Integrated Security Services, Inc., New York

Could a Simple Background Check Have Averted Tragedy?

30 Apr

prison lineup ˜BostonBill˜/flickr

New Jersey’s Hudson County unknowingly hired an ex-con who proceeded to commit an atrocious crime on the job. This tragic scandal could have been avoided by a simple background check.

In an outrageous and tragic tale, a Jersey City mail clerk from the Hudson County Department of Roads and Public Property was finally tried in February on charges of kidnapping and raping a woman he met on the job.

The man in question, Shawn Barrett, 47, had a nearly two-decade history of violent crime offenses, and had served multiple prison terms before getting hired by Hudson County in 2009. Incredibly, the county was totally unaware of these facts upon his hiring because they failed to conduct a basic background check, or even validate the information on his job application.

Mr. Barrett willfully excluded these details in his application for a position as a mail clerk, and subsequently got the job less than a year after being released on parole following a stint in prison for assaulting a police officer and evading arrest, according to NJ.com.

While Hudson County does perform many background checks for various roles, it’s not mandated to perform the procedure for every employee. And perhaps most disturbingly, there are no current plans to change this policy, despite the news of Barrett’s case. It seems almost comical to mention that Barrett is currently suspended from his position.

Slipping Between the Cracks

In the February trial, Barrett was only convicted of simple assault, as the jury was unable to come to a decision on 13 other charges, including kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, and weapons charges.

The prosecution alleged that Barrett lured a 27-year-old woman to his apartment after meeting her days prior while on the job at the Hudson County Plaza in Jersey City. There, they allege that he forced her into his bedroom at knife-point, raping her repeatedly, before binding her hand-and-foot for five hours.

At some point, the victim, seeing that Barrett was asleep, was able to free herself. Finding a knife, she repeatedly stabbed Barrett before the two engaged in a struggle. Barrett collapsed, and the victim, believing she had killed the accused, fled.

Incredibly, this case is only one of two trials pending for Barrett, the other also involving the kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault of a different victim, according to the prosecutor.

On balance, it must be noted that the details of the case are still somewhat murky, according to another NJ.com article, and the jury was indeed divided on the other charges of kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault — he has not been convicted of these crimes, pending a retrial. Even so, couldn’t all of this have been avoided?

A History of Violence

If a background check had been performed, Hudson County would easily have unearthed a number of concerning records, one being the 1992 robbery and murder of Jose Orlando Garcia by Barrett and two others in Jersey City (initially sentenced to 12 years in 1993, Barrett was paroled after four in 1997).

The county would have also discovered that, prior to the murder, Barrett had pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery in 1987, then at age 19. In 1999, he also pleaded guilty to yet another assault. The year 2003 saw another guilty charge, this time of theft by deception.

And following that, his previously mentioned 2004 assault on an officer led to a 2007 sentencing to six years in prison — but he would be released after one.

Checks and Balances

To say nothing of the serious failings of the criminal justice system here, one would assume that if a municipal entity were to hire a man with a long list of violent offenses, including murder, they would want know about these highly relevant circumstances. For a civil authority to forgo even the most basic steps to ensure safe hiring practices is inexcusable.

At a time when background checks are easy and inexpensive to conduct through trusted names like Integrated Security Services, it’s remarkable that such basic measures are not established as an industry standard, but instead approached subjectively. And this holds especially true for government entities.

This is not to say we should bar hiring criminals categorically — everybody deserves a second chance. But it is to say that municipalities like Hudson County owe it to workers and the citizens who use their services to promote safe and healthy public environments.

In this case, knowledge really is power. Background investigations empower employers and allow convicted violent offenders a second chance, but only in highly supervised work environments.

And background investigations are just one of many tools Integrated offers our clients to make smart hiring decisions. Other strategic monitoring and routine evaluations can measure how well the criminal offender and employee is conforming and performing at an acceptable standard for the company.

Contact us today to find out how we can help your business, organization, or municipality avoid the next potentially fatal mistake.