COLUMBIA, Md. - A backlog of cases in the state computer crime lab contributed to a months-long delay in analyzing electronic devices of a Charles County school aide later accused of child sex assault.
Carlos Bell, who is HIV positive, was arrested earlier this month. Investigators say he abused at least ten boys and made child pornography inside the school where he worked.
The investigation into Bell began in December 2016 after the Charles County Sheriff's Office was alerted to inappropriate text messages Bell allegedly sent to a male student. Investigators say there is no evidence the boy had been sexually abused. Bell's electronic devices were seized and sent to the Maryland State Police Computer Crime Lab for analysis.
According to the lab, it took about five months for the analysis to begin and several more weeks passed before Bell was arrested.
"Right now we have approximately 14 cases in the backlog," said Sgt. John Linton, assistant commander of the technical investigations section. "So that is probably about several months of backlog cases."
Linton said he has just four forensic examiners to handle cases from around the state, many of the cases related to child sex crimes.
"Any case where we feel someone is in imminent danger, we give that a priority one label and try to bump that up," Linton said. "The difficult thing for us is that lately, we have so many priority one type cases coming in that recently that's all we are working."
FOX 5 asked about the months of lag time in Bell's case.
"When the public hears about a case like this, their reaction appropriately is, 'Wow that's horrible,'" he said. "But we are always dealing with horrible cases. Most of the cases coming in are horrible. Another case the examiner was also working was an actual child sex abuse case. So it's not that we didn't recognize the seriousness of this case, but we are trying to balance and work it into a caseload that already involves very serious allegations and potential danger to children."
He said it is nothing like the crime shows on television where there is an immediate turnaround. Linton said processing devices for a single suspect can take hundreds of hours. He described what the analyst found on Bell's computer.
"There were over 150,000 images," Linton said. "Once he finished looking at the images, he moved to the videos. They were over 3,000 video files that he needed to review. When he reviewed the video file images, he found the evidence of alarm that has brought this case so much attention."
Linton said it is not just a heavy caseload that takes a toll, but the psychological effects of seeing children abused.
"It's so horrible that I really can't even sit here and tell you because you don't want to hear it," he said. "And, you know, those images, once you have seen that, you can't unsee it."
After Bell was arrested, Charles County State's Attorney Tony Covington had nothing but praise for the lab's work.
"The reality is, they don't have the resources to get it done more quickly," Covington said. "Doesn't mean they are up there twiddling their thumbs not doing anything. They are busting their hump."
Linton said the lab took 131 cases last year and is on track to take 180 this year. He said more people are needed in the lab.
"It just seems to be getting more and more prolific," he said. "There are more people using computers and mobile devices. This is not a problem that is going away."