06/28/07 — Curtis Brock sentencing in Duplin EMS case

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Curtis Brock sentencing in Duplin EMS case

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 28, 2007 1:46 PM

With Curtis Brock's final sentencing earlier this month for his role in the scandal that embroiled Duplin County's Emergency Medical Services Department and Johnston Ambulance Services in 2006, the criminal phase of the case is about over.

There is, however, still a lawsuit hanging over the county government.

Brock, the former county emergency medical services director, was tried in Duplin County's Superior Court seven months after he was found guilty of illegally accessing computers and computer trespassing in District Court. He was sentenced on June 13.

In November, Judge Rodney R. Goodman sentenced Brock to 30 days in the Duplin County jail, but suspended the term for one year and fined him $200 and court costs.

Two weeks ago, though, after a three-day trial, a jury of his peers found Brock guilty only on the lesser count of computer trespassing. He was ordered to pay the $200 fine and both sets of court costs by Judge Allen Cobb.

"The judge had a number of options he could choose from, and he chose what he felt was the most appropriate," Duplin County assistant district attorney Mike Maultsby said. "I'm glad the jury found him guilty of computer trespassing."

Brock did not file an appeal.

For him, it is the end of a controversy that has raged since early 2006 when he and then-Duplin County Commissioner Larry Howard approached Dr. Thomas Hunter, the then-owner and operator of Coastline Care, about the possibility of the county moving into the non-emergency transport field.

It was a move that interested county officials as they looked for ways to increase revenues after transitioning into the expensive paramedic level of emergency services.

At the time, Coastline and Johnston Ambulance Services both offered inter-facility and non-emergency transport services, while the county's Emergency Medical Services Department handled the emergency 911 calls. That arrangement has not changed.

The crux of the meetings, which were secretly recorded by Hunter, seemed to be that if Coastline supported the county's efforts to begin non-emergency transports, the county would then work to ensure the company's continued prosperity.

"We sat down and talked about several things," Hunter said during the District Court trial. "One was, if we were to support the county (as it moved into the non-emergency field), there were a variety of different things that would be done to ensure our business and theirs would grow differently.

"We talked about the possibility of JAS being removed from the county, as well as the idea that we would work together -- that we would charge the same prices and not compete against each other."

Ultimately Hunter rejected the deal.

But the most damaging evidence against Brock -- and that for which he was ultimately convicted -- was found after he was placed on administrative leave in April 2006.

It was then that county emergency services director Craig Forlines, county IT director Tom Reaves and assistant emergency medical services director and training officer Jeremy Hill discovered a file on Brock's county computer containing a piece of Johnston's private computer database, which held confidential information such as call dates, types, distances and patient names and locations.

That discovery led to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation charging Brock and a second person, Barbara Coman, with illegally accessing computers and computer trespassing. In May 2006, Brock resigned from the county and Ms. Coman was fired.

Ms. Coman, who was then working part-time for Duplin's emergency medical services, was the former manager of Johnston's Duplin office.

It was she who actually used Brock's computer to access the database via the Internet.

In District Court, however, she pleaded guilty to the charge of computer trespassing and testified against Brock. She has not yet been sentenced.

She explained that while still at Johnston -- a job she soon quit -- she began to work part-time for Duplin County.

Because of her experience with non-emergency transports and the county's desire to enter the field, she said that Brock asked her for help, offering her a $55,000-a-year supervisor position if the county decided to add the service.

She testified that she only logged into Johnston's online database -- using her old username and password -- to verify her information, but that when Brock saw what she was doing, he asked her for even more printouts.

And that, Maultsby said at the District Court trial, was why Brock was guilty, even if he didn't access the site himself.

"Johnston Ambulance Service has a valid contract to do business here in Duplin County. The defendant was trying to take that from them. He made it clear to Barbara Coman that he needed this information about Johnston Ambulance Service," he said. "Once he tells her to get the additional information and to print it, the crime has been committed. Clearly he knew they shouldn't have been there."

And while the defense maintained that Brock had no way of knowing they were trespassing in a secure Web site, the judge in November and the jury two weeks ago disagreed.

But that's not the end of the saga.

A lawsuit also was filed by Johnston Ambulance Services against the county, Brock and Coman in August 2006.

In it, Johnston, which has had a franchise agreement in Duplin County since 1997, alleges that the county, Brock and Coman illegally accessed its confidential, proprietary and trade secret information with the malicious intent to harm its business.

Johnston also alleges that it suffered and continues to suffer irreparable harm to its competative abilities as a result of those actions.

The company is seeking to recover both compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $10,000, as well as its own court costs.

Attempts at reaching a settlement were unsuccessful.

Currently, the case is in the early stages of discovery and is not expected to go to trial before early December.