Inmates Charged with Violent Crimes Released Amid COVID-19 Concerns

New York state and local officials are seeking the release of nearly 1,500 inmates, including violent offenders, some of whom are charged with crimes such as armed robbery and attempted murder. Only an intervention from New York City’s five district attorneys has kept most of them from being released to date. From a joint statement of the New York City district attorneys issued this week: “We want to make clear that the categories of those proposed for release have, in some instances, included individuals who pose a high risk to public safety.”

COVID-19 has made its way into Rikers Island, one of the world’s largest jail compounds, as it has made its way into every state in this country. This prompted city officials, defense attorneys, and other advocates to call for the release of inmates, since there is a high probability of widespread transmission in jails.

The two opposing groups have been mandated by New York City’s Board of Correction (NYCBOC) to work together to review lists of inmates at higher risk of contracting, and having complications from, COVID-19, while also making a risk assessment regarding public safety. A Manhattan supreme court already released some of these inmates, while others are still being reviewed.

When we get to the other side of this worldwide pandemic, background screening will be even more crucial to learn about the people you are hiring, including where they were before and during the COVID-19 health crisis.

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Louisiana Woman Tries to Get out of Work; Now Faces Criminal Charges

A woman in Natchitoches, Louisiana thought she was clever in going to a medical center for a COVID-19 test, claiming that she had been exposed to the virus. While there, she requested a 30-day excuse note for work. The medical staff explained the CDC’s self-quarantine guidelines, but the woman said that was not enough. She later revealed that she had lied and was just looking to get out of work. Unfortunately, in the interim, several medical staff members were not able to help others because they thought that she had exposed them. The woman was arrested for criminal mischief the following day.

Crises bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Going forward, background screening will help find those to whom this pandemic brought out the worst.

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DOJ Works to Prevent Fraud Surrounding COVID-19 Pandemic

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the first court action against a fraudulent COVID-19 website, which claimed to be giving away free coronavirus vaccines. After the DOJ issued a temporary restraining order, the site was taken down. The website had fraudulently offered vaccine kits provided by the World Health Organization for $4.95 shipping, while showing a picture of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in an apparent attempt to add credibility to the site. The DOJ reminded Americans in a statement that there are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines.

Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division stated, “[t]he Department of Justice will not tolerate criminal exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain. We will use every resource at the government’s disposal to act quickly to shut down these most despicable of scammers, whether they are defrauding consumers, committing identity theft, or delivering malware.”

Attorney General William P. Barr is urging the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at mailto:disaster@leo.gov.

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COVID-19 Stay at Home Order Not Keeping Criminals Home in St. Louis

Despite the city of St. Louis’s stay at home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, police are seeing the same amount of criminal activity in the community, especially in terms of shootings and homicides, as before the pandemic hit.  As such, the city is pushing to start their Cure Violence program without delay. This program was developed in response to the increase in homicides over the past few years and is scheduled to begin next month. According to a statement from the mayor’s office, “The City of St. Louis remains committed to the implementation of Cure Violence. At this time, we are working to determine the impact the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak might have on the upcoming rollout. As always, but especially during this challenging and uncertain time, the health and safety of everyone in the City is paramount.”

Unfortunately, crime continues no matter what the crisis is; it never takes a break and is another stark reminder of why background checks are so important, no matter what the circumstances.

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COVID-19 Updates: Department of Transportation

*Update to our March 12, 2020 COVID-19 Statement

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued guidance on drug and alcohol testing for federally regulated transportation workers. In the guidance, the DOT noted that compliance with its regulations may be challenging due to the lack of resources during this time, but that a reasonable effort to locate these resources must be made. If, after reasonable efforts, the resource cannot be located, the DOT-regulated employer must document why the test was not completed and if, under DOT requirements, testing can be conducted at a later date. If the test cannot be completed or conducted at another time, the prospective or current employee may not perform any safety-sensitive functions.

The DOT also suggests sensitivity among employers regarding employees who are not comfortable being tested, given the unprecedented nature of our situation. It also requests employers to keep communication open with service agents to ensure their availability.

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COVID-19 Updates: I-9 Compliance & Driving Records

*Update to our March 12, 2020 COVID-19 Statement

For the next 60 days, or through 3 business days after the termination of the National Emergency, whichever comes first, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is exercising discretion to defer the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) for employers and workplaces operating remotely only. Employers will not be required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence.  Employers must, however, do the following to comply:

  • Inspect the Section 2 documents remotely (i.e. email or video call)
  • Obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents within three business days after normal operations resume
  • Enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 Additional Information Field
  • Add “documents physically examined” after physically inspected, with the date of inspection to the Section 2 Additional Information Field (or to section 3, as appropriate)
  • Provide written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee

DHS will evaluate circumstances where employees are subject to COVID-19 quarantine or lockdown protocols on a case-by-case basis.

Any employers who were served NOIs by DHS during the month of March 2020 (and have not already responded) will be granted an automatic extension for 60 days from the effective date of March 19, 2020. At the end of the 60-day extension period, DHS will determine if an additional extension will be granted.

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Driving Records: We are not experiencing any delays or disruptions in accessing driving records, despite DMV closures around the country.  We will provide continued updates if any delays begin.