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Zarzaur Law Investigating Third-Party Company for Possible Civil Litigation

from Pensacola News Journal, Feb. 27, 2018

A lawyer acting on behalf of three girls who were molested by their Gulf Breeze substitute teacher is investigating a third-party company for possible civil litigation.

Richard Mack, 67, was recently sentenced to 20 years in state prison — with all but four years suspended — for lewd and lascivious behavior involving the Gulf Breeze Elementary School students while he was teaching in their classroom in October 2016.

Mack had no criminal history, but he had been blocked from teaching at two Escambia County schools immediately prior to starting work in Santa Rosa County. Some of those recommendations were based on claims that Mack inappropriately touched young girls.

When Mack moved to the Santa Rosa County School District, he went through an application process with a company contracted by the district called Professional Educational Services Group. That private company was then two years into a five-year contract with SRCSD whereby it would complete criminal and other background checks on substitute teaching candidates and place them in schools.

Attorney Joe Zarzaur alleges the company failed to do its due diligence in the background checks, as he believes the logical first step in a background check would be to contact a candidate’s former employer to weed out any questionable job history.

“It would be my position that the least you should do is call the most recent employer and get a reference for a substitute teacher that’s going to be around children,” he said. “It sounds like they either didn’t do it, or if they did, they didn’t care.”

Zarzaur said his firm has sent a document to PESG notifying them of the investigation and that legal action may be forthcoming depending on that investigation’s findings.

SRCSD Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Conni Carnley told the News Journal in January that PESG had met all its legal requirements for screening substitutes, and it has been receptive to removing employees the district was concerned about.

She said the company uses a background screening process including a Florida Department of Law Enforcement fingerprint check and an FBI background check. Carnley did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday to clarify whether the district would re-evaluate its contract with PESG in light of potential litigation.

PESG released a statement after Mack’s arrest in early 2017 saying it had followed all background check procedures in hiring Mack, but they did not respond to multiple requests by the News Journal to specify those procedures.
PESG did not respond to a further request for comment and clarification Tuesday.

The News Journal has previously reported that Mack was banned from several Escambia County schools when teachers and other officials received complaints from students in his classes.

J.H. Workman Middle School principal Traci Ursey filed a complaint with the Pensacola Police Department in August 2013 stating that Mack was relieved of his duties and asked to leave campus due to his inappropriate classroom behavior. The police report lists Mack’s behavior as “suspicious,” and states he rubbed three female students on the back and made comments on their appearance.

The case was investigated by the Florida Department of Children and Families but the investigation was dropped after approximately six weeks.

A Ferry Pass Middle School teacher sent an email to the human resources department in 2014 urging Mack to be blocked from the school and the entire district after receiving “by far the worst” feedback she’d heard from her students.

The email said Mack told the children that if a shooter came into the room, he would “hold the door open for them and let them come in.”

Escambia County School District Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said at the time of Mack’s arrest that if the allegations were determined to be unfounded, he had no reason to terminate Mack’s employment. Mack left the district when he allowed his teaching credentials to expire, and he officially notified the district of his removal from the substitute list in September 2015.

A representative from ECSD was not able to recall Tuesday without searching through records if PESG or SRCSD had contacted Escambia County for Mack’s personnel file.

Zarzaur said he has not ruled out potential litigation on SRCSD if it’s determined PESG did notify the district of questionable history in Mack’s prior employment.

“If PESG was being this irresponsible in performing their obligations that taxpayers are subsidizing, I think it’s important for the county, its constituents and frankly the administrators to know they can’t rely on PESG to do these kinds of tests.”

Zarzaur represents the parents of three of the four victims, and said it’s their intent to help ensure this does not happen again.

“It’s unfortunate we have an elementary school teacher that was allowed to prey on young girls despite the fact he had a recorded history,” Zarzaur said.

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