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Jury Finds Housing Authority Negligent in Murder of Elderly Woman after Tenant Background Check Misses Criminal Past of Neighbor

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

In a story that shows the importance of using overlapping tools to do criminal background checks, a jury recently ruled that negligence by the Housing Authority in a North Carolina city led to an elderly woman’s death at the hands of her crack cocaine addicted neighbor in 2007.

A story on CharlotteObserver.com revealed that attorneys sued the agency on behalf of the 63-year-old woman’s estate after she was strangled in her apartment at a public housing complex for the elderly and disabled. Her 46-year-old neighbor – who reportedly had a history of violence, drugs, and mental illness – was later convicted of her killing.

Jurors awarded victim’s sons $132,000 over their claim of inadequate tenant screening after a background on the convicted killer missed several convictions for violent behavior in the man’s past. Jurors said they could not agree on a monetary amount, and the final figure was a compromise that was far less than the $10.4 million in damages the sons were asking for.

At issue in the trial was whether the Housing Authority properly screened the woman’s killer with a background check before it let him live in the apartment complex. The CharlotteObserver.com reported that the attorney for the woman’s estate argued that the Housing Authority violated its own procedures by doing only a North Carolina background check – not nationwide background check – on the woman’s eventual killer. The N.C. check missed violent crime and drug convictions in Maryland that would have prevented the man from living at the apartment complex.

The jury agreed, and CharlotteObserver.com quoted the foreman as saying that the just felt like the elderly woman’s murder could have been prevented with better background checks. The attorney also said he hoped the judgment would make the Housing Authority do more comprehensive background checks on tenants.

A tragic story such as this reminds employers – and landlords – of the importance of national multi-jurisdictional searches that can uncover criminal records that job applicants – or tenants – have in states other than the one in which they currently live and work.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a national pre-employment screening provider, offers a National Multi-Jurisdictional Criminal Database Search, which are comprehensive multi-jurisdictional and statewide searches that cover a much larger geographical area than traditional county-level searches. Such a search can provide potential leads as to other places to search.

However, ESR believes that since these databases have both pros and cons, it is critical to understand that:

  • Multi-jurisdictional database are NOT official FBI database searches.  FBI records are only available to certain employers or industries where Congress or a state has granted access.
  • Multi-jurisdictional and statewide databases searches are a research tool only and are not a substitute for a hands-on search at the county level under any circumstances.
  • Not all states have databases that are available to employers.  In some instances, the databases that are available have limited information.  Therefore the value of these searches in these states may be very limited.   
  • Some states that make official state police records or records directly form the court available.  However, the information may not be reportable under state or federal la for various reasons. 
  • Databases in each state are compiled from a number of sources and the information may not be accurate or complete.  Because of the nature of databases, the appearance of a person’s name on a database is not an indication the person is criminal any more than the absence of a name shows he/she is not a criminal. Any positive match MUST be verified by reviewing the actual court records.  Any lack of a match is not the same as a person being “cleared.”

More information on the pros and cons of multi-jurisdictional and statewide databases – including what information this search is based on, how criminal record “hits” should be reconfirmed to ensure accuracy, and how Sex Offender databases are derived from the state-maintained registry, is available on ESRCheck.com at:

Source: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/02/10/1236243/jury-finds-housing-authority-negligent.html