Sunday morning, Shannon Diamond, the assistant director at the Flagler County Youth Center, was arrested for the second time in 13 months for drunkenly behavior: he was charged with disorderly intoxication, theft and resisting arrest following an ugly incident at McCharacters, the Palm Coast bar at St. Joe’s Plaza. In March 2012, he’d been charged with DUI, found guilty, and served six months’ probation.
He was given another chance last year by the school district, which runs the youth center on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School, under the direction of Cheryl Massaro and whoever is the principal at the high school (three have supervised Diamond: Nancy Willis, Jacob Oliva and Lynette Shott.)
But it wasn’t a second chance that the district was giving Diamond last year. Had the district properly conducted a criminal background check, had it verified Diamond’s own statements about his criminal background on his application, had it noticed that he had lied and left vast portions of that record unspoken, and had it taken not of its own documentation of two elementary school principals raising issues with Diamond as a substitute teacher, before his employment at the youth center—including, in one case, Diamond telling a 5th grader to “get out of my face”—Diamond’s history with the district might not have stretched as long.
That Diamond remained with the district despite a record, both internal and external, that the district could easily verify, raises questions about the thoroughness of the district’s background-check system. Diamond is currently on paid leave pending a review of his status by the district, which entails due process proceedings that apply to any employee facing disciplinary or criminal issues. A review of his employee and criminal record produced the following history.
Cursory Background Check
In late summer in 2006, Diamond, now 32, applied to be a substitute teacher in the district.
When an employee or contractor is hired to work with the Flagler County school district, the individual must be fingerprinted and pass a criminal background check. Diamond paid the required $61 to process the documentation and was fingerprinted on Aug. 2, 2006. On Aug. 10, the district indicated that “results have been received,” but even though the results are a public record, those results are not in Diamond’s file. Diamond was “cleared to work,” a document states, with a mere “x” next to the clearance.
The document is accompanied by a one-sheet check-list of “steps completed” during the background check. Six steps are listed. There is a checkmark only next to the first one: “Reviewed and evaluated the nature, recency and number of arrest(s)/conviction (s) in relation to the duties that are to be performed by the employee.”
The document was signed by Harriett Holiday, the district’s director of human resources.
By the absence of checkmarks next to the next five verification criteria, the document shows that there was no consideration of “the applicant’s truthfulness in admitting previous arrests/convictions.” No references of prior employment history were obtained or reviewed. No court documents evaluating the arrest records “and any document reflecting action of the court” were obtained or reviewed. No “verbal explanation and/or written explanation from employee of the events of the arrest(s) [or] conviction(s)” were obtained or reviewed.
There was only one other checkmark on the sheet, next to the line: “The aforementioned employee can begin employment with the system.”
Mischaracterizing a Criminal History
Yet in his application, Diamond had himself circled “yes” six times to questions pertaining to his arrests and convictions on criminal offenses. But he also lied.
The application requires the applicant to explain every “yes” answered on the sheet—not just convictions, but charges, too: where arrested, date, nature of the charges, level of the charges, and final disposition. Diamond listed only a 1999 arrest on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, stating “adjudication withheld” on final disposition.
It was a gross understatement.
In all, Diamond’s Marion County record shows seven cases with misdemeanor charges, and one with a felony, between 1999 and 2005. Diamond did not note a 1999 case reflecting his arrest on two charges of retail petit theft, with a guilty verdict on one of the charges and adjudication withheld on the other, and a sentence of 28 days in jail. It does not list DUI and reckless driving charges in 2002 that led to an acquittal on both charges. (That he was acquitted did not dispense him of noting on his employment application that he had been charged.) He does not list a battery charge in 2002 that was eventually dropped, or a failure to appear charge (even though he circled “No” when asked if he had ever failed to appear for a court proceeding).
He did not list an aggravated battery felony charge, which was also eventually dropped. He did not list a resisting an officer charge in 2000, for which he was also found guilty (a first degree misdemeanor) in 2000. And he does not list a marijuana possession charge in 2000, for which adjudication was withheld, and over which he spent 26 days in jail. He was found guilty of disorderly conduct in 2001, and had a suspended sentence of two months in jail for disorderly conduct on an April 2001 charge.
Diamond, in his application, only explained the one disorderly conduct issue: “I was 19 years old and it happened before I went to college in 2001. I was young and made a bad decision. I went on to play 4 years of basketball and improve myself.”
On Sept. 5, 2006, Holiday signed a recommendation for Diamond to be a substitute teacher.
Students in the Flagler County school district, of course, are routinely expelled for behavior less serious.
A Problematic Substitute Teacher
The document showed that the district had contacted only one reference on Diamond’s behalf, and none that Diamond had worked for. The reference the district contacted was Hugh Lewis, who was listed as having been a principal at the school for the blind and deaf in St. Augustine. But Lewis had never supervised him. Diamond listed three other references that had supervised him. The district did not contact them.
Holiday’s recommendation for employment includes a comment section that should reflect the substance of the discussion between district staff and the person making a recommendation on a prospective employee’s behalf. Only one word appears in the comment section after the discussion with Lewis: “Recommend!”
Diamond listed three other references, each of whom had supervised him—at Flagler College, at a furniture store and at Sears (the latter two where he’d worked briefly, in summer jobs), with their phone numbers. None were contacted.
On Dec. 21, 2006, Cathy Shopovick, the executive secretary at Bunnell Elementary school, sent an email marked “importance: high” to district personnel that read: “Shannon Diamond subbed for us Mon-Wed. this week. We would like him to not be called in the future to sub here!” The email was added to Diamond’s file.
Five months later, after Diamond subbed at Rymfire Elementary, that school’s principal, Paula St. Francis, sent the following email about Diamond to Harriett Holiday, the district’s human resources director: “We have a sub, Mr. Diamond, in our school who according to my staff has been on his cell all day long, has been watching sports?, playing computer games, sitting with his feet on the desk, wearing shorts to teach 5th grade, and told a very responsible student yesterday to ‘get out of my face.’ We also had 1 parent call and refuse to send their child to school today because of him. Please do not send him to RES anymore.”
State Denies Certification
In May 2008, Diamond was seeking a temporary certification from the Department of Education. The Flagler district’s human resources department forwarded the request to the state, asking if state officials needed any additional information to process the application. “This file has been referred to Professional Practice Services (PPS) due to having a criminal background,” the state’s Bureau of Educator Certification staff replied on May 13 that year. “We are waiting for clearance to proceed with this file.”
The state, apparently more thorough with its background checks than the district, had requested further documentation from Diamond. “To date,” the state wrote Diamond in September, “the Office of Professional Practices Services has not received the requested information; therefore, this office is closing your file. Your statement of eligibility and pending application for a Florida Educator Certificate are invalid.”
Youth Center Assistant Director
By then, Diamond had been hired as the assistant director at the youth center. Center director Cheryl Massaro had recommended his appointment in a July 2007 memo. For Diamond’s background, Massaro was relying on Diamond’s existing paperwork, application and background check, in his employee file: “Shannon currently has a complete job application on file with the district, including finger prints,” Massaro wrote. Of course, the file was anything but complete, though Massaro had no way of knowing that—and when interviewed this week, was not aware of Diamond’s prior record of arrests in Marion County.
Several performance evaluations signed by Massaro and Nancy Willis, who was the principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School and also Diamond’s supervisor until, 2010, gave Diamond above-average—but not exceptional—reviews.
Under the question, “What are your beliefs about the importance of education?” Diamond wrote: “I want to support and challenge students to acuire (sic.) knowledge, exercise good citizenship, and adhere to high ethical standards.”