Convictions didn't stop city from hiring applicants

 

Manslaughter, drug violations, sex crimes and even a contract murder didn't deter the city from offering jobs to some employees, an investigation by The Augusta Chronicle has found.

Sometimes the city knew of the felony convictions and chose to hire the applicant anyway. Other times, applicants failed to fully disclose their criminal past, a deception later revealed by background checks. In the cases The Chronicle uncovered, no disciplinary action was taken against the employee for not being truthful.

Though it became city policy in the 1990s to check the backgrounds of applicants for some jobs, that didn't occur in some cases; others began work before the policy took effect and never were checked.

The Chronicle began its investigation after Augusta meter reader Troy Curry was arrested in July and charged with selling crack cocaine out of a city utilities truck.

From 1986 to 2004, Curry had been in and out of prison more than a dozen times on convictions that ran the gamut from felony fraud to drug possession with intent to distribute, according to a criminal background check in his personnel file.

Curry was hired as a laborer in 2006, although the city's criminal background check showed he'd been convicted in Richmond County Superior Court just 12 months before of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and sentenced to three years in prison. A year later, he transferred to meter reading. The utilities department supervisor and department head both signed off on the transfer, but both said they did not see his criminal record.

Comparing Augusta Human Resources Department records with conviction records in the Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office, The Chronicle found a convicted sex offender working at the landfill, a convicted murderer working out of the city administrator's office, and a utilities worker with a history of DUI and driving offenses that date back two decades driving a city truck at work.

In their defense, Augusta officials contend it's nearly impossible to find workers for low-level, low-paying jobs who don't have some kind of criminal record.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission makes it impossible to exclude employees 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 who applies for a job in which he would be handling money. After a certain number of years, criminal records become less of a factor in hiring, Powell said.

The city started running criminal background checks on job applicants in the late 1990s, said now-retired Employment Manager Moses McCauley. The results are sent to department directors.

Human resources might recommend hiring or rejecting an applicant, but the department head has the final say.

"Obviously, each person we hire is an individual case, and in some cases a prior criminal record might not have an impact on hiring, depending on the job, type of offense and the time between the offense and the job offer," said Fred Russell, the city administrator. "A good example would be an offense committed several years ago by an individual applying for a laborer's job. If they've been convicted and served their time, would that really have an impact on their ability to rake leaves and shovel dirt?"

Lying on an application is supposed to be grounds for rejecting an applicant or firing if the deception is later discovered. The Chronicle found several examples of applicants lying or being evasive. In most cases, the deceptions could be documented by reviewing the criminal background forms in their city personnel records.

For example, on his 2006 application, 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.

The criminal background check revealed that at that point Curry had 21 arrests, two felony parole violations and three probation revocations.

On the application for meter reader in 2008, Curry wrote "to be discussed at interview" beside the questions.

Case details

DONALD E. D'ANTIGNAC, murder

Many employees' files do not contain criminal background reports because they were hired before the city started running them. Such is the case of Donald E. D'Antignac, who works out of the city administrator's office.

Copies of records from D'Antignac's personnel file do not mention his murder conviction or a 1998 arrest in which he was accused of hitting his wife in the head with a bat, a charge that was later dropped. Nor are there any records of three disciplinary grievances filed against him with the city, one for aggressive conduct toward a supervisor in 1996, for which he was reprimanded.

There are no disciplinary reports or other documents concerning his 2001 demotion and $7,123 pay cut after being accused of sexual harassment and intimidation. D'Antignac's supervisor at the time -- Director of Public Works Teresa Smith -- and then-Human Resources Director Brenda Byrd-Pelaez both recommended that he be fired.

A 2005 memo from City Administrator Fred Russell states that D'Antignac was restored to his operations manager title, with an increase in salary. Four months later, in another memo, Russell requested D'Antignac's transfer from the Public Works Road and Bridges Department to the administrator's office. The most recent list of county employees the city provided to The Chronicle , however, lists D'Antignac as an operations manager for the public works department.

