Courts & Crime

Cop charged with sex assaults had troubled background

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The hiring of police officer Marcus Jackson, who is accused of sexually assaulting five female motorists, has revealed flaws in how the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department screens officer candidates.

Police in charge of evaluating Jackson's background missed several red flags that likely would have disqualified him from joining the force, says Deputy Chief Ken Miller. One flag was a 2005 civil restraining order that alleged Jackson had hit and slapped his girlfriend.

The department failed, in part, because police mistakenly believed the criminal background checks they performed also revealed civil restraining orders from a job candidate's past, Miller says. So police were not taking crucial steps necessary to uncover allegations of domestic violence filed only in civil courts.

Jackson's hire raises questions about how thoroughly the department vets officers and how vigorously it looks for domestic violence - which can reveal anger issues and other personal problems about a candidate.

"It's just something they're not paying attention to," says Mike Sexton, a spokesman for the Mecklenburg County Women's Commission.

Police Chief Rodney Monroe called Jackson's screening "not very efficient work."

Deputy Chief Miller says he believes it's rare for a candidate with Jackson's history to get through the department's screening, which involves interviews, reference checks, a polygraph exam and a variety of physical, academic and psychological tests.

The department, which evaluates on average 120 to 150 candidates a year, also checks credit and looks for civil default judgments and lawsuits that might shed light on a candidate's character.

But there were other problems in the spring of 2008 with Jackson's employment screening:

Jackson told police about a 2003 allegation of domestic violence against him, but recruiters never pulled the complaint, Miller says. It alleges that Jackson, then 19, threatened his 15-year-old girlfriend and tried to hit her with a car. Miller says the screeners should have read and evaluated the complaint.

Screeners failed to contact police at UNC Charlotte, where Jackson had previously lived while attending classes, Miller said. If they had, they might have discovered a 2005 assault charge filed against Jackson. UNCC did not respond last week to a request for a copy of that record. But Miller says recruiters are expected to contact primary police agencies where candidates have previously lived.

"We should have checked," Miller says. "That's why I feel like we came up short."

The department is now exploring how to shore up its screening process, Miller says. One key focus, he says, is finding a way to reliably dig out domestic violence complaints and restraining orders that are recorded only in civil court files.

Every CMPD recruiter and supervisor involved in evaluating Jackson recommended that the department hire him, Miller says.

Jackson, now 26, was offered a place in the police academy in May 2008, a month before Chief Monroe arrived in Charlotte. The two took some classes together, as Monroe sought his N.C. police certification. And Jackson went on patrol in east Charlotte's Eastway Division in May 2009.

Six months later, the allegations began rolling in.

At least five women now say Jackson sexually assaulted them during traffic stops. Among them was a 17-year-old girl who reported that Jackson forced her to perform a sex act, police say. He was arrested and fired on Dec. 30 and is now in jail under a $423,000 bond.

The FBI has joined the investigation and is trying to determine if Jackson should be charged with civil rights violations.

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