Harrison County Sheriff’s Office officials say they stringently check employment backgrounds before hiring applicants, but what happened when Roger Valentine was hired six years ago is a mystery.
Valentine, 53, was a transport deputy for the Harrison County Jail when he resigned in February on suspicion that he raped a female inmate while transporting her from a state jail in Central Texas. He later was arrested and charged with violating the civil rights of a person in custody by engaging in sexual activity.
Before joining Harrison County in 2013, Valentine worked three years at the Gregg County Jail before he resigned amid a sexual misconduct investigation, according to records obtained by the News-Journal.
Harrison County had access to Valentine’s Gregg County employment file because Gregg County received an official, legally required form signed by Valentine, Gregg Sheriff Maxey Cerliano said.
The head of a law enforcement agency is required to file that form with The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement when a person licensed by the commission is terminated.
That form, when signed by the former employee, then allows the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to release an employment report to an agency.
Valentine’s signed form was executed Feb. 28, 2013, and was faxed to Harrison County from Gregg County Chief Deputy Chuck Willeford the following day, Cerliano said.
Records indicate Valentine was hired by Harrison County in November of that year.
Brandon Fletcher, chief deputy and spokesman for the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office, said he was unable to confirm much about how Valentine was hired, including whether his agency viewed Valentine’s employment history. Fletcher wasn’t involved in hiring when Valentine arrived in 2013, he said, and the sheriff’s office employee responsible for hiring during that time has passed away.
“I can’t tell you what they did back then. I wasn’t in that position,” Fletcher said. “Now, (employment checks are) pretty extensive.”
Each applicant to the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office must sign a release allowing access to prior work histories “so that we can get any and everything that might raise a flag,” Fletcher said.
“What we do now is extremely thorough, and background checks are the number one deal before we take that next step,” he continued. “We’ll go to multiple agencies if need be to make sure that we’re getting an accurate assessment of that person if we want to hire them.”
Agencies are required by state law to make a written request to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement for a prospective employee’s termination report from another law enforcement agency before he or she is hired. The hiring agency also must conduct a criminal background check, get written consent from the applicant to view his or her employment records and also contact each of the person’s previous law enforcement employers.
When an employee resigns or is terminated from a law enforcement agency while under investigation either for a potential criminal violation or in lieu of disciplinary action, state law requires the head of a law enforcement agency to submit a report to the state commission that explains the circumstances for the resignation or termination. The report becomes an official government document.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement has taken the stance that internal investigations of applicants by their former law enforcement employers should be part of the background check, said Gretchen Grigsby, government relations director for the commission.
“By statute, we don’t get involved in local disciplinary actions, but when a hiring agency does a background check on an application, they are required to contact each of their prior law enforcement employers,” Grigsby said Wednesday, “and that should be part of that background check ... They are required to make all of those records available.
“A background check is something we’ve very much been emphasizing. It’s a very important part of the law enforcement process.”
State lawmakers are considering legislation related to background checks beyond the law enforcement realm.
A bill filed by McKinney Republican Rep. Scott Sanford would allow nonprofit agencies such as churches and charitable organizations to disclose sexual misconduct allegations against former employees and volunteers without being sued, according to the Houston Chronicle.