WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - A records system error caused some criminal cases in Williamson County to go uninvestigated.
A child sexual assault victim's family member reached out to FOX 7 Austin in late May after there was no investigation on the case for several months.
“It troubles me to know that we had victims of crime, and some violent crimes, and the care for those victims was delayed, the criminal justice was delayed and that bringing someone to justice was delayed,” said Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell Jr., whose office oversees the county IT department.
The Williamson County Sheriff's Office said their records management system provider never told them that there could be a problem when they updated their system last year, but after the update occurred, nearly 230 criminal cases were affected. 23 of them were active investigations at the time.
“Out of that 229, there was 22 that did have criminal follow-ups, but of those criminal follow-ups that were required follow ups, only five were actual concerns that we should be following up immediately on,” said Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody.
Of those five cases that disappeared from the usual investigative dashboard, three were theft cases. There was also an indecency with a child case that was later determined to be an unfounded report and one child sex assault case.
“We didn't know it disappeared. We didn't know that the case was even there at that time. So unless the investigator knew about a specific case which they were working, they only knew that the case disappeared,” Chody said.
The IT investigation started with a phone call from the family member of a child sexual assault victim who felt the victim's case was being ignored. FOX 7 Austin then contacted the sheriff to find out what happened.
“Once we realized the issue, because of you, we immediately, I immediately notified our IT department and said what is going on here? Do you know anything about this? And that's what kind of started the process,” said Chody.
It traced the issue back to an update with their records management system provider CentralSquare Technologies.
“CentralSquare Technologies took steps without the permission of Williamson County and they took steps that put people's lives at risk and in jeopardy, and put victims of violent crime on the shelf and they literally fell through the proverbial cracks in the virtual system,” Gravell said.
“And I think that there was some information known that it could cause that. And had we known that, and at least known the protocol to address it, we could've been watching for that. And had that took place, this would've never took place,” said Chody.
CentralSquare sent this statement to FOX 7 Austin regarding the issue:
"CentralSquare's mission is to reduce the number of victims of crimes and natural disasters - ensuring the safety of every citizen is our first priority. We continue to partner with Williamson County on the case reported in the recent FOX 7 story. Our records management system has been developed over decades and is reliably used by thousands of public safety agencies across North America. We do not believe the circumstances of the situation reported in the story affect any other agencies in Texas or nationwide. We look forward to continuing to partner with Williamson county as they work to fulfill their mission to keep their citizens safe."
“They will either measure up to our standards or we will find someone to replace them. Listen, everyone, every vendor, every provider is replaceable,” Gravell said.
Although not ideal, Chody does not believe any of the active cases affected by the error suffered because of the delay.
“They started where they left off and we feel confident everything is just as planned, as if it didn't occur,” said Chody.
Moving forward, Judge Gravell said the IT department will work on protocols to prevent the error from ever happening again.
“And to the families that have been hurt in this process, I just want to say that I'm sorry,” Gravell said.
The sheriff said he is frustrated and unhappy that it took CentralSquare two weeks to get an accurate list of cases affected by the glitch.
“Time is of the essence and our detectives are already overloaded with caseloads, so, when they do get to a case, the time is valuable that they get to those and work those prudently,” said Chody.
So far it is not believed any criminal cases were dropped because of the delay.