Audit: 1,520 attorney-client privileged calls were accidentally recorded by Douglas County Jail phone system, but only 7 were ever accessed; no malicious intent found

photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office

Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister

More than 1,500 attorney-client privileged calls were recorded by the Douglas County Jail’s phone system since 2010 due to human error, but only seven of those were ever accessed and they weren’t listened to “in substance,” according to an audit conducted by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

In a news release Wednesday, the sheriff’s office said its audit found that 1,520 calls involving 22 attorneys had been recorded by the system since 2010. For all seven of the recordings that were accessed, “in all cases, the person either terminated listening to the call once they determined an attorney was on the line or they did not listen at all,” the release said.

According to the audit report, one of the calls was accessed in 2020, two were accessed in 2022 and four were accessed in 2023.

“Conversations between an attorney and client are constitutionally protected. We discovered a mistake that put those protections at risk, but through this audit we have worked swiftly and with prosecutors to rectify it and implement protections to correct it from occurring in the future,” Sheriff Jay Armbrister said in the release.

The audit began after a call between attorney Mark Hartman and his client, jail inmate Derrick Del Reed, 18, of Lawrence, was accessed by a witness coordinator, Michelle Walter, of the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office in preparation for a hearing. Reed is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Kamarjay Shaw, 14, on March 18 in the 1300 block of Maple Lane, as the Journal-World has reported, and he is scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 27.

Walter testified in court in September that when she realized what she was listening to, she stopped listening to the recording and informed District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, who alerted the sheriff’s office and Hartman.

In the release, the sheriff’s office said that there was no malicious intent or prejudice by anyone who accessed the calls; it does not say whether anyone other than Walter reported that they had accessed the privileged calls.

The audit attributes the error to a failure in training procedures, and in the news release the sheriff’s office said it was working to implement a new training manual for jail employees working with the phone system. In September, the employee in charge of the phone system, Lt. David Hardy, testified that he had failed to properly mark the attorney’s telephone number in the system as “do not record,” and that it wasn’t explained in his training materials that he had to do this.

The release said the sheriff’s office has now “properly identified all attorney phone numbers in the system and set them not to record in the future.” It said the change “also prevents (the sheriff’s office) from being able to open recordings of past privileged calls – even if they were never opened.”

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