and postings to the site must be considered official business.”
“They [animal welfare advocates in Marion County] can’t do anything to me,” McKnight said to the Jimplecute on May 2 in regard to complaints that the “Elmer” post was inappropriate.
McKnight previously said he will not seek re-election. He has two years left on his current term.
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