48 Investigates: Chairman Dale Strong sheds light on jail computer issues
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - After a week and a half of WAFF asking questions, Madison County leadership has finally given answers on the issues surrounding the Madison County Jail.
County Chairman Dale Strong expressed concern about paying more taxpayer money to fix issues with the jail’s IT system. He did not explain to who, or how much.
Since early February, the jail’s computer, phone and online roster system have been compromised.
The jail has had bond delays which have resulted in jail inmates being held after they’ve bailed out, up to 24 hours.
Tuesday, WAFF 48 News approached Strong at the Chamber of Commerce membership meeting at the Von Braun Center.
WAFF 48 News asked him about the jail IT system being held hostage by “ransomware," a type of computer software that does not allow agencies to access their IT network until the agency pays a ransom.
A mother of an inmate alleged she’d been told the IT system had been hacked.
At least two leaders in the county, who have requested to remain anonymous, have told WAFF 48 News the system has been subjected to ransomware.
One leader with knowledge of the situation said the ransomware entity is asking for millions of taxpayer dollars.
WAFF 48 News Reporter Chris Joseph approached Strong with the camera rolling and a mic visibly clipped to his rain jacket.
Alabama Code legally allows a conversation to be recorded as long as one party (Joseph) consents.
The following correspondence took place between Strong and Joseph:
(Joseph walks up to Chairman Strong)
- Joseph: Chairman, I’m obligated to ask. Ransomware. What’s the deal?
- Strong: No comment.
- Joseph: No comment?
- Strong: If you think about it, you’re a smart guy.
- Joseph: Yeah
- Strong: What happens if we go get a bunch of s*** in the media right now. They up how much we pay. I represent the taxpayers of this county. I’m always helpful to whoever I can help. You’re a smart guy.
- Joseph: Right
- Strong: What do you think happens if we get on every other TV station....(inaudible)
- Joseph: I don’t know, I mean if you’re negotiating millions of dollars, that could be...
- Strong: Where'd you get that?
- Joseph: Millions?
- Strong: You’re the one that just said that. I said where’d you get that at?
- Joseph: We heard it through the grapevine from multiple people now.
- Strong: Okay (greets guest)
- Strong: Like I say, it’s one of these things, when you think about it, I have to represent this county. I thought if anybody you could understand that. The last thing I would want to do is go do something that could cost us another 25 cents more.
- Joseph: Right...
- Strong: We have a very limited budget as it is.
- Joseph: Understood, understood. But you are negotiating with them right now right?
- Strong: I’m not negotiating with nobody.
- Joseph: Ok, understood.
(Strong walks off)
After Joseph’s conversation with Strong, WAFF 48 News reached back out to Strong, his assistant Melissa Tyson, Madison County Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Brent Patterson and County Attorney Jeff Rich.
None have returned a request for comment.
It remains unclear how much the county could be paying to correct the IT issues.
WAFF 48 News met with Patterson, Madison County District Attorney Robert Broussard, and Madison County IT Specialist Byron Campbell before the conversation with Strong.
Patterson and Campbell declined to comment, and Broussard said he was not familiar with the situation.
Patterson referred WAFF 48 News to the sheriff’s office statements on the situation. The latest came on February 14 which reads:
The Madison County Sheriff’s Office is currently experiencing issues with the agency’s IT network. The Madison County IT Department is working diligently to solve the issues.
The Sheriff’s Office is confident that these IT issues are not negatively impacting services and operations within the Madison County Jail, nor are they impacting public safety services and operations within the Patrol Division.
Sheriff Kevin Turner said, “As a CALEA accredited agency we pride ourselves in the high level of professional service we provide to the community, and we will continue to operate and hold ourselves to that high standard.”
WAFF 48 News also requested budget documents from County Chief Financial Office Carol Long that would show how much money the sheriff’s office currently pays for its’ IT system, and which IT system it pays the money too.
She has not yet responded.
On Feb. 12, WAFF 48 News requested internal communications documents from Patterson that would explain the nature of the jail issues.
Pattson said he forwarded the request to county attorney Jeff Rich.
Since Feb. 12, WAFF 48 News has contacted Rich three times about the request.
He has not yet responded.
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