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County hired same expert as defense
Questions arise as details emerge
-pruitt scott
Milton Scott Pruitt - photo by Submitted
Troubled by details in a recent federal child pornography trial involving a former Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy, Forsyth County officials hired a computer forensics expert to look into what they described as a personnel matter.

What Tami Loehrs found in the first day of her examination, however, so concerned a judge that he delayed sentencing in the case three days later.

In turn, Loehrs’ $21,000 contract with the county has raised questions of its own, with the judge and some officials questioning her loyalties.

Loehrs, who is based in Arizona, was the expert defense witness in the child porn case against former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy Milton Scott Pruitt. And it appears her testimony was what stirred the county’s interest.

The judge questioned Loehrs’ decision to work for the defense as well as Forsyth County.

A federal jury found Pruitt guilty July 22 of two counts of receiving child pornography on his work and home computers.

According to a statement from Forsyth County government, County Manager Doug Derrer hired Loehrs in August to conduct forensic testing on a county server in connection with an “internal human resources issue.”

Derrer made the decision with guidance from County Attorney Ken Jarrard, who said the manager had the authority to act on the matter without a vote by the county commission.

In question is whether electronic information was appropriately made available to the defense, specifically Loehrs, leading up to the trial in July.

The statement, which came from Forsyth County spokeswoman Jodi Gardner, goes on to say that Loehrs was “deemed by the county to be both competent and professional” and already had knowledge of the county’s electronic systems because of her earlier examination.

“Finally, it was believed there was no one better to potentially clear the air on this issue of appropriate access than the very person who had looked for the same data in July,” the statement said.

Pruitt’s attorney, Ann Fitz, filed a motion for a new trial just before his scheduled sentencing hearing Thursday morning.

The document contends that J.D. Rusk, the county’s information technology director, purposely withheld crucial evidence from the defense and lied about it in court.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said they were not aware of the allegations until just before the hearing that morning.

Rusk reported to authorities in 2007 that Pruitt, who at the time was a patrol sergeant, had used his county-issued laptop computer to open images of child pornography.

The images were part of an investigator’s electronic files in a case that did not involve Pruitt.

Although the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted the 2007 probe, Forsyth County Sheriff Ted Paxton said he is concerned about the recent development.

“Whether or not it’s true, it does cause reason for concern that Ms. Loehrs has placed herself in a conflict of interest here,” he said. “Who does she work for? The defense or Forsyth County? I don’t know.”

Like the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Paxton said his office was unaware of the defense’s allegations until after they were discussed in court.

“I just don’t understand why somebody didn’t have the forethought to notify the U.S. Attorney’s Office of what was going on,” he said.

The county’s statement asserts that the information was turned over to the defense as soon as Loehrs found it.

According to the motion, Rusk implied in court that Loehrs was not given access to a county server days before the trial because it had “either been lost or erased and placed into service in another department.”

Rusk also testified that he did not know the state’s record retention law.

Within hours of beginning her work for the county Monday, the document claims, Loehrs found e-mails from Rusk indicating he knew the location of the server prior to the trial.

It contends she also found e-mails showing that in July he was sent information about the state’s record retention law.

U.S. District Court Judge William O’Kelley agreed to hold off on Pruitt’s sentencing to give Loehrs time to complete her examination.

After his decision, Pruitt’s attorney said she thinks Rusk set up Pruitt and that the reason was “up for debate.”

Rusk declined to comment Thursday on the allegations.

Friday, the county placed Rusk on administrative leave with pay, Gardner confirmed.

Pruitt faces five to 20 years in prison on the federal charges.

He was fired from the sheriff’s office in May 2007 after the accusations surfaced. The next year, he ran for sheriff, finishing second to Paxton in a three-man race.

A local grand jury indicted Pruitt in November 2008 on charges in connection with the federal case.

He pleaded not guilty to the state charges in December. That case has not gone to trial.