Reginald Price was fired from Aiken County Schools in November 2011 after alledgedly touching a student on the buttocks. He was charged with misdemeanor third-degree assault and battery but the case was dropped Oct. 24, 2012.
Price was hired in Richmond County as a substitute janitor in January 2012 and full time in July 2012. In line with district policy, then-School Safety and Security dispatcher Lateisha Mosquera ran only a Georgia background check when Price was hired as a sub. According to documents obtained by The Chronicle, Price did not disclose that he previously worked in Aiken County and lied on his application by stating he was never fired for being suspected of engaging in criminal or immoral conduct.
In March 2012, while working as a substitute janitor at Murphey Middle School, a student alleged Price touched her on the buttocks. An investigation was completed by then-School Safety and Security officer Monica Belser, but not enough evidence was found to prosecute.
When Price was hired full time in July 2012, board attorney Pete Fletcher said he was fingerprinted and checked through the National Crime Information Center, which is required for permanent employees. Mosquera would have seen the Aiken charge in the NCIC check, but Fletcher said because Price had not been convicted, he was cleared for hire.
“It may not have looked to her in the grand scheme of things as serious as it turned out to be,” Fletcher said.
However, according to Aiken City Solicitor Paige Tiffany, any background check on Price done before Oct. 24, 2012, would have come back as “pending with no disposition” and would not have indicated he was cleared.
Fletcher said Mosquera did not contact Aiken Public Safety at the time to find out specifics about the charge, nor was she required to.
However officials acknowledged that if they had, they would have seen the similarities between the Aiken and Murphey allegations before hiring Price full time.
Following the Aiken charge and allegations at Murphey, Price was arrested Sept. 11 on charges of felony sexual battery after he allegedly touched a C.T. Walker student. He was also charged in relation to the Murphey incident after the School Safety and Security Chief Alfonzo Williams, who was hired in February, reopened the case following the C.T. Walker allegations.
The case is now being handled by the district attorney’s office, Fletcher said.
As a result of this incident, Superintendent Frank Roberson will now require all employees to undergo fingerprinting and a full background check, even if they are substitutes. Before only permanent employees and substitutes who supervised children, such as teachers, required fingerprinting, which costs about $40 and must be paid for by the employee.
After being hired to lead the school safety and security department in February, Williams created a policy requiring any new hire with a criminal record to be reviewed by the chief or his captain before the dispatcher clears him or her for hire.
Chief Human Resources Officer Norman Hill said it is not clear if this was done for Price’s case under then-chief Patrick Clayton, who now works for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, and school officials have not contacted him to find out.
On Friday Clayton said any arrest that showed up on a candidate’s record would have been reported to the human resources department. He said the third-degree assault charge does not indicate a sexual offense, and human resources would have had to request more information if they were concerned.
“We would have reported it to HR if he was arrested,” Clayton said. “If they wanted anything more on it, they would have had to let us know.”
Fletcher said the general hiring guidelines for employees with criminal records has not changed. The school system does not hire people with convictions of extreme violence, manslaughter, rape and other serious offenses. Certain drug, theft, burglary, assault, forgery and prostitution/solicitation convictions are not hireable if the offense is less than 10 years old.
Other offenses, like DUI, trespassing, arrests without violence and others, are reviewed on a case by case basis.
School officials did not acknowledge any mistakes in the Price case, but Carol Rountree, assistant superintendent of student services, said the experience has helped prompt some safeguards.
“When something like this arises, you look at your guidelines in place and say ‘OK, is there something we can do to avoid this in the future?’”