Diane Dimond: A higher standard
Public servants should be held accountable when they put the public at risk
The law says dangerous or illegal actions have consequences. Countless U.S. citizens enter the justice system every year after authorities determine they physically or emotionally harmed someone, financially cheated another person or exposed people to peril.
So why do government employees so often escape the punishment you or I would face in similar circumstances?
Case in point: In what very nearly looks like a case of federally sponsored child trafficking, the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement puts countless children at risk. Yet, no one has been held accountable. Beginning in fall of 2011, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America began to flood across the Mexican border in search of a better life in America. We were not prepared.
According to both the Associated Press and a bipartisan Senate committee’s findings, overwhelmed ORR caseworkers got sloppy with background checks and placed vulnerable kids — many of whom had traveled thousands of risky miles to get to the U.S. — in “homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay.”
The AP also reported that many children who were released to adults were raped by their sponsors’ associates.
Sounds like a sex-trafficking enterprise to me. And employees of the United States, by willfully foregoing the usual fingerprinting, identification and criminal background checks, plunked these children down on a path to abuse. Even more frightening, when social workers later tried to perform welfare checks they couldn’t find many of the kids who came through the ORR system.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement certainly knows the identity of the offending caseworkers, so have any faced dereliction of duty or child endangerment charges? Not that I can determine. In fact, some of these caseworkers may now be handling the latest surprise wave of immigrant children arriving on our border.
A civilian who placed children in such peril would certainly be arrested.
Another example: In April 2014, government officials in Michigan decided the city of Flint would stop using Detroit’s public water system and use water from the Flint River instead. Within weeks, citizens complained that their tap water smelled and tasted foul. Flint city officials — from Mayor Dayne Walling to Emergency Manager Darnell Earley — pooh-poohed the idea that something might be wrong. State officials working with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Governor Rick Snyder, also did nothing to get to the bottom of the problem. On the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency director for that region, Susan Hedman, recently resigned. Gee, I wonder why?
Now we know that corrosive water from the Flint River caused the city’s aging pipes to leach lead into the water supply. Extremely high levels of lead-laced water flowed into homes for more than a year. It is estimated that as many as 12,000 children have massive amounts of lead poisoning in their blood, doomed to a lifetime of health problems including severe mental and physical impairments. The damage done by lead poisoning cannot be reversed.
So, shouldn’t someone — or multiple government employees — be held criminally liable for this person-made crisis? Without consequences, what’s to stop other government workers from shirking their responsibilities to the public?
If a private person or company CEO poisoned a public water supply, you better believe they would be arrested.
A final example: Over the last few years, 13 employees of the state of Arizona — a probation officer and a dozen prison guards (male and female) — have been charged with sex crimes against people over which they had authority. All were offered misdemeanor plea deals with no jail time, not even the guard who had sexual contact with a minor female inmate. Two former female inmates are now suing the state claiming prison guards raped them and allowed other inmates to do the same.
When a U.S. solider does something wrong, he or she faces a court martial. When a police officer is suspected of an illegal act, he or she faces criminal charges and a trial. When county, state or federal employees put others at risk, where is the will to hold them accountable?
Government employees work for us and should be held to a high standard of performance. They have job security many in the private sector can only dream of, and their pensions are generous and guaranteed. From those who work within the Washington bureaucracy to the smallest municipal office — no government worker should be immune from prosecution.
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