Information obtained by The Chronicle from the district attorney's office shows D'Antignac was convicted of killing 22-year-old David Dunn for $5,000 the day after Christmas in 1974.

Dunn was found dead in his 1965 Pontiac LeMans on a dirt road off Old McDuffie Road, shot three times at "point blank" range by a 12-gauge shotgun, according to a coroner's report.

Police arrested D'Antignac the next day, after finding a sawed-off shotgun in his car and a blood-stained tennis shoe in his home.

After Rhonda J. Taylor was given immunity for testimony against D'Antignac, he pleaded guilty and received a life sentence. He was paroled in 1986 after serving 11 years in prison.

Taylor later received a life sentence for a second contract killing in which police said both had participated -- the Nov. 10, 1974, execution-style slaying of Sgt. Jessie Lavert Williams Jr. Charges against D'Antignac were dropped, however, when his statement to police was found to be inadmissible in court.

D'Antignac was hired by the city in 1986, 30 days after he was released from prison and before background checks became policy. Since the criminal background checks began in 1996, D'Antignac has refused to sign a waiver to allow it.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Donald E. D'Antignac's photo was not available from the Richmond County Sheriff's Office or the Georgia Department of Corrections.

ERIC BLOCKER, registered sex offender

In some cases, there is no criminal background report in an employee's file, although the employee has a criminal record.

For example, when Eric Blocker filled out an application for a truck driver's job in the utilities department in 2004, he checked "yes" to the question of whether he had ever been convicted of a felony.

As an explanation, he wrote: "In 1992 I was dating a young lady, later to find out she was a minor. Lewd act with a minor, five years probation ... Record clean since that time."

According to records in the district attorney's office, Blocker is a registered sex offender and his record has not been clean since 1992.

He was arrested and charged in March 1992 with assaulting an 11-year-old girl with the intent to commit criminal sexual conduct in the second degree, according to Aiken County court records. He was given a 10-year suspended sentence and five years' probation.

In August 1996, he was charged with violating probation. Two months later, he was arrested in Richmond County and charged with violating the Employment Security Law in 2002 and 2003 by receiving $7,375 in unemployment benefits from the Georgia Department of Labor while he was employed at an auto parts store. He was convicted and sentenced to five years' probation.

He is now employed as a heavy-equipment operator at the Richmond County landfill.

ROBERT ALFORD BRADLEY, manslaughter

Robert Alford Bradley, alias Robert Alfred Bradley and James Robert Alford Bradley, went to work as a laborer in the utilities department on Feb. 4, 2002. A criminal background report run eight days earlier found he had been charged with felony murder in Richmond County and had been arrested on four other occasions from 1991 through 1999. He was charged with DUI twice, misdemeanor simple battery twice and reckless conduct.

Chronicle archives show that in September 1984, Bradley was accused of shooting and killing Willie Haynes, 31, at the victim's home in Augusta.

Bradley, then 26, claimed it was self-defense -- that he went to talk to his estranged wife and that Haynes shot at him first. His estranged wife, Vera Bradley, said that they were separated and that Bradley intentionally shot Haynes. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was paroled in November 1987. Bradley was fired in February from his job as a property and maintenance supervisor after testing positive for alcohol on a drug test, according to city records.

RICKY DWAYNE WILCHER, assault

On Ricky Dwayne Wilcher's application for a job in the utilities department, he left the conviction questions blank, but he has a record.

In November 1997, he was sentenced to five years in prison for stabbing girlfriend Krystal Olivia Roundtree the day after Valentine's Day.

In March 2006, he was charged with aggravated assault, possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon after being accused of shooting at girlfriend Victoria Nicole Jones. The prosecutor dropped the charges in June of that year after Jones testified for Wilcher at a preliminary hearing.

He was hired in January 2007. Under education, he wrote "Georgia Public Safety Training Course, three years, graphic arts and office assistant, also known as 'prison classes.' "

Wilcher is a water and sewer line locator in the construction and maintenance section of the utilities department.

RONALD CLYDE WRIGHT, DUI, drugs, habitual violator

nother example of an applicant's not telling the whole truth on an application is Ronald Clyde Wright, who replaced Troy Curry after Curry was promoted to meter reader -- the position Curry held when he was accused of selling crack in July.

