- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

A security guard at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt who was a fugitive from a child-abuse charge in another state has been arrested on charges of sexually abusing a 17-year-old female student.
Police records show that at the time he was hired by the Prince George's County school system, Marcus Bickham, 28, of Lanham, had an open warrant against him issued in Indianapolis on June 14, 2000. Eleanor Roosevelt High hired him just three months later after a routine background check by the school system failed to uncover information on the open warrant.
"The suspect had an open warrant in Indianapolis for sexual assault on a minor," said Cpl. Tammy Sparkman of the Prince George's police. She said the warrant may not have been served because he could have moved and police may not have been able to locate him.
The Web site of the Marion County Sheriff's Department in Indiana has a picture and a description of Mr. Bickham on its list of wanted persons. The site describes Mr. Bickham as being wanted for child seduction and as being "dangerous."
Mr. Bickham, who was hired by the school system in September 2000, was arrested Friday in connection with the incident at Roosevelt. He is being held in the Prince George's County Corrections Center on a $100,000 bond and is charged with one count of child abuse and two counts of perverted practices, Cpl. Sparkman said.
It is not clear whether there was a single incident or several involving Mr. Bickham and the student, but sources said the abuse was suspected to have occurred both inside and outside Roosevelt High.
Mr. Bickham has been removed from his job, according to Associate Superintendent for Human Services Howard Burnett. He said the Office of Human Resources is conducting a review of the screening process for employees "to see if there is any need for corrective action."
The school system runs a background check on every employee that includes a fingerprint check sent out to the state and the FBI. Employees also are required to sign a disclosure that includes questions about any criminal activity in the past.
Mr. Burnett said he did not know why the background check had failed to detect the open warrant against Mr. Bickham.
Schools Security Chief Russ Tedesco said a background check typically would not show any information on a warrant that had not been served.
"We are not a law-enforcement agency. We don't have the authority to run a records check," he said, adding that officials follow the state-mandated process for background checks on employees.
Roosevelt's principal, Sylvester Conyers, would not say whether the student had returned to school or comment on her condition, but added, "It is obviously difficult for a young person to go through something like this."
He said Roosevelt is still a safe environment for students. "Our biggest concern is for the young people. If we find any impropriety, we will act on it immediately."
Mr. Conyers sent out letters to parents on Monday informing them of the incident and advising them to discuss the situation with their children and remind them to report anything they find improper to an adult.
Parents in the county said the news was very disturbing.
"This is very unsettling," said county PTA Vice President Howard Tutman. He added that parents needed to be sure that their children are safe in schools.
"The background check should be a thorough job. Anyone who comes in contact with students must be thoroughly checked," he said.
Allen Elliott, Parent Teacher Student Association president for Roosevelt, said he would like to see a more thorough screening process for employees. "If the screening had been done appropriately, he wouldn't have been here," he said.
This is not the first time the county has slipped up with employee background checks. In 1999, a teacher in the county was removed after officials learned he had been arrested in a Pennsylvania school district on charges of indecent assault and corrupting the morals of a 12-year-old student.
Joseph R. Doherty, 38, a teacher at John Eager Howard Elementary in Capitol Heights, was removed after system officials learned of his past from a Pittsburgh reporter. He was hired by the county just over a year after he resigned as a sixth-grade teacher at an elementary school in Allegheny County, Pa., after the assault charges.

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