Investigators have turned up at least one image of what may be construed as child pornography on a city-owned computer in Montesano’s Public Works Department, newly released documents from the city shows.
However, new details provided by the city administration show that a detective sergeant with the State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children said the picture was not clear enough to open a criminal investigation. A letter from the mayor had previously indicated the city had “found questionable pictures of children on our work computers.”
Mayor Ken Estes said that the city turned up “thousands and thousands of pictures” on Public Works computers and asked the State Patrol to see if there were any other potential violations. Mayor Estes said there was only just the one potential image that could be a violation, however. He declined to say what the other images contained, noting the city has an ongoing internal investigation into whether the Public Works crew was looking at pornography and generally wasting taxpayer’s time. Six computers and two iPads are now with the State Patrol, who will go over the computers in the coming months.
The city also has its own internal investigation into the general question of what city employees or others using Public Works computers were looking at.
“I understand that if the investigation reveals any other images of child pornography or a child in explicit situations that you will immediately investigate and revert to a criminal case, if needed,” Estes wrote to the Trooper.
City Administrator Kristy Powell described the picture found as a “child or a young person in a sexual pose.” The young woman was nude, she added. She noted the photo was taken to the Montesano Police Department.
“They took steps to verify the identity and the age of the people in the picture,” Powell said. “A professional confirmed that the person looked young and could possibly be underage.”
A detective sergeant with the State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Taskforce wrote to the city, “We previewed the image on the disk you provided us. Although it is pornographic in nature, it is difficult to say that image of a child engaged in sexually explicit activity. The female in the photograph is age difficult and the photograph is not clear enough to make that determination.
“At this point, we would not open a criminal investigation. Our office of Professional Standards handles administrative investigations such as the policy violation referencing the viewing of explicit materials in the workplace. I will need a letter requesting the Washington State Patrol’s assistance to forward to them.”
The mayor sent him a letter requesting specific assistance.
“If the investigation later reveals any images of children engaged in explicit activities or any other crimes, we would shift into a criminal investigation at that point,” the Trooper added.
The letter released to The Vidette for the Aug. 29 story from Estes was dated Aug. 4, talking about “the child pornography issue.” Yet the newly released letter was emailed to the city on Aug. 1, stating that the image found was “not clear enough to make that determination.”
Powell says the Aug. 1 letter wasn’t turned over because it was part of investigation files. However, she wanted to specifically release the letter to clear the air on the issue and show what was really found — not let it be left ambiguous.
“The bottom line is that we do not know if the computers contain child pornography,” Powell wrote in an Aug. 31 email to City Council members and department heads. “In a letter to the WSP, the mayor referenced the child pornography issue, This was a term used to refer to a conversation, not a confirmed finding of child pornography. The resolution of this issue will take months and you will be provided with the accurate findings when they become available.”
Mayor Estes says he really hopes no other pictures turn up.
“I really don’t want to think that our employees were looking at this,” Estes said. “I just can’t believe they would. We have good employees and I know they want to work hard to do their job.”
The city’s internal investigation won’t focus on the child pornography question, Estes said. That’s up to the State Patrol to decide.
But Estes said that there’s still plenty of material to go through to see what other images or material that were found on city computers.
“In the coming weeks, I’ll have to decide what to do about what else was found on the computers,” Estes said.