A man with a charge for
child molestation drove a school bus for two and a half years in Cobb County, Georgia, per a recent report from the Marietta Daily Journal. The article detailed the story of Joseph Farrington, who was arrested in December 1999 for child molestation. The specific details of that charge are unclear. Because Farrington had no previous criminal history on his record at the time, he could enter a plea for misdemeanor
Per coverage, the “first offender” plea complicates the case and explains why Cobb County School District, which employed Farrington from November 2013 until May 2016, didn’t know about the charge. The district has a policy of running background checks on all new employees. This policy includes multiple criminal screenings with state criminal checks and FBI fingerprint background checks. The district’s deputy superintendent confirmed that those checks were run on Farrington in 2013 and that they returned no signs of criminal history.
In addition to the actual background checks, reports note, the school has a zero-tolerance hiring policy for individuals with felony offenses
. Since Farrington pleaded his charge down to a misdemeanor
, he wouldn’t have fallen into that group. The Cobb County School District deputy superintendent stated that the district disqualifies candidates for certain types of misdemeanors
. These misdemeanors
include crimes that are sexual in nature, crimes that involve drugs, or crimes against children.
Under that criteria, Farrington would not have been considered a hirable candidate by the district. However, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) was not permitted to disclose Farrington’s record to potential employers. As coverage explains, the GBI maintains the criminal record database that employers search when they run state criminal checks in Georgia. Before July 2004, first offenders could use Georgia’s first offender statute to expunge certain charges from their record. To discharge his misdemeanor
sexual battery count, Farrington had to complete his probation period without incident. Since Farrington did so, GBI was not legally allowed to disclose the misdemeanor
Georgia law has changed a bit in the years since Farrington’s arrest, reports indicate:
today, his sexual battery charge would have been a felony, not a misdemeanor
. Per critics of the policy, the first offender statute remains in place today, making it feasible that a similar situation could happen again in the future.
Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds told the Marietta Daily Journal that he wants a change. Reynolds believes that crimes against children and crimes that are sexual in nature should not be absolved under the first offender statute. For the first offender statute to change, the Georgia Legislature would have to change the law. There is currently no legislation pending that would bring about those revisions.
Per reports, Farrington was reportedly a model employee while working for the Cobb County School District. The district didn’t get any complaints from students or parents during his two and a half years as a bus driver. Farrington resigned from the bus driver position last spring, but did so voluntarily, not because of any incident or allegation.