Poor vetting can mean poor hires
Marion City Council members spent 50 minutes April 20 interviewing Gideon Cody, then a captain in the Kansas City Police Department.
The next morning, Mayor David Mayfield offered him a job as police chief.
The Marion County Record did far more to look into Cody’s background — starting in April, months ahead of an Aug. 11 raid of its newsroom, the home of its co-owners, and the home of a city council member — than the city that hired him at a salary of $60,000.
How well — or how poorly —candidates are vetted is a crucial part of a story that’s gone global.
Cody’s hiring — and that of county ambulance director Curt Hasart — are the most recent examples of candidates who were not fully vetted, the salaries of which taxpayers pay.
County commissioners have admitted they didn’t do a background check on Hasart, and on Tuesday, Marion city council member Zach Collett said although he called the Kansas City Police Department about Cody, he didn’t conduct a full background check on him.
No one else from the city did either.
Hasart is under investigation by the state because he denied he was facing pending criminal cases when he applied for a Kansas paramedic license.
He received a temporary license in December 2011.
The Kansas Board of Emergency Medical Services at the time took Hasart’s and other licensees’ word and didn’t do background checks.
Apartment managers, landlords, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, Walmart stores, and more run background checks on prospective employees.
“Anyone who’s doing any hiring is foolish not to do it,” Don Williams of Investigations LLC in Wichita said.
A full-time employee and a part-time employee at his company, which Williams founded in 1996, had performed background checks for years. Williams no longer does that work. He focuses on polygraph tests.
Journalists also do extensive background checks on public officials, including prospective hires.
Interim chief Duane McCarty and part-time officer Chris Mercer both wanted to be Marion’s top cop.
Council members interviewed each of them for 50 minutes as well.
April 21 was Cody’s last day as a captain in Kansas City. A year away from full retirement, he resigned effective that day.
“I’m signing out as we speak,” Cody wrote a Record reporter that day.
He also told the reporter that a friend had told him about the job in Marion.
That friend was Marion County Sheriff Jeff Soyez.
What some city and county leaders may not have known at the time was that Cody was facing demotion. However, the Record informed a city council member that several sources it talked to in April said Cody was about to demoted.
Sources told the Record in April that the pending demotion involved inappropriate comments made to a female sergeant.
A former internal affairs detective also said Cody was transferred and suspended after he ran over the body of a man who had jumped off an interstate in downtown Kansas City. Cody was involved in an unrelated car chase at the time.
Cody had a history of making crass remarks about women and was a bully who destroyed morale, multiple sources said.
On April 21, the Record shared those concerns with Collett. It did so again May 1.
Collett said Tuesday that because the city was without an administrator at the time, he took it upon himself to talk to a human resources employee at the Kansas City Police Department about Cody’s record. In May, he told a Record reporter he had done so two days earlier than he actually had.
Not only did city officials not conduct a full background check on Cody, Collett pushed back when the Record did.
“Why are you still digging into this?” Collett scolded a reporter.
A social media page called “Marion Crime” sent messages to community leaders urging them support Cody’s hire and stated that he had experience with special weapons and tactics and emergency response teams.
Cody told the Record in April that he had not worked with SWAT.
Cody said he was interested in the Marion job because he liked small towns.
“I still think I have something to offer the community,” he wrote the reporter.
He said in an interview that working with the media and transparency were important to him.
After he took over as chief, however, he ended a 60-year practice of providing a weekly police report to the Record.
Soyez’s comments about Cody in April swayed Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel to vote to hire him.
“When Mayfield said he comes highly recommended by Jeff, that was a turning point for me, and that’s why I voted yes,” Herbel said.
Soyez acknowledged Friday that he knew Cody before his appointment as chief.
He denied giving Cody a glowing review but said he had talked to Collett and Mayfield about him.
Soyez said Friday that he had no regrets about any role he may have played in Cody’s hiring.
“I haven’t talked to Cody for several weeks, probably a week and a half,” he said.
County commissioners didn’t do a background check before hiring Hasart.
He was a paramedic for Dickinson County when he Marion County hired him but had faced criminal charges in both Wellington, where he worked before Dickinson County, and in South Dakota, where he worked before moving to Kansas.
Court records from South Dakota indicate Hasart was charged Aug. 16, 2011, with a domestic assault that occurred the month before.
He also was charged Sept. 6, 2011, with obstructing law enforcement and resisting arrest.
He entered a diversion agreement in the domestic assault case, and charges were dismissed the next year. Charges were refiled in July 2012 and dismissed again in March 2013.
He agreed in January 2012 to a plea for obstruction of justice, and a judge sentenced him to pay $420 and serve 15 days in jail.
In Wellington, Hasart was charged with battery and disorderly conduct. He entered into a six-month diversion agreement.
Much like Cody, Hasart, who quit his job there unexpectedly, “was on fragile ground,” Wellington fire chief Tim Hoy previously told the Record.
He faces an October hearing for failing to disclose his criminal background.
How others vet police
This past spring, Undersheriff Larry Starkey shared the sheriff’s office’s hiring process for new law enforcement officers.
The background check for new Marion County sheriff’s deputies is rigorous.
It starts with a candidate completing an application form, Starkey said.
“It has quite a bit of background information on it, including previous jobs, references, criminal history, arrests, and driving infractions,” Starkey said.
Candidates undergo a written psychological test with 400 questions, some repeated but worded differently.
They also take a personality test with 60 to 100 questions.
The sheriff’s office sends the test to a company in Georgia that scores it. A rating determines “if they’re suitable for law enforcement or not,” Starkey said.
Another step is a general knowledge test with math, spelling, and grammar questions.
“We give you a police report and ask you questions about it,” Starkey said.
After a background and reference check, a panel conducts a first interview with a candidate.
The panel typically includes a dispatcher, an employee who works in the jail, and a road deputy.
“Generally the office manager sits in on that too,” Starkey said. “If everything else checks out and they make it past the panel interview, the sheriff and I will do a final interview with them.”
The Record asked Wichita Police Department what steps it takes to vet law enforcement officers — both new and experienced.
Officer Juan Rebolledo, who works in public relations for the department, provided this list of databases and records that the department checks in addition to other tests it requires for new and experienced officers.
It checks these records:
- Triple III (The Interstate Identification Index)
- Kansas Criminal Justice Information System
- Kansas Division of Vehicles
- Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training
- Social media
- Personal and professional references
- Past employer contacts
It also requires these tests:
- Psychological evaluation
- Physical/stress test
- Drug screening
Last modified Sept. 6, 2023