A convicted murderer accused of assaulting a 6-year-old boy while working as a youth counselor for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services did not undergo a mandatory New York State Justice Center background check before he was hired, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Jacques Edwards, 55, was caught on camera picking up the boy and shoving him headfirst into an open metal filing cabinet at the Nicholas Scoppetta Children’s Center on First Avenue in Kips Bay on Friday, according to a criminal complaint.
The boy was treated for a cut on his head, the complaint said.
Edwards was charged on Monday with assault and endangering the welfare of a child, police said.
Edwards was previously convicted of second-degree murder in 1981 and served 28 years in prison in upstate Otisville between 1982 and 2010, according to Department of Correction records. He has been off of parole since 2016.
A spokeswoman for the NYS Justice Center said they have no record that Edwards was submitted for a background check.
“Justice Center records indicate Jacques Edwards was never submitted for a background check by ACS, as required by law,” NYS Justice Center spokeswoman Christine Buttigieg said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
ACS Commissioner David Hansell said on Tuesday that the agency is investigating the circumstances surrounding how Edwards was hired but added that the city does not have a policy barring the employment of a person with a criminal history.
“This obviously is a very serious crime,” Hansell said at an afternoon news conference. “We have zero tolerance for violence against children.”
Under the NYS Justice Center’s guidelines, ACS is barred from hiring anyone with felony convictions for a sexual offense, child endangerment or a violent crime but only if it occurred within the last 10 years.
While Edwards’ 1981 murder conviction would not have kept him from being hired under those guidelines, ACS should have submitted his name for a background check during the vetting process under a law that went into effect in 2013, the year before he was hired.
ACS directed questions about the background check process to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which confirmed that ACS is required by law to send applicant names to the Justice Center for vetting. DCAS also conducts its own background checks but not in lieu of the Justice Center’s background check, a spokeswoman said.
After assuming the role of commissioner in spring 2017, Hansell said he ordered a thorough review of the agency’s standards and practices, including its hiring process, which was amended later to incorporate an agency-led examination of each candidate in addition to the NYS Justice Center background check.
Hansell contended that Edwards would not have gained employment at ACS under the new hiring protocols.
“Today we have hiring protocols in place that are much stricter,” he said. “Under our current protocols, I do not believe he would have been hired.”
ACS also will conduct “spot checks” on employees who were hired before the newer protocols were put in place to ensure that the vetting that took place meets the agency’s newer standards, the commissioner said.
Edwards has been removed from his position and ACS has initiated disciplinary charges against him. The agency also informed the NYPD of the allegations, which led to Monday’s charges, according to Hansell.