Johnson County Sheriff Dwayne Price said Wednesday that when he took office on Jan. 1, there were a lot of missing records — accident reports, investigative files, even personnel documents.
"Bottom line, they were gone when we got here," Price said. "Totally wiped out."
That has raised questions about whether former Sheriff Bill Witten might know where the records are.
Witten's attorney, Stephen "Nick" Frazier, said the former sheriff didn't take the records. Tampering with public records is a felony.
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Frazier, a former circuit court judge, said that in his long experience, people commit felonies because they're crazy or have something to gain.
"Bill Witten's not crazy, and there's no gain" for him to take files from the office he held for 12 years, Frazier said.
So there's a mystery in Johnson County, and it's not clear how it will be resolved, although Price said he would like to have the state Attorney General's Office investigate. State police already are investigating the potential that some drugs and about $3,700 are missing from the evidence room, Price said.
If there are drugs or money missing from the evidence room, Witten didn't take them, Frazier said.
The story about the missing records became public in recent days because a former deputy under Witten, Tom Wyatt, began talking about it with the media.
Wyatt was frustrated that the issue was not being handled as a criminal investigation.
The missing records include his personnel file and those of other former employees, Wyatt said.
"We're potential identity-theft victims at this point," he said. "I feel it's a criminal matter."
That the records are missing is not exactly news to Price.
Price, a Democrat, defeated Witten in the general election last November. It was evident as soon as he assumed the office that records were gone, said Price, a retired state police officer.
Price said his office is busy, opening more than 200 criminal cases in the eight months since he took over, so he would have expected to find files on cases, plus accident reports and other records.
But he didn't, he said.
Price said he asked Witten about it, and the former sheriff said he didn't have the records.
Price has since worked with state officers to try to get information on the records.
Officers used records from the commonwealth's attorney's office to piece together files so they could pursue cases, but there were some criminal investigations that his office couldn't follow up on because of the missing records, Price said.
The office also couldn't provide citizens and attorneys with requested copies of accident or theft reports, causing frustration and disappointment for people who needed the documents for insurance claims, Price said.
Price said he was told by employees who worked under Witten that, before the administrations changed, Witten directed them to carry out boxes of records from the office to a waiting vehicle. Price said he was told the files were taken to Witten's house.
Frazier, Witten's attorney, said he would be glad to meet anyone at Witten's house who wants to look for the files.
"He just didn't do it," Frazier.
Frazier said that other people besides Witten had access to records in the office.
And nearly all the "missing" files are duplicated elsewhere, Frazier said.
Frazier said there might be some politics involved in the matter — an attempt to discredit Witten to discourage him from running again.
Price, however, said politics has nothing to do with his attempt to find the records.