A small town police force in Indiana hired an officer back in 2003 because of a great recommendation. Now that officer, James D. Foutch, is in jail after pleading guilty to killing a father-to-be in a traffic accident.
See if you can follow this: The Edgewood Police Captain, Martin “Skip” Stanley, heard about Officer Foutch from Robert Allman. Allman was a former police captain with the force, who was also on the town council at the time. He was also happened to be the father of Foutch’s girlfriend, with whom the officer was raising a child. Because Foutch came so highly recommended from this well-connected individual, the department hired him and put him right to work -- without conducting any kind of background check.
Much of Officer Foutch’s day was spent behind the wheel, out on patrol. Had the department done a simple background check they would have found out that his driver’s license had been suspended 17 times! He had also been convicted 6 times for speeding and 3 times for driving with a suspended license.
The accident that put Officer Foutch behind bars did not happen while he was on duty, but it is no less heart breaking. On April 6, 2014 he was speeding when he rear-ended a car carrying Jesse and Rebecca Sperry. Rebecca was nine months pregnant and was scheduled to have labor induced later that day. Instead, she was airlifted from the crash scene for an emergency C-section. Her husband Jesse died at the scene.
On August 20, 2015, Foutch pleaded guilty to two felonies and was sentenced to 8 years in prison and 3 on probation.
Under Indiana state law, police departments are not required to conduct background checks on prospective officers. The man who hired Foutch says he feels sympathy and sorrow for the Sperry family. He says in retrospect, he is embarrassed that he counted on his captain and the potentially biased recommendation he gave, and nothing else. While not hiring Foutch would not have prevented this accident, the police force definitely put itself in a terrible position. Had the accident happened while Foutch was on duty, the department could have faced serious negligent hiring accusations and would have likely faced costly lawsuits.
The moral of this story is that background checks are essential, especially if you are hiring someone who has contact with the public in any way. Know who you are hiring. Don’t guess, and don’t just rely on a good recommendation. It’s just not worth it.