DUI charge on Public Safety officer stirs local concern

Kirstin Cook, Editor-in-Chief

A Wilkes Public Safety officer was recently at the center of controversy over a DUI charge on her record.

Brittany Stasik was denied a position as a part-time police officer in Forty Fort. At a meeting earlier this month, Forty Fort Borough Council announced it was discontinuing the search for a new part-time officer. Council member Robert Craig said they determined there was no longer a staffing need for a new hire due to personnel returning from sick leave.

Forty Fort Mayor Boyd Hoats confirmed to The Times Leader that Stasik was one of six candidates interviewed and consequently turned down for the position.

The announcement that council would not hire a new officer came after a public statement criticizing council for considering a candidate with a drunken-driving record. Borough resident Rob Swaback spoke at the meeting on his concerns with Stasik’s background.

Stasik was charged with driving under the influence on Feb. 11, 2012. On that date, Stasik struck two parked vehicles on Wright Avenue in Kingston, according to an arrest affidavit. A blood alcohol test showed her alcohol level at 0.134 percent. According to Pennsylvania law, the level for an adult driver should not exceed .08 percent.

Stasik was sentenced to six months of Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program in May. After successful completion of this program, a person may petition to remove a charge from their record. Stasik’s charge has not been cleared from her record, according to records from the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County.

Swaback said this charge is a conflict for someone in law enforcement.

Stasik is still a Wilkes employee under the Public Safety staff listing. Officials at Public Safety, Human Resources and Student Affairs declined to comment on this individual employee, citing personnel policy.

“I can’t talk about individuals,” Joseph Housenick, director of Human Resources said.

Housenick explained that all job applicants at Wilkes go through an extensive background check when they are hired. For public safety officers, this process includes a criminal records search, which looks at felony and misdemeanor records in every county where the applicant lived for seven years or more.

Jerry Rebo, Public Safety manager, said the background check is important because of the nature of a public safety officer’s work.

“They’re law enforcement,” Rebo said. “They’re responsible for the safety of the campus, property and people. I think it’s a good idea.”

He said this check eliminates candidates that would not be fit for the job. He described a “clean record” as being a qualification he looks for in potential officers.

“They don’t have any criminal background, (that’s) the type of person we don’t want to hire,” Rebo said. “They have to be cleared.”

However, once individuals are hired at Wilkes, there are no continuing evaluations of employee backgrounds. Housenick said he depends on supervisors to report any criminal charges that may come up during their time of employment.

“To some extent I have to rely on the supervisors,” Housenick said. “I scrutinize the newspaper quite a bit.”

He also said there is a code of ethics that is updated frequently and must be signed by employees every year, along with conduct rules that specifically address criminal convictions and the unaffected ability to fulfill job duties.

The Colonel Community newsletter identified Stasik as a new employee to the Public Safety department in October 2010, meaning her DUI charge occurred after she was hired as a staff member. Housenick was unable to comment on whether the university was made aware of this charge.

Though annual background checks are not implemented, there are yearly assessments of Public Safety officers. Rebo said this evaluation, which is an extensive report completed with Human Resources that includes feedback from campus members and other officers, aims to ensure officers are fulfilling their jobs.

“If they’re up to snuff, they’re doing their job, they’re not getting any complaints against them, they’re checking everything they’re supposed to check, they know everything they’re supposed to know,” Rebo said.

The primary application process is also designed to determine the candidate’s effectiveness in the job position. Housenick said he takes this evaluation “very seriously.”

“I have to say from my seat, I’m very conservative about who we hire and who we don’t,” Housenick said.

He said if a criminal charge does come up for a current employee, he meets with the specific employee to find out the details.

Housenick said if students hear of a criminal charge or something that might be considered a conflict to an employee’s job, they are encouraged to contact him and discuss their concerns. He said it make sense that students might be worried about a possible conflict in a staff member’s background.

“I can certainly understand why some people would look twice at the situation,” Housesick said.