CHICAGO (CBS) -- School custodian David Garcia-Espinal has been on the run for well over a year – accused of secretly recording students and teachers in the bathrooms at a north suburban middle school.
We uncovered a troubling criminal background and pattern of inappropriate behavior on Garcia-Espinal's part. CBS 2's Tara Molina had an update Tuesday on the manhunt.
There is still a felony warrant out for his arrest today, and Northfield police said they continue to work to find justice for his victims.
They are not the only ones still working on the case.
Even though Garcia-Espinal has been off the radar for well over a year now, the fight for his victims continues. It was just in court last Friday.
"We believe he's not in the United States," said attorney Kevin Golden.
The criminal case against him is at a standstill, but the civil case continues. Golden represents some of the teachers Garcia-Espinal is accused of recording in the bathrooms at Sunset Ridge School in Northfield, where he was accused of hiding a cell phone in a garbage can for months.
"It's gut-wrenching," Golden said. "The invasion? Words cannot describe it."
Garcia-Espinal had been at Sunset Ridge since 2015, holding two contract jobs at the school through two different companies. He was a cook through OrganicLife, and a custodian through Smith Maintenance Company in the evenings.
The lawsuit claims both companies failed to check his criminal background and history of inappropriate conduct – and says a background check would have prevented his hiring.
The companies' attorneys didn't respond to our request for a comment.
School officials initially said Garcia-Espinal placed a cellphone camera in a staff bathroom that was also on occasion used by students. But video evidence later showed recordings were made in at least one girls' bathroom in September of last year as well.
Students were recorded on video in both the bathrooms.
"I was shown photos of my daughter sitting on the toilet," one father said.
The background checks conducted on Garcia-Espinal by Smith Maintenance and OrganicLife came back clean, even though Garcia-Espinal did have a felony record. The latest complaint said the contractors should have known about Garcia-Espinal's criminal history.
Garcia-Espinal has a criminal background and a long pattern of inappropriate behavior, and accused the two contractors of failing to conduct adequate background checks before hiring him.
CBS 2 later learned that Garcia-Espinal was caught taking pictures of women while they urinated in a movie theater restroom in 2010. He was caught a second time three months later and was banned from the Northbrook Court mall, but was never charged with a crime in that case.
Court records showed Garcia-Espinal pleaded guilty to identity fraud in Glenview in 2012 and was sentenced to probation, and was also fined for violating his probation in 2013. When he was arrested for the movie theater incident, the officer found three different Social Security cards, three different permanent resident cards and two different resident alien cards.
Glenview Police told CBS 2 last winter that their records show they charged Garcia-Espinal with a misdemeanor for public indecency. However, that charge was never recommended for prosecution. Prosecutors pursued only the fraud charge to which Garcia-Espinal pleaded guilty.
But since he was never charged in connection with the women's restroom incidents, his lewd acts never showed up on a background check. That was one more reason why he slipped through the cracks and got hired at a middle school where he is now accused in the bathroom camera incidents.
"Mr. Garcia had a history," Golden said. "If it was appropriately looked into, per statute in Illinois, he would not have been allowed into that school."
The school, and the district, have made big changes since.
District 29 Supt. Dr. Edward J. Stange denied Molina's interview request, but detailed changes they have made in the past year in an email.
The school district says they now require all private vendor staff, not directly employed by the district, and district employees to have criminal fingerprint-based background checks regularly - with checks against sec offender and violent offender registries with direct supervision required for vendor staff during school hours.
Garcia-Espinal did not have any such supervision.
"We're looking at making sure the system is in place so this can't occur in the future," Golden said.
A spokesperson for Northfield Police said they continue to work with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and federal agencies on the case:
"On January 14, 2020 at 4:00 PM, officers responded to Sunset Ridge School, 525 Sunset Ridge Rd after a report that a staff member discovered a video recording device in a staff bathroom. Officers conducted a thorough search of all School District 29 facilities and found nothing else of a suspicious nature.
