By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Two local rescue squad members have been indicted for their unauthorized incursion into the local law enforcement radio system that would allow them to overhear officers’ conversations, according to a statement issued Monday by the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office.
Carlos Darnell Baker, no age available, of Berwind, and Nathaniel Layne Dunford, no age available, of Cedar Bluff, Va., were both charged with use of computer to convert property/program of another (Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office) and maliciously make an unauthorized copy of property/program of another, according to a press release issued Monday by the sheriff’s office. The charges are class 5 and class 6 felonies respectively.
The charges stem from an investigation into the unauthorized use and copying of the sheriff’s office channels on their rescue squad radios. It has since been learned that Baker and Dunford also allegedly programmed the Tazewell Police Department, Russell County Fire and EMS, and the Virginia State Police channels into their radios. Charges from Russell County and the Virginia State Police are pending.
The unauthorized use and copying of these channels could become an officer safety issue, Sheriff Brian Hieatt told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Downloading encryption keys allowed the men to hear officers speaking to each other. If other people obtained these codes and installed them on scanners, they could overhear police, too, and use the information to warn suspects and commit other acts.
“It’s not that we thought they in particular would commit a crime,” Hieatt said.
Obtaining the codes and putting them on other radios or scanners created a risk to officers, he stated. Reprogramming the codes in the county’s radios will cost $4,700.
“We felt compelled to offer these two men the opportunity to pay for the reprogramming of these radios prior to charging them,” Hieatt said. “The problem is cost of reprogramming is high because every law enforcement radio in the county will have to be handled in order to reprogram them. I don’t feel the citizens of this county should be responsible for paying to reprogram the encryptions, but that the men should be responsible for the cost.”
The sheriff’s office was advised by the attorney representing Dunford and Baker that they would not be able to pay the cost prior to Nov. 1. The offer was made to allow the men to make payments, but no contact was made regarding this matter after the final phone conversation with their attorney, according to the sheriff’s office release.
While the frequencies to law enforcement agencies are available online from the FCC, the encryption keys used to secure those radio transmissions are proprietary. A person can have that information only if he or she has expressed written permission, according to the sheriff’s office release.
Dunford is free on an unsecured bond, and Baker was freed on a $1,000 secured bond, according to the sheriff’s office release. Both men are awaiting future court dates.