- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (AP) — The federal government flew Brian Murph and more than 100 other victims of Hurricane Katrina to Rhode Island, where they were greeted by the governor and cheered by residents.

Then the handcuffs were placed on Mr. Murph.

State police did criminal background checks on every evacuee and found that more than half had a criminal-arrest records — a third for felonies. Mr. Murph was the only one with an outstanding arrest warrant, for larceny and other crimes.

Across the nation, state and local authorities are checking evacuees’ pasts as they are welcomed into homes, schools, houses of worship and housing projects. In some states, half the evacuees have police rap sheets.

“It’s a balancing act,” said Kyle Smith, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. “We don’t want to treat them like criminals after they have been traumatized, but we want to make sure they are in no danger nor the families they are housed with.”

The American Civil Liberties Union calls the checks thinly veiled race and class discrimination against people who have suffered already. The checks are made on those who were evacuated or forced to seek help from charities or others — in other words, people who are often black and poor.

“I think it’s happening partly because who these people are and where they came from,” said Steve Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU. “The mere fact that people have past criminal records in and of itself doesn’t say anything about harm to the community.”

Some state and local governments screened just those people evacuated by the federal government. Others screened anyone placed in private homes — and screened the hosts.

In South Carolina, state police checked every evacuee flown there by the government. Of 547 persons checked, 301 had criminal records, said Robert Stewart, state law-enforcement division chief.

While most had been law-abiding for years or had committed minor offenses, the group included those convicted of rape or aggravated assault. Two had warrants but were not held because the states weren’t interested in extraditing them.

“This was all done for everyone’s protection,” Mr. Stewart said. “If you’re going to be sheltering people, it would be prudent for people taking them in to know what criminal pasts they might have.”

In Texas, with more than 300,000 refugees, local officials have run 20,000 criminal background checks on evacuees, as well as on the relief workers helping them and the people who have opened up their homes. Most of the checks have come up with little for police to be concerned about.

In Middletown, a community just north of Newport, several evacuees shrugged at the prospect of background checks and said they understood the state’s desire to learn more about them.

“I would like to know if there’s any skeletons in the closet with my neighbors or the community,” said one evacuee, 38-year-old Carmen Williams.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide