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MUPD's man behind the screen

By Chris Curme
On April 18, 2014

If there ever were a man to make HAL open the pod bay doors, it is Miami University Police Department (MUPD) detective Walt Schneider. Schneider is MUPD's computer forensic expert and has negotiated a fair number of unruly computers.

"Lots of people don't even realize we have a computer forensic expert," MUPD Chief John McCandless said.

According to McCandless, the U. S. Secret Service extended an invitation in 2008 to MUPD to send an officer to government funded computer forensic training in Hoover, Ala.. Homeland Security also provided MUPD with necessary equipment, which has since been updated.

"We were really pleased because typically they were extending that offer to Detroit PD, Cleveland PD, LAPD-big departments-and they asked us," McCandless said. "So we jumped at it ... The government paid for this uber-computer system that allows these detectives to do computer forensics."

Schneider was chosen to attend classes at the National Computer Forensics Institute in 2008, and returned every year through 2012. He said he hopes to soon return.

"[McCandless] had a good relationship with the director of the Secret Service; some of his children went to school here," Schneider said. "I'm sure that that helped, but I can't really say for sure."

Schneider said he has put his training to good use. He has helped individuals stalked online, and recently helped prosecute McGuffey Montessori ex-head of school Alfred Allen on child pornography charges.

"Dealing with child pornography is the worst part of the job, for sure," Schneider said. "Child porn cases don't take as much time [as financial cases], but they're much more taxing on the person himself, because you're sitting there looking at these images that are just awful, all day long."

While Schneider said some cases are particularly disturbing, his favorite part of the job is sending a guilty offender to prison, and that moment usually recurs with every case.

"To be able to prove, in a timely manner, 'yes he was doing this, yes he possessed this,' was a big sense of achievement," Schneider said. "You're preventing him from making anyone else a victim. That wasn't just me. It took the detectives, the initial officer-but I did my part to put him away."

Schneider also handed the now infamous case of two Miami students who used discrete keyloggers to steal their professor's Niihka login information and change grades. In so doing, they also amassed a database of old and new exams. According to Schneider, their acts did not take much skill.

"I invested about 140 hours over a two or three week period just looking at [their computers]," Schneider said. "Twenty-thousand files of images alone were brought back [from deletion]. Stuff that mom and dad may not be proud of."

That case was prosecuted by Miami and Butler County on the evidence gathered against the suspects by Schneider. Further, Schneider is able to analyze cellphones.

"I can take a SIM card out of a phone and pull up your last 25 to 30 text messages as well as your phone contact list and most recent calls," Schneider said. "If your phone was not password protected, I could just hook it up with a cable and pull off everything-thousands of text messages-and put it on a flash drive."

According to Schneider, this technology is sometimes used to identify the owners of lost phones. However, if Schneider finds any hints of illegal behavior in what he sees, he immediately stops until he has acquired a search warrant.

"I get a lot of lost and found phones that reveal drug trafficking and drug trade text messages," Schneider said. "People are arranging to by marijuana and they're texting their dealer, 'hey, do you have an eighth I can stop by and pick up?' If they're buying, I'm not worried. If they're selling, I'll get a search warrant."

Most of that information is turned over to the Butler County drug taskforce, according to Schneider. While he occasionally handles these local cases, he said he is often solicited by agencies in the wider area needing his expertise.

"Less than 10 to 15 percent are Miami cases," Schneider said. "My services are more for helping the county and local agencies. ... I'm one of the most trained individuals for recovering [data] in this particular area. I do cases for Butler County, Preble County, and Warren County."

Schneider opened a cabinet to reveal three thickly-packed manila envelopes, which he said continued three federal cases that had yet to even hit the logs.Once entered into MUPD's crime logs, Schneider's freelance work is listed as in conjunction with Homeland Security.

"I also am a task force officer with Homeland Security investigations," Schneider said. "So, last Thursday, I went out on a search warrant with them, which resulted in doing a bunch of previews of computers in a house. I could tell which ones were hot computers or had child porn on them. It helped isolate which individual in the house we were looking at."

According to Schneider, his most common cases are child porn, followed by financial and tax cases. The federal government steps into legal matters when state lines are crossed, which often happens in child porn cases due to dissemination on the Internet, Schneider said.

"I did a federal case that was just settled in Dayton that involved a company hiring and paying to import illegal immigrants," Schneider said. "Basically, they were trafficking in illegal immigrants: bringing them across state lines, taking them to Dayton to work, and then sending them back."

If the case is local, Schneider makes the case from computer evidence he gathers. In federal cases, he said he reads what the federal prosecutor is looking for, and roots through data in search. The prosecutor then builds a case from Schneider's report.

"I issue more subpoenas than any other officer here, that's for sure," Schneider said. "But I follow a lot of stuff that comes up dead ends. The biggest achievement is when you actually make a difference for someone."

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