An attorney representing three inmates who sued Fayette County over its prison’s conditions wants a federal judge to order the county to produce deleted emails about the facility.
Attorney Charity Grimm Krupa contended that despite a February court order to turn over emails about prison conditions, she’s only received five. Others from Jan. 1, 2015 to Jan. 1, 2018 have been deleted, which she discovered during deposition testimony taken as part of the case.
Krupa’s motion asks for “severe sanctions,” “… because defendants deleted numerous relevant emails and other ESI (electronically stored information), and failed to suspend their ESI deletion practices, despite being under a duty” to preserve the information.
County attorney Michael R. Lettrich, however, contended Krupa’s allegation that officials were under a duty to suspend their deletion practices is “inaccurate.”
He noted that across multiple depositions taken during the case, county employees have consistently testified that Fayette’s IT Department instructs users to regularly delete emails to ensure the server continues to run smoothly.
Lettrich, in court paperwork, called it “nonsense” that county officials should have anticipated the suit and further known to stop deleting emails.
Last year, Krupa sued the county, Deputy Wardens Michael Zavada and Barry Croftcheck and former warden Brian Miller on behalf of former inmates Zoe White, Lisa Mitchell and Cindy Lee Wilson. Her suit claimed the women were forced to live in deplorable conditions in the more-than-century-old lockup in the fall of 2017.
She is seeking any email correspondence about heating and ventilation issues, roof leaks, rodent or insect issues, plumbing issues, daily yard and exercise time, inmate programs, daily menus and about a sewage project completed in the fall of 2017.
Krupa asked a judge to order the county to pay the cost of a forensic examiner to see if deleted emails could be recovered from a server. Lettrich on Wednesday said the county’s email service provider, Ford Business Machines in Connellsville, is trying to recover any requested emails. If they can be recovered, they will be produced, he said.
He further argued that even if the emails can’t be recovered, he’s provided Krupa with “thousands of pages of discovery” that cover maintenance and other issues at the prison when White, Mitchell and Wilson were incarcerated.
“Based upon the documents already produced as to the conditions experienced by each of the three plaintiffs, there is nothing plaintiffs do not already know,” he wrote.
If the emails cannot be retrieved, Krupa has asked a judge for permission to question workers in the county’s IT Department as well as anyone who tries but is unable to recover emails from the server.
Krupa said she learned of the email deletion policy when she deposed Croftcheck and Commissioners Angela M. Zimmerlink and Dave Lohr.
Each testified that all county employees are routinely instructed to keep their email cleaned out.
Zimmerlink, who has served four consecutive terms, testified regular email deletion has always been a standing practice at the department’s request.
Asked if she saw an issue with the deletion of emails that could be subject to a right-to-know request, Zimmerlink testified she did.
“I would see issues with any IT Department telling county staff or public officials to delete emails. You would have to ask them how specific their instructions were,” she said.
However, Zimmerlink also testified that the county IT department has indicated that emails are stored on a server, so they are never lost.”
In his deposition, Lohr testified he deleted emails relating to the prison because sometimes, employees get notification that their emails need to be cleaned up.
Croftcheck, Krupa wrote, said he regularly deleted emails, but saved them to a storage drive first. Lettrich said he is currently working with Croftcheck to go through his personal storage drive to determine if any of the saved emails should be sent along to Krupa as part of the case.
A judge will make a decision on the requests at a later date.