NORTFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — After two months, there is still no sign of David Garcia-Espinal, the janitor and cook accused of hiding cameras inside bathroom stalls at Sunset Ridge School in Northfield.
On Monday night, the Sunset Ridge District 29 school board apologized for lapses that allowed Garcia-Espinal to be hired in the first place, as they released the results of an investigation.
“This is not Mayberry anymore,” said parent Tom Whittaker.
As CBS 2’s Chris Tye reported, Illinois law requires schools like Sunset Ridge to check janitors and cooks even if they work for third-party vendors like Garcia-Espinal did. Sunset Ridge did not do so.
“Our school district administration relied on background checks provided by the vendors that employed Mr. Garcia, and did not initiate or obtain its own fingerprint based criminal background checks for Mr. Garcia,” said District 29 Board of Education President Adelbert Spaan.
Spaan said the law on the subject was not clear, and added, “We are not making excuses.”
Garcia-Espinal had been at Sunset Ridge since 2015, holding two jobs at the school since 2016 through two different companies. He was a cook through OrganicLife, and a custodian through Smith Maintenance Company in the evenings.
He has been wanted on a warrant since mid-January on charges that he secretly recorded both staff and students in bathrooms at the school.
The background checks conducted on Garcia-Espinal by Smith Maintenance and OrganicLife came back clean, even though Garcia-Espinal did have a felony record.
Garcia-Espinal has a criminal background and a long pattern of inappropriate behavior, and accused the two contractors of failing to conduct adequate background checks before hiring him.
CBS 2 has learned over the past several weeks that Garcia-Espinal was caught taking pictures of women while they urinated in a movie theater restroom in 2010. He was caught a second time three months later and was banned from the Northbrook Court mall, but was never charged with a crime in that case.
Court records showed Garcia-Espinal pleaded guilty to identity fraud in Glenview in 2012 and was sentenced to probation, and was also fined for violating his probation in 2013. When he was arrested for the movie theater incident, the officer found three different Social Security cards, three different permanent resident cards and two different resident alien cards.
Glenview Police tell CBS 2 that their records show they charged Garcia-Espinal with a misdemeanor for public indecency. However, that charge was never recommended for prosecution. Prosecutors pursued only the fraud charge to which Garcia-Espinal pleaded guilty.
But since he was never charged in connection with the women’s restroom incidents, his lewd acts never showed up on a background check. That was one more reason why he slipped through the cracks and got hired at a middle school where he is now accused in the bathroom camera incidents.
On Monday night, discipline of an unknown variety was handed down to the administrators that let Garcia-Espinal slip through the cracks. But School District Supt. Edward J. Stange, who was on duty upon Garcia-Espinal’s hiring and still was as of Monday, is keeping his job.
“I offer you my sincerest apology.” Stange said.
The school, bracing for lawsuits, would not answer CBS 2’s questions. But they seem to be hanging on a loophole.
State law requires checks for vendor workers who “have direct, daily contact with pupils of any school.” It appears Sunset Ridge is preparing to make the case that Garcia-Espinal may not have fit that description.
The intra-district investigation of the district’s own work is not the only one. Police also continue to dig.
Meanwhile last Tuesday, 13 teachers filed a lawsuit against Smith Maintenance. The suit said the company “knew or should have known that Garica-Espinal had a particular unfitness for the position of elementary school custodian.”
Parent groups also tell CBS 2 their lawsuits are only a matter of time.