On his application, Wright owned up to a misdemeanor obstruction charge in 2001 and driving without a license in 2000. A criminal history record check Jan. 21, 2009 -- five days before he was to start work -- told a different story, though.

According to the report, Wright has a 1975 felony conviction for the purchase, possession, manufacture, distribution or sale of marijuana, for which he was put on two years' probation. He also was charged with DUI and felony habitual violator in 1985, both of which were dismissed.

In 1996, he was convicted of misdemeanor battery and family violence, and in 1997 he was convicted of DUI and driving while his license was suspended. In 1998, he was convicted of driving on a revoked license and hit-and-run, in addition to battery, DUI and driving on a revoked license.

In 1999, he was convicted of battery, and DUI and habitual violator in 2000.

In 2001, he was convicted of being a habitual violator. He was arrested in June 2003 and accused of hit-and-run while driving under the influence and without a license or insurance, and fighting with the arresting officer. The charges were reduced in 2004, and he was convicted of DUI and misdemeanor obstruction.

Wright now works at the utilities lift station in the maintenance group and drives a city truck.

BLAND MASSIE III, drug possession

When Bland Massie III applied for a job with the recreation department in 2009, he listed a 2005 DUI and a 2009 felony conviction for damage to property. There were other charges that could have been taken into account if he had not been put to work before the city received his criminal background report.

In a June 18, 2009, e-mail to Recreation Department Director Tom Beck, then-Employment Manager Moses McCauley asked what he should do because Massie's criminal background check was still pending. Beck e-mailed back to put it on hold, then an hour and a half later gave permission to process Massie for a part-time maintenance job at the tennis center.

Beck said last week he terminated Massie about three months ago, partly because of performance issues and partly because of budget cuts. Beck said he considers the type of crime a person committed in deciding whether he should be hired. Beck said, for example, he wouldn't hire a person convicted of a violent crime for a job where he would interact with the public.

According to Massie's case file in the district attorney's office, he was arrested in October 2005 and charged with possession of illegal drugs after a Richmond County narcotics officer executed a search warrant at his residence and found 61 Seroquel pills and 0.5 grams of powder cocaine. The arresting officer's report stated he had received information from "a confidential and reliable source" that Massie was selling narcotics from his residence. The source stated that Massie sells marijuana and acts as a "middleman" arranging for other persons to purchase other types of narcotics from third parties, the report states.

Massie received first-offender status and probation on the drug possession charge.

In 2006, he was charged with DUI, but the charge was dismissed. In July 2008, he was charged with a probation violation.

In October 2008, he was arrested on charges of aggravated assault and property damage after being accused of shooting at railroad cars when workers were nearby. The charges were reduced to property damage, for which he received four years' probation. The next month he was charged with a probation violation.

KATRINA JONES, cocaine possession

Katrina Jones' conviction for possession of cocaine in 2002 was never discovered by the city's background check. Jones gave a false Social Security number so the criminal records check was of another person's background. Officials had no explanation for why no one verified the Social Security number.

Jones was fired in 2007 after being charged with stealing more than $12,000 from the landfill division. She was later convicted.

JOHNNIE JAMES WILLIAMS JR., drugs, battery, theft

Johnnie James Williams Jr., who was hired in September 2009 as a meter reader in the utilities department, checked yes on his application's convictions questions, and wrote "will explain at interview."

His criminal history includes a 1989 conviction for driving while license suspended; a 1996 battery charge; a 1996 theft conviction; a 2000 drug conviction; a 2001 burglary charge that was pleaded down to misdemeanor; a 2001 drug arrest and probation violation; a 2002 drug arrest with probation violation; and a 2005 felony conviction of manufacture/sell/distribute cocaine.

He was sentenced to one year in prison and eight years' probation for the 2005 case.

Williams, who drives a city truck, was arrested March 16 for driving without insurance and improper registration. He pleaded no contest to the charges.

-- Sylvia Cooper and Sandy Hodson, staff