Shortly after Phil Sims became the sheriff of Marshall County, Alabama, at 12 a.m. on Jan. 14, he found a cardboard box in a storage closet containing five government-issued smartphones, each with multiple holes drilled clear through them.
It was the first time Sims had been allowed to enter the sheriff’s office, a red-brick building overlooking Lake Guntersville, a foggy bass-fishing mecca, since he defeated longtime Sheriff J. Scott Walls in the June primary election.
It didn’t take long for Sims to learn that the destroyed iPhones and Androids had belonged to his predecessor and his top brass. Sims also discovered that the hard drives had been removed from the computers in his and his chief deputy’s offices, and reams of records were nowhere to be found.
The records Walls did leave behind revealed that in the months following his electoral loss, he was wired tens of thousands of dollars from the sheriff’s office’s general fund, and more than $30,000 was missing from its commissary fund. The records, which were reviewed by AL.com and ProPublica, show that the sheriff’s office spent tens of thousands of public dollars on expenditures that Sims described as unnecessary and excessive, including over 20,000 rolls of toilet paper, hundreds of boxes of garbage bags and 10 massive drums of dishwashing liquid.