County Keeps Hard Drive Under Wraps

Public Records Stashed at Attorney’s Office

WINNSBORO – While a final report from the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), made public last week by Fairfield County Council, closed the case against former Fairfield County Administrator Phil Hinely, who was accused last summer of disseminating pornographic images from his county computer, what was disseminated from Hinely’s computer and the contents of his hard drive remain in question.

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to SLED seeking the contents of their investigative file, and the contents of Hinely’s County hard drive, is still outstanding and within the 15-day response period mandated by the state’s open records laws. A similar request, submitted to the County’s interim Administrator, Milton Pope, has been rebuffed, however.

When SLED seized Hinely’s hard drive on June 28, the County was in the process of conducting its own internal investigation into the accusations. County Council Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) told The Voice on July 1 that he and Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry (District 1) had met with Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield on June 26 for about 45 minutes to discuss the matter. After that meeting, Ferguson said, the decision was made, per Barfield’s suggestion, to instruct County attorney John Moylan to remove Hinely’s hard drive from his computer and ship it to a California company, recommended by Moylan, to be analyzed. As Council launched their investigation, SLED, at the request of State Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17), reopened their February case file and arrived to seize Hinely’s hard drive on June 27.

When SLED agents arrived at the County Administration Building on June 27, they found that the County had already removed the hard drive, packaged it and dropped it in the mail for California. SLED had the package intercepted at the Post Office on June 28 and provided Council with a copy of the hard drive before whisking it way for their own analysis. Ferguson told The Voice on July 1 that the Council would continue to pursue its own internal investigation independently of SLED’s efforts and in spite of Hinely’s June 28 resignation.

“There’s going to be a lot more names in this before it’s all over with,” Ferguson said on July 1. “I think when this thing all comes out, there will be mud on a lot of people’s faces.”

Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) said on July 1 that Council would release their report on the contents of the hard drive at the conclusion of Council’s investigation.

After a Council meeting at the Fairfield Central High School auditorium last September, Ferguson said the hard drive had been returned from California. When questioned about the hard drive’s contents, Ferguson said he had not seen it and that the hard drive was not in the County’s possession. After Monday night’s Council meeting, however, Ferguson said he did not know where the hard drive was, whether it was in California or in Columbia. Ferguson also said that there was nothing the County’s report ‘could add to or subtract from’ the SLED report.

Pope told The Voice last week that the same information could be obtained through a FOIA request to SLED. Pope said that it was his position that, with the hard drive in the hands of the County’s attorney, it was attorney-client privileged information and therefore not accessible through the FOIA.

Bill Rogers, Executive Director of the S.C. Press Association, said last week that the County’s position was untenable under the FOIA.

“If that were the case, then anything they didn’t want you to see they could just send over to their attorney’s office,” Rogers said. “Their attorney’s office would just become the dumping ground for anything they wanted to keep secret.”

While the County backs away from their initial position of releasing the results of their investigation, SLED has confirmed that the hard drive contained nude images, and that those images were sent out via email from Hinely’s computer.

“Yes, there were nude images on the computer, and yes, those images were sent out,” a spokesperson for SLED said last week. “But there was nothing sent that was illegal. There was no child pornography. There was nothing that merited a criminal offense.”

A report from Barfield that was part of the SLED report issued by Council last week stated that Hinely had not violated the state’s obscenity laws and that, therefore, there would be no criminal prosecution in the case.