The South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers wants an independent commission to investigate the recent computer crash at the State Law Enforcement Division, which made DUI dashcam video unavailable for weeks for lawyers handling those cases. But SLED Chief Mark Keel says the problem was nothing more than a power outage.
"Do I think that we should be having public hearings or a special committee brought together to investigate a power outage? No, I think, quite frankly, it'd be ridiculous," he says.
Original reports were that the problem may have been caused by a lightning strike. Keel said that had been mentioned in internal emails as a possible reason, and that was passed along to agency spokesman Thom Berry, who passed it along to the media.
But when it was reported as a possible lightning strike, Keel clarified that’s not what caused the outage. The defense lawyers are skeptical, though, saying in a news release, “SLED’s deception concerning the cause of this data problem with their DUI system is incredibly troubling when one considers the mystery that surrounds SLED’s DUI system when it is working ‘correctly’.”
Keel says there was no cover-up or deception. “There was nothing to cover up. It was all, all the files were still protected,” he says.
The problem started when a part called a rectifier on a battery backup system, called an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS, blew out. The UPS is there to power SLED’s computers in the split second between a power outage and when backup generators kick in.
SLED replaced the rectifier, but then that one blew out too after just a few days.
SLED’s computers handle such vital duties as giving police in the field information on drivers they pull over, so not having those computers working is an officer safety issue. Worried that SLED would lose its computer systems if there was a power outage and the UPS didn’t work, and the fact that there had been lightning and thunderstorms on many days in July, the decision was made to move to backup generators.
But then the backup generator went out, causing the computers to crash anyway.
"It's a problem we've never experienced before, but now that we've seen the problem, we want to try to do what we can to build in redundancy so that we don't have this issue again, because, again, these are all the vital systems," Chief Keel says.
SLED is getting new UPS systems and backup generators. The total cost to fix everything will be about $250,000, but Chief Keel says no SLED programs or services will have to be cut; the agency has reserves for emergencies like this or hurricanes.
He stresses that no important information was lost because the files are backed up at multiple locations.
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