Your Right to a Safe Home – How Background Checks Can Help

By Michael Klazema on 2/19/2011

In 2006, Tammara Erica Reed was murdered while visiting one of the residents of a complex on Acovy Road. The murderer was Willie R. Gunn, who held four prior convictions that were marked on a criminal background check: two convictions for DUIs, one for shoplifting and one for sexual battery with solicitation for criminal sodomy with a minor. He had also committed murder previously, which was marked on file in the county clerk’s office.

Late last year, the jury voted in favor of Reed’s family, granting $1.35 million due to the fact that the housing complex authorities were aware of Gunn’s criminal history, and contrary to their own housing agreement, leased the property to Gunn while failing to give adequate security to residents.

During his housing interview and on his application, Gunn lied about his criminal past, though the housing directors found the truth with a background check. The former housing authority director, Faith Johnson, admitted she was aware of the convictions, including the murder, but granted Gunn housing regardless, though it was contrary to their own housing agreements.

Seeking damages for the physical and mental pain of the surviving family members, suffering, funeral expenses and the full value of her life, the family was originally awarded $1.5 million. After a five day trial and six hour deliberation, this price was reduced by 10 percent, as Gunn was held responsible for 10 percent of the fault. The resulting money will be paid to Reed’s surviving two sons, who are now six and seven years old.

Gunn was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was also sentenced for possession of a firearm, though he was a convicted felon. Whether the seller of the firearm utilized a background check or not is not clear. According to witnesses, Gunn and Reed had an argument the previous night of the shooting about a set of car keys. Utilizing background checks is an important step for housing providers, and it is important to think of ways tragedies like this can be avoided in the future.

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