AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Child molestation arrest slips through school background checks

Despite his arrest years ago for child molestation, Joseph Melvin Farrington had a way of landing jobs that gave him access to kids.

He worked at a church child care program in Cobb County until last month when a parent brought his 2000 arrest to the attention of church officials. Farrington abruptly resigned.

But a different job in his recent past raises fresh questions about the state's background check system for public schools and other facilities that use their checks. From 2013 to 2016, Farrington worked as a school bus driver for the Cobb school system. His molestation arrest didn't show up on the GBI's criminal background check conducted before Cobb hired him, according to a school spokesman.

The fingerprint-based test through a state and federal crime database is supposed to be more comprehensive than a check through a private company, like the one conducted by Bethany United Methodist Church. The previous arrest didn't show up in that check either, according to 11Alive News. 

How could this be?

Georgia law restricts what GBI can provide to a school or other facility that requests a check. Farrington's 2000 arrest for child molestation was reduced and he pled guilty to sexual battery that same year under a first offender status.

"What we release is based on Georgia law," said GBI spokesman Nelly Miles.

Because the arrest and the plea deal and Farrington's completion of his first offender program occurred so long ago, the law said GBI can't release that type of information to the school system.

"If a first offense was completed prior to 2004 then we could not disclose that information," Miles said.

Still, his arrest was pretty easily available through publicly accessible databases. Ryan Rubin, the parent at Bethany United Methodist, discovered it in late August.

He had dropped his 16-month-old son at the church and seen Farrington for the first time.

"I had an uneasy feeling and started doing some research," he said.

Rubin quickly discovered the past arrest through a publicly available online database and then he tracked down the old records at the Cobb courthouse. (The AJC also found the child molestation arrest in a Lexis search of Farrington.)

Rubin said when he brought his research to the church school's attention, he felt they were slow to respond to his concerns.

"This guy was potty training two-year-olds," Rubin said.

A day passed and he started notifying parents at the program about Farrington's history. The teacher in the two-year-old program was quickly forced out and the school told parents of his resignation.

Officials at the Bethany parents morning out program said they took action as soon as they became aware of the past incident.

"There has been no evidence of any problems in the Parents Morning Out (PMO)," the school said.

He resigned last year from Cobb in good standing, spokesman John Stafford said.

Rubin said the episode has pushed some parents into action. They hope to make changes to state law to ensure people who have past problems with children, such as molestation, aren't eligible to be hired.

He said cracks in the system reinforce the need for parents to their own judgments.

"You have to do your own background checks -- whether it's a babysitter or teacher," he said. "Trust your gut."





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