Sheriff's office hits snag in Evans Middle identity breach investigation

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August 23, 2006

Officers have reached a possible roadblock in their investigation into who took confidential documents from Evans Middle School.

They started tracking down people of interest today, but they aren't sure if there are legal grounds to make an arrest.

Officers suspect kids found confidential information with addresses and social security numbers inside the old Evans Middle School building. The children could be charged with burglary and breaking and entering for taking private documents from a school.

But this case has a lot of complications.

The sheriff's office is trying to find out how kids could have found Evans Middle School students' private information.

"We're not really focusing on any individual or groups of individuals," says Capt. Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. "We're starting from scratch, level one, and working from there."

Capt. Morris says that includes the two mothers who say their children found the papers inside the empty school, possibly in trash bags on the eighth grade hall. School board chairman Wayne Bridges says the kids still had no business taking the documents.

"It's still the property of somebody," Bridges says. "We all throw things in our personal trashcans we wouldn't want somebody to get."

But the old school is in the process of changing ownership, so officers aren't sure if the suspects can be charged with breaking and entering. Another issue is whether they committed burglary by taking papers out of the trash.

Morris says finding the answers could take time.

"We're going to interview anyone and everyone with info about the case," he says.

The incident report shows the parents turned in a teacher roster and an old school directory Thursday. But the report shows someone gave other documents with social security information for about 40 students to a member of the media, who gave them to the system on Tuesday.

"If you find something and your intent is to be helpful and turn it in, that's one thing," Bridges says. "If your intent is to embarrass and give the system a black eye, we're going to find out and do what we have to do."

Now, officers are investigating that intent, and they're trying to figure out if the people who took the documents committed a crime.

The school board says they will start to notify parents today if their children's social security numbers were on the list turned in yesterday.

The sheriff's office says they will investigate any possibilities of identity fraud.

There was some discussion at last night's board meeting about why confidential papers were in the trash in the first place.

Superintendent Price says most records are now electronic, so those hard copies should have been shredded. He also says the school system should have done a better job checking the building after they moved.