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Former lawmans trial gets under way in federal court
-pruitt scott
Scott Pruitt - photo by Submitted
GAINESVILLE — Testimony continued Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the trial of a former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy on child pornography charges.

The three-count indictment from August 2008 contends that Milton Scott Pruitt, 41, knowingly received child pornography on his work computer and knowingly received and possessed child pornography on his home computer.

If convicted, Pruitt, who was fired and then ran unsuccessfully for sheriff last year, faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000.

Ann Fitz, one of two attorneys for Pruitt, told the jury Monday in her opening statement that there would be no evidence presented showing her client bought, downloaded, saved, transmitted or solicited child pornography.

“The evidence is going to show you that Mr. Pruitt did not knowingly receive or possess any images of child pornography,” she said.

In his opening, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Gray said witnesses would testify that the images were part of a case being worked by another sheriff’s investigator and Pruitt was not authorized to view them.

The indictment contends Pruitt, who lives in northeastern Forsyth, accessed files belonging to the sheriff’s Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce without permission.

In addition, it asserts that between October 2006 and May 2007, Pruitt used a media storage device seized in a criminal investigation without authorization.

Pruitt was fired May 17, 2007, from the sheriff’s office amid the accusations against him. He appealed his termination in July 2007, but the county’s civil service board upheld it.

Fitz said Pruitt, while working as a sergeant for the sheriff’s office, remotely accessed unidentified work files that showed images of child pornography, closed them and moved on to other files.

“If this was a man who was truly interested in child pornography he would have gone back to those images,” she said.

Fitz also contended that just 20 of the 328 potentially pornographic images found on Pruitt’s home computer were confirmed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as images of child pornography. That amount, she said, was “minimal.”

Gray contended the evidence would show that when questioned about the images by GBI Special Agent Bobby Stanley and Sheriff’s Lt. Matt Allen, Pruitt said he was “just curious.”

“We’re here today because the defendant was ‘just curious,’” Gray said. “The problem is he’s ‘just curious’ about child pornography.”

Gray warned jurors that some of the evidence presented would be distasteful, unpleasant and awful.

He also said that jurors would find Internet searches on Pruitt’s personal computer “disturbing.”

“If you use your common sense ... you’ll know beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty,” Gray said.

Forsyth County Information Technology Director John David “J.D.” Rusk testified that in April 2007 he discovered someone had accessed files containing child pornographic images.  

He said he noticed an increase in activity the weekend of April 14 and 15, 2007, on the county’s remote access server.

The server allows employees to get into the county’s network from home or locations other than their offices.

That spike led him to discover that Pruitt, using his county-issued account, opened various images of child pornography in a file under sheriff’s investigator Jeff Roe’s name.

The images were listed as files that were named with numbers and did not indicate they were images of child pornography.

Pruitt’s access traced back to his work laptop computer.

Rusk said it could not be determined if the files were opened more than once or if they were opened on dates other than the most recent day they were opened.

Roe testified that in April 2007 he was the only investigator working on child pornography cases. Pruitt, he said, was assigned as an investigator on general cases.

Roe said information obtained in his investigations, including images, logs of chatroom discussions and videos, were kept in electronic files.

Roe’s testimony was interrupted when Fitz objected to evidence Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Steinberg had begun to question him about.

Fitz said the evidence, several printouts showing screen captures of files Roe kept on the server, had not been disclosed to her and that the defense had no knowledge of it.

Fitz also maintained the disputed evidence showed a different file path than the one Pruitt would have followed in 2007 to access the images.

Steinberg argued that the evidence was made available on a compact disc for Fitz to view before the trial, but she was not given a copy to keep because it contained contraband.

After some legal back and forth, Tami Loehrs, a computer forensics examiner and expert for the defense, was called to testify about her investigation of the county’s servers.

She explained that the remote access server presently used is different than what was used in 2007, and that the information about Pruitt’s remote session in April 2007 doesn’t exist anymore on the server.

U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley ruled that the evidence could be used.

Roe’s testimony concluded Tuesday morning.

E-mail Julie Arrington at