"As a result of the ongoing investigation into this incident, a suspect was identified, and a Felony Warrant was issued for his arrest. The suspect was identified as David Garcia-Espinal, 40, of Highwood, Illinois.
"The Northfield Police Department has done and will continue to do everything in its power to find justice for Mr. Garcia-Espinal's victims and is continuing to work with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and Federal Agencies to do so."
The State's Attorney's office did not answer our direct questions, but said in a statement they continue to work to bring Garcia-Espinal back to their jurisdiction to face charges:
"Cook County prosecutors approved an arrest warrant in this ongoing investigation and continue to partner with local and federal law enforcement to locate and bring this individual back to our jurisdiction to face criminal charges. The Cook County State's Attorney's Office is committed to public safety and pursuing the fair administration of justice for everyone in our communities."
This is the full breakdown from Stange, the District 29 superintendent, of the changes in school policies in the wake of the Garcia-Espinal incident.
1. Require all private vendor staff that have consistent presence in our schools to complete a fingerprint-based criminal background check initiated and managed by the District prior to beginning employment.
a. The District purchased our own finger-print equipment, trained our staff staff, and procured approval from Illinois State Police to conduct our own site-based finger-print background checks on ALL district employees and vendor staff.
b. Searches are now completed through the District 29 Human Resources Department (through the FBI and Illinois State Police) and the results are reviewed and signed by the Superintendent and Chief School Business Official.
2. Require all District employees and private vendors that have consistent presence in our schools to update fingerprint-based criminal background checks on a regular basis.
a. Again, we purchased finger-print equipment, trained staff, and procured approval from Illinois State Police to conduct our own site-based finger-print background checks (through the FBI and Illinois State Police).
b. We now annually update searches for all vendors through the District 29 Human Resources Department and the results and reviewed and signed by the Superintendent and Chief School Business Official.
3. Conduct annual searches of the Sex Offender and Violent Offender Against Youth registries for all private vendor staff that have consistent presence in our schools, consistent with the practice utilized for District employees.
a. Annual searches of the Sex Offender and Violent Offender Against Youth Databases are completed for ALL staff and vendors through the District 29 Human Resources Department and the results signed by the Superintendent and Chief School Business Official.
4. Ensure vendors working on-site during school hours to be under the direct supervision of a District administrator or designee.
a. The District implemented a supervision protocol for all vendors working on-site during school hours whereby they are under continuous supervision by a District employee when working on site during school hours.
5. Ensure 2nd-shift custodial staff are limited to working in non-student occupied areas, while students are present during regular school hours.
a. The District created a schedule and supervision protocol for all 2nd shift custodial staff to ensure that they are not working in student occupied areas during school hours unless they are under continuous supervision.
6. Conduct an internal review of practices that allow non-District employees (e.g., vendors, volunteers, visitors) access to District facilities, and recommend actions to eliminate or minimize the safety risks associated their presence.
a. Implemented controls for vendors and visitors including background checks using the "Raptor System" for all visitors and vendors prior to entering a District building, and additional finger-printer checks for vendors, and continuous supervision of non-district employees.
7. Engage an independent expert to review the District's Human Resources and employment practices and make recommendations for improvement to the District 29 School Board.
a. The District collaborated with the Human Resources Staff from the Northern Suburban Special Education District (the educational cooperative serving the 18 member school districts on the north shore) to review all District 29 Human Resource practices and protocols.
b. Established system of on-going mentoring and support for District 29 Human Resources staff to engage our Human Resources staff with the Human Resources staff from all NSSED member districts regarding changes in the law and best practices related to HR.
8. Revise Board of Education policies to reflect above recommendations.
a. The District reviewed and revised all District 29 Board Policies to ensure that our employment and background check procedures EXCEED those required by ISBE and established "best practices."
I hope these actions provide clear evidence that the District took the terrible situation that happened to our learning community last year and improved our system, policies, and procedures for the betterment of all.
-Edward J. Stange, Ph.D
District 29 Superintendent of Schools
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