Employee had many arrests

Background check showed recent conviction for meter reader
Troy Curry: City worker had 8 grams of crack cocaine and more than $1,600 in his truck when he was stopped Friday, police say.

The city of Augusta meter reader arrested last week and charged with selling crack cocaine along his route had been arrested several times for other crimes before he was hired by the city nearly four years ago.

Troy Curry, 46, was hired as a laborer in January 2006, although the city's criminal background check showed he had been convicted in Richmond County Superior Court just 12 months earlier of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and sentenced to three years in prison. That was not his first conviction and prison sentence. From 1996 to 2005, he was convicted in Richmond County courts and given a total of 15 years in prison for drug-related crimes, not counting sentences from other jurisdictions.

A year after being hired as a laborer, Curry transferred to meter reading for the city. Authorities who arrested him last week and found 8 grams of cocaine and more than $1,600 in his possession said they thought he had been selling drugs from his Augusta Utilities truck for several years.

Augusta officials say hiring him was a mistake but contend it's nearly impossible to find workers for low-level, low-paying jobs who don't have some kind of criminal record. Court rulings make it impossible to exclude someone for just having a record unless there's a "nexus," meaning the crime they were convicted of is directly relevant to the job they're seeking, said Augusta Human Resources Director Rod Powell.

An example of a nexus would be someone who has been convicted of stealing money applying for a city job where he would be handling money. Also, after a certain number of years, criminal records become less of a factor in hiring, Powell said.

Current and former Human Resource and utility managers said they do not know how Curry was able to get the job with his record, especially the meter reader's job.

Former Human Resources Employment Manager Moses McCauley, who requested Curry's criminal background check in 2006, said the information is sent to department directors, who sign off on new hires.

"It wouldn't be my ultimate decision unless his criminal act prevented him from being hired in certain areas like law enforcement," McCauley said.

Former Utilities Director Max Hicks, who approved of Curry's initial hiring Dec. 18, 2006, was surprised to hear of his arrest but said he did not see his criminal record.

"Good grief," he said after hearing about the arrest. "I would sign off on any new hires I had to, but I would depend on others to work out the details. But I guess it was me because the buck stops here although they go through the hiring process."

Hicks said if someone applied for a laborer's job and would be working with a crew, he could understand the hire, despite a criminal record, although he would then have called the section supervisor and told him to watch the new worker.

"But putting him into a truck by himself, that's risky," Hicks said. "We've had trouble with people in trucks who didn't have a criminal record. I think some real consideration should have been given before putting him into a truck."

Assistant Utilities Director Clifford "Drew" Goins, who was interim director after Hicks retired at the end of 2007 until December, approved of Curry's hiring as a meter reader May 30, 2008, but said all he knew was that he was hired as a laborer and transferred to meter reader:

"I don't know what this guy's criminal record was. I'm not privy to that information," Goins said.

On his employment application in 2006, Curry checked "yes" after the questions of whether he had ever been arrested, convicted of or pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor or felony, but wrote that the misdemeanor was a "traffic offense" and "2003" for the felony.

On the application in 2008, he wrote "to be discussed at interview" beside the questions.

Curry is being charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, according to Richmond County sheriff's Capt. Scott Peebles.

His bond on the drug charge is $9,550, but he is up for felony parole violation.

As for Curry's status with the city, Powell said that generally, if an employee is arrested and put in jail, he must still get permission to be "off work" and on leave. If he misses three consecutive days of work and does not call in, his office would process a termination of employment based on "abandonment of position" rules.

"If the crime does not relate to their job requirements, e.g., a misdemeanor offense, we may not take any action. If a felony, we would look at it on a case-by case-basis. If it involved some aspect of their job duties and/or occurred on work time, we would take administrative action to discipline them as appropriate, Powell wrote in an e-mail. "Employees always have the option of resignation at any time, even if they have committed an offense that would cause us to take administrative action against them."

Curry's rap sheet

MAY 1986: Simple battery; not prosecuted

JUNE 1990: Forgery, first degree; convicted of three counts in Augusta Judicial Circuit; seven years' probation

SEPTEMBER 1990: Financial card transaction, convicted, felony fraud; one year's probation

OCTOBER 1990: Felony robbery, not prosecuted; Augusta Judicial Circuit

NOVEMBER 1990: Theft by taking; convicted, Richmond County State Court, 12 months' probation

DECEMBER 1990: Theft by taking, Winder Police Department; convicted, two counts, Winder Superior Court; 12 months' probation.

MAY 1991: Possession of tools for commission of crime; theft by taking, criminal trespass; convicted, Atlanta Police Department; convicted, criminal trespass; two counts, sentence unclear

JULY 1991: Criminal trespass, simple battery, possession of drug-related object/equipment; Atlanta Police Department; sentence unclear

MAY 1996: Felony theft by taking; dismissed by District Attorney, Augusta Judicial Circuit

SEPTEMBER 1996: Purchase/possession/controlled substance; convicted, Richmond County State Court; five years' in prison

NOVEMBER 1996: Baldwin Correctional Institution; probation revoked, serve balance of sentence

MARCH 1997: Clyde N. Phillips Correctional Institution; probation revoked, serve balance of sentence

JANUARY 1999: Coastal Correctional Institution, probation revoked, serve balance of sentence

MAY 1998: Misdemeanor battery; sentencing unclear

MAY 2001: Felony parole violation

JULY 2001: Failure to appear; criminal trespass, Fulton County Sheriff's Office; not on docket

SEPTEMBER 2001: Misdemeanor possession of marijuana; convicted, disorderly conduct, Richmond County State Court; 12 months' probation, credit with time served, consecutive with prior sentence

SEPTEMBER 2001: Felony parole violation; continue original order of probation, possession of cocaine

SEPTEMBER 2001: Giving false name to police officer, misdemeanor; convicted, Richmond County State Court, 12 months' probation

FEBRUARY 2002: Purchase/possession/controlled substance; convicted, Richmond County Superior Court, two years in prison

NOVEMBER 2002: Felony parole violation

OCTOBER 2004: Misdemeanor obstruction of officer, convicted, 12 months' probation

DECEMBER 2004: Purchase, possession of controlled substance with intent to distribute; convicted December 2005, Richmond County Superior Court, three years in prison, three years' probation, credit for time served

Source: Augusta Human Resources Department

City policy

Augusta lacks a policy on hiring workers with criminal backgrounds, according to Victoria Biascoechea, city employment manager:

"While Augusta does not have a written policy that speaks to employment of individuals with criminal backgrounds, we do take in account the position they are applying for, the nature of the crime and the length of time since conviction. If the crime does not relate to their job requirements, and a considerable time frame has passed, they can be employed. We do advise against certain hires, however we do not make the final determination. The Director can choose to hire against the advice of Human Resources. With that said, certain convictions can prevent individuals from employment in some departments, e.g. a theft conviction will prevent someone from handling cash (they cannot be bonded), public safety also have different requirements that are set forth in their certifications."

More