Basketball Coach Turned Murder Suspect Had No Background Check Through County Recreation Department

By Michael Klazema on 1/24/2014

A recreation department in Madison County, Alabama may have failed to run a routine background check on one of its youth basketball coaches before the start of the fall season this year. That oversight recently came to the attention of county higher-ups – and to local news sources – after the coach in question was arrested on the suspicion of murder. The coach has not yet been convicted of a crime and when he posted bond and got out of jail, he returned to his coaching position. The job puts him in contact with eight-year-old children on a regular basis.

His return and the discovery of his arrest by his employers led to an explosion of controversy in the town, not only resulting in the removal of the coach from his post – at least temporarily – but also bringing to light a number of serious background check policy oversights that have been plaguing Alabama’s Madison County Recreation Department for years now.

First of all, the Recreation Department Director, Ronnie Elliot, told local news outlet WAFF that, while all county coaches are supposed to submit to a background screening prior to each coaching season, his department had no record that a background check had ever been completed on Robinson. Officials at the Blue Water Spring Part – where the coach worked as a youth basketball coach – told another tale, saying that they had completed the background check and submitted the paperwork earlier this year.

As the story descended into “the case of the missing background check documentation,” the Madison County Commission decided to get involved, with Commission Chairman Dale Strong calling for an investigation into the recreation department. Currently, Strong’s investigation is pending. Already though, unflattering information about the recreation department’s background check policies has hit the news circuit, suggesting that regardless of where the background check report went, they might be due for an employment screening process overhaul.

Up until now, WAFF reports that the Madison County Recreation Department has mostly confined its background checks to perusals of sex offender registries and a brief criminal record search at the local county courthouse. However, while such checks could uncover criminals with convictions in Madison County, they leave a huge blind spot. Hypothetically, criminals from any other state or other county in the state could come to Madison County and get a job working with kids through the recreation department.

Recreation Director Ronnie Elliott did say that his department runs national checks every once in awhile when a park president has a concern about a potential employee. However, the statistics are not on Elliott’s side: the Madison County Recreation Department has only executed 22 nationwide criminal checks in the past three years, and the last one happened 11 months ago.

In comparison, the department currently employs 161 youth basketball coaches who have only been checked locally. If any of them have criminal records outside of the county, Madison County doesn’t know about them. Furthermore, the absence of documentation for the criminally accused coach calls into question whether the recreation department’s local checks are even taking place or being properly analyzed and reported. So what’s next for the Madison County Recreation Department? What needs to happen is a more uniform background check policy, one which checks offender registries for every state, county and state criminal records, and nationwide criminal files.


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