AUSTIN (KXAN) – The City of Austin has kept a registered sex offender on its payroll, even extending a new warehouse job to him following his second arrest in May on charges of child molestation, and no one has said exactly why.
Ramon Arroyo, an IT support analyst who has been employed with the city since the late '80s, was arrested in 1996 for felony indecency with a child by contact, according to Texas Department of Public Safety records. A year later, he accepted a plea of deferred adjudication and 10 years of probation. He is also required to register as a sex offender, court records show. Through all that, the city kept him employed.
Since Arroyo’s second arrest on a felony sexual offense, he has not been allowed to access the city’s computer network, according to city emails. So, city leaders offered him a new warehouse job separate from the public--but did not elaborate to KXAN on his current job duties. He has kept his same salary and title, and he is allowed to work until his retirement starts at the end of February, according to internal city emails and interviews.
The city’s background check system is meant to stop employees with questionable backgrounds from holding certain positions, but that doesn’t always appear to be working.
When presented with KXAN's investigation, City Council Member Ellen Troxclair said it's critical that the city checks each employee's history to make sure the public is safe.
"As a parent, I think it’s concerning any time you are talking about a sex offender being around children and certainly the city has a responsibility to make sure that people that they’re hiring are well-qualified for the job and are being put in positions that aren’t causing any danger to the public," Troxclair said. "It always makes you wonder: How many other people do we have employed that this might be the case?"
KXAN found nine other instances in which city employees had “unsuccessful” criminal background checks. In four cases, the workers remained employed despite the failed check, according to the city’s background check database. The workers who stayed employed with the city had charges such as misdemeanor DWI and “exceeding authorized access of a protected computer.”
In his most recent arrest, Arroyo, 54, has not been convicted. In his previous felony arrest, he successfully completed his deferred adjudication and 10-year probation in 2007, which means he did not receive a conviction. He did not return requests for comment on his employment with the city.
An attorney for Arroyo said he “has not been convicted of any offense,” regarding his felony arrests.
KXAN asked the city why it has gone to such lengths to keep an employee with such a history employed. City of Austin Chief Information Officer Stephen Elkins said he did not know why, in 1997, the city gave Arroyo “special accommodations” and allowed him to remain employed.
Elkins, who started in his position in 2009, said Arroyo was accompanied by another employee during his IT work visits. Elkins also said Arroyo has had a good work history and there has been no record of an incident during his tenure with the city.
“The City of Austin is a second-chance employer. There was nothing in his work history that would have shown me that he was not performing at the level he was performing at,” Elkins said. “I don't know what happened in 1996 and why special accommodations were made. I've had people on my team who have been convicted and terminated on lesser offenses.”
According to IT work tickets, Arroyo was sent to troubleshoot computer issues at locations including the Barton Springs Pool, Garrison Park, the South Austin Recreation Center and Montopolis Neighborhood Park, among many other locations where children may gather.
Police said the alleged victims in Arroyo’s cases were children and known to him, according to arrest affidavits from 1996 and 2017. According to Arroyo’s probation, he was not allowed to frequent any places where children play, among several other stipulations.
KXAN could not determine if his job assignments were around children during his probation that ended in 2007. The city’s work tickets for Arroyo date back to 2010.
Coni Stogner, vice president of prevention and community services with SAFE Alliance an organization dedicated to ending child abuse, said she’s concerned with the city’s decision.
“While we know that sexual assault most often occurs between two people who know one another, it is still absolutely the case that the public would be at risk if there's someone that has a sex offense in their criminal history," Stogner said. “We would hope that anyone that has been accused of these crimes, an employer would take that seriously and reassign them to jobs that wouldn't be in contact where there would be many youth.”
Stogner said she would like to see better oversight of employees like Arroyo and a system to periodically check exactly what employees with risky backgrounds are doing in their day-to-day duties.
The decision to move him to a warehouse job after his second felony arrest was made by several high ranking city employees, including Assistant City Manager Mark Washington and Elkins, according to city emails.
An HR manager said Arroyo’s previous case and recent charges made “him ineligible to perform his role as an IT Systems Analyst.” “However, due to his work history and tenure with the city, we agreed to provide him with a temporary work assignment in exchange for his agreement to resign effective February 28, 2018, in which he will also be eligible to retire at that time,” said an HR manager in an email dated Oct. 9, 2017.
But the accommodations do not appear to stop there. In order to accommodate him at the warehouse, the city considered spending up to $55,000 to overhaul some of the building’s security systems, emails show. The Austin Police Department has a unit located in the same building. Elkins said the improvements needed to be made anyway, and Arroyo’s transfer just marked an opportunity to take care of them.
Julie Heath, a Dallas employment attorney, said a city has to weigh the options and employee’s work history before a termination. She likened the process to a risk assessment based on whether the employee would have any grounds for a wrongful termination claim. Factors in the assessment would include whether the employee falls in a protected category.
The city also has to consider the cost of litigation and how to minimize the cost to the taxpayers, she said. To protect tax dollars, the city could enter into an agreement, allowing the employee to stay employed through retirement. In exchange, the employee could agree to not sue the city, Heath said.
In addition, she said the city has to be aware of how the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, would regard its use of a criminal background check in an employee’s termination. “The EEOC wants employers to always look at each individual situation, the individual employee and the position that the employee was going to fill, instead of just doing a one size fits all: if you have any criminal convictions you are automatically disqualified."
Aaron Pierce, an expert on sex offenders and member of the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment, says each individual registered sex offender should be evaluated for their competency in a job, and only a fraction of sex offenders ever reoffend.
The purpose of the public sex offender registry is to inform people on the whereabouts of dangerous sex offenders. But, with more than 90,000 people on it, the registry is clogged. The huge numbers of registered sex offenders that are unlikely to reoffend shield the truly dangerous registrants from easy detection, he said.
“It’s really difficult to then say, like in a case like this, should the city or anyone for that matter not hire a sex offender if that person may have contact with kids during the course of their work?” Pierce said. “Well, if you do that what you are doing is throwing everybody into the same basket; all the people that probably never would do anything with those who might, without differentiating.”
Regardless of general sex offender statistics, Arroyo’s position and the city’s response to his arrests did not sit well with Austin mother Hillary Witte.
KXAN spoke with Witte at Garrison Park in South Austin. Arroyo was sent to work at that park office multiple times during his tenure as an IT analyst.
“That really upsets me that the City of Austin didn’t do something the first time around,” said Witte. “And this person is still on the city of Austin payroll…We are helping to pay this person’s retirement and pension and whatever else he’s going to get.”
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