Columbia County commissioner's computer returned to staff; records request being processed
The computer belonging to Columbia County Commissioner Joe Corsiglia that spent the past three weeks in the evidence room at the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, and that was reported to be of interest to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was returned Monday to county care.
Corsiglia had alleged that someone had tampered with his computer while he was out of town in October attending a regional emergency management training exercise.
Columbia County Undersheriff Gerry Simmons said return of the computer was prompted by a 'lack of evidence' that tampering of the machine had occurred, an allegation Corsiglia was making to Simmons.
Simmons said he spoke with an FBI officer on Thursday night, March 13, who expressed disinterest in Corsiglia's computer. Simmons followed up that conversation by contacting Columbia County District Attorney Stephen Atchison.
'I was able to speak with the district attorney, who also concurred' with the FBI's assessment, Simmons said.
'When I found out there was nothing that we could substantiate as a crime, I contacted the district attorney and I returned the computer,' Simmons said.
Simmons maintains that he had a reasonable assurance from a high-ranking FBI contact that the federal agency would play a role in the forensic analysis of Corsiglia's computer.
'In the conversations that I had, they said yes, there is a possibility it will be done,' Simmons said.
The computer was returned to the county's Information Technology Department on Monday afternoon, Simmons said.
Phone messages left for Corsiglia Tuesday morning were not returned prior to press time.
Corsiglia urged computer seizure
Simmons said Corsiglia urged him in early February to take action on a complaint Corsiglia first made in October that someone had tampered with his computer.
'He was urging me to do something with the investigation,' Simmons said of the telephone conversations. 'He wanted the computer picked up, is what it was.'
'Did I get roped into the middle of this? Yes, I probably did,' he said, adding that Corsiglia had asked him by phone and e-mail on 'numerous' occasions to pick up the computer.
Simmons followed through on the requests on Feb. 22.
Simmons maintained all along that the FBI was a party to the computer tampering investigation until the agency contacted him and said otherwise on Thursday, March 13.
Sheriff Phil Derby deferred questions about the computer seizure to Simmons, saying that he does not have a clear picture of the case.
'Frankly, I'm really not sure what is going on,' Derby said. 'I just couldn't tell you.'
Simmons said he has had conversations with leadership at the Portland FBI office about Corsiglia's complaints. He was not sure in what context those questions occurred, and said that they likely took place during the course of other discussions.
Simmons said he has worked with the FBI on other cases, and has worked with the federal agency on construction of a shooting range near St. Helens.
Michael Sheehan, a Scappoose attorney, in January filed an extensive request to view information, including e-mails and hard drive material, on Corsiglia's computer.
A county official on Monday said the county is now proceeding with that request.
While the e-mails of public officials are considered public records, how those e-mails are archived can be a dicey business. Columbia County maintains a record of Internet activity on a four-week cycle. County officials are responsible for their own e-mail storage, however, either printing the documents out or storing them electronically on compact discs.
To retrieve information beyond the four-week retention period, an analysis of the computer's hard drive is necessary to examine older data files, including registry information that, in effect, catalogues user data commands.
When he learned that Corsiglia's computer had been housed at the Sheriff's Office, Sheehan said he suspected it was a pre-emptive move to either delay the request or to work as a backdrop to explain any unauthorized material discovered on the computer.
There was little consideration given to procedure in the events leading up to, and including, the seizure of Columbia County Commissioner Joe Corsiglia's office computer by a high-ranking Sheriff's Office official in February.
Simmons entered the commissioner's office and seized the computer. After removing the computer without a search warrant, Simmons left a receipt with Corsiglia, though Corsiglia never turned over that receipt to the county's IT Department. The IT Department is responsible for managing computer hardware and other electronic equipment for the county.
Customarily, the receipt is needed to retrieve goods seized by the Sheriff's Office, Simmons said.
The computer is public property that belongs to the county, not Corsiglia. In fact, Corsiglia never directly informed the county's IT Department of his suspicions.
In a Feb. 25 e-mail acquired by the Spotlight from a public record's request, Corsiglia requested a new computer from the IT Department three days after the old one was removed, but did not disclose the circumstances behind the loss of his old computer.
Corsiglia wrote 'I need a new computer,' and that his old computer 'is being held as a result of suspicious activity' he experienced in the fall. Also, he wrote that he is 'not at liberty to discuss the details' for why the computer was removed.
Jean Ripa, director for the IT Department, responded in the e-mail that she needed to know the computer's fate.
'Unfortunately, as IT director, I can't just not know what has happened to county equipment,' Ripa responded. 'We can't have a computer disappear without knowledge of where it is and what is happening to it.'
Ripa said she was only told what happened to the computer later, when she deduced from the e-mail language that the computer could be in the hands of the Sheriff's Office.
In a later discussion, Ripa said Simmons agreed with her that she should have been contacted after the computer was taken without a search warrant.
Rocker switch tips concern
A county work order obtained by the Spotlight alludes to a complaint Corsiglia made to the county's IT Department in October that he believed someone had tampered with his computer.
According to the work order, Corsiglia became concerned when he returned from an absence and found his computer not working.
An IT Department technician discovered a rocker switch in the back of the computer moved into the OFF position. The order says that Corsiglia felt this was 'a security concern.'
Ripa said that typically county employees do not use the rocker switch to power their computer, adding, however, that it is not uncommon to discover the switch moved to the OFF position, which is sometimes jostled as the result of janitorial activity.
A follow-up query run by the IT Department, in response to a second request from Corsiglia, found there were no unauthorized use of Corsiglia's computer to access the county's computer network.
Computer security measures at the county include password protections to connect to the network, though passwords are not necessary to access a single desktop work station, Ripa said.
Though the county has a general policy stating that any computer problems should be reported to the IT Department, there is no specific policy in place concerning suspected tampering or hacking of county-used computers.
In fact, Corsiglia's complaint marks the first time a computer tampering allegation has ever been made at the county.
'It's the first time that I've had anyone think that their computer has been tampered with,' Ripa said.