Part 1: Sex offenders and the City

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by KELI RABON / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on August 29, 2011 at 10:19 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 30 at 6:02 PM

AUSTIN -- It was a day Tammy Daniels will never forget.

“I was horrified. I didn't know if I was dead that day,” Daniels said.

In October of 1992, Daniels says a City of Austin Public Works employee showed up at her door and forced himself into her home.

“He grabbed my hand and came right on in. When he came in, it happened so fast,” Daniels said. “He locked the door. He picked me up over his shoulder, and took me to my room.”

Daniels says she was sexually assaulted by then 31-year-old John Aleman.

“He went to the bathroom, washed up, put his belt back on. It was a heavy leather belt with gear on it. He went back toward the kitchen and said 'The food smells good. I’ll be back tomorrow to finish the work.' That's when I locked the door after him and called 911,” Daniels said.

Aleman was charged with sexual assault, a second degree felony, and three weeks later, he resigned from the City of Austin. In March 1993, Aleman pled guilty to burglary of a habitation with intent to commit sexual assault, a first degree felony. Later that year he was back on the job, working for the City of Austin.

Daniels had no idea Aleman had been rehired until the KVUE Defenders told her.

Based on Aleman's job application, the City did not know he had pled guilty to a crime.

On some applications, when asked if he had a criminal history, Aleman checked “no.” It was never investigated.

“Not every position in the City requires a background check,” City of Austin Human Resources Director Mark Washington said.

Washington says criminal background checks are only performed on employees who work with vulnerable populations like children or the elderly, or employees who handle money.

“If a position doesn't require a background check to be done, and unless that employee notes or transfers into another position in the organization that meets our risk criteria, we would not know,” Washington said.

The KVUE Defenders found 15 registered sex offenders currently working for the City of Austin. According to their job applications, four of those sex offenders, including Aleman, did not disclose their criminal history on a job application when asked.

Those employees include:
* Hilario Castro with Austin Water Utility, convicted of sexual assault of a child in 1990.
* Steven Davis with Solid Waste Services, convicted of sexual assault in 1994.
* Harris Washington with Austin Water Utility, convicted of indecency with a child in 1994.

The KVUE Defenders brought the four cases to the City of Austin’s attention.

“We have placed those employees on administrative leave, pending the investigation. We'll know what type of action to take once we've concluded our administrative review,” Washington said.

The four employees were suspended with pay, but in these cases, Washington says background checks are not required, and were never performed.

“We have to prove that it's a requirement of the position, and we cannot say that for all 12,000 employees, that their job requires them to have a background check,” Washington said.

Rick Gipprich is an advocate for victims of sexual assault. He believes the City should not hire convicted sex offenders. 

“A specific person that does this horrible, vile crime should not be allowed to work with anybody, because they pose a danger to society,” Gipprich said.

In 2008, the Austin City Council voted to remove the criminal history question from applications. Now, employees are not required to disclose a criminal past.

Washington acknowledges that many employees are hired without ever having a background check.

“We're comfortable with our policy and feel it's a good policy that protects the interest of our workforce and our public,” Washington said.

Washington says the City of Austin wants to give convicted felons a second chance -- one that Daniels says her alleged attacker did not deserve.

“Second chance for what? I don’t have a second chance,” Daniels said.

Coming up Tuesday, Aug. 30 on KVUE News Nightbeat, the Defenders take a closer look at the City of Austin's criminal background check policy. Find out what Mayor Lee Leffingwell thinks about it, and why one woman says if anyone is hiring sex offenders, it should be the City.

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