WASHINGTON — The contractor that conducted a background check of Aaron Alexis, the man who shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last month, did not seek a copy of a police report that illustrated problematic behavior by the shooter — nor was the company required to do so by the rules covering background checks.
In 2004, Alexis was arrested in Seattle for shooting the tires of a man’s car in what the police report described as a rage “blackout.”
But testifying Thursday before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, acting Office of Personnel Management Director Elaine Kaplan said that while a background check on Alexis had revealed an arrest in Seattle, the contractor had not sought the actual police report, which detailed what happened and might have raised red flags in a background check.
For “secret” level clearances, like the one Alexis had, the process, said Kaplan, was that “there’s an FBI check done, and we get the FBI database, and the FBI reveals arrests, it frequently does not reveal the disposition of cases that are handled at the state or local level.”
“And so the FBI record revealed that Mr. Alexis had been charged and arrested for what was called ‘malicious mischief.’ And under the existing standards, our job, the job of the contractor in this case, was to go out and find out the disposition of the charge, and to find out the nature of the charge,” Kaplan continued.
As to why a police report was not obtained, Kaplan explained, “[T]here are like 1700 different localities, law enforcement jurisdictions. They all have different rules about what they’re going to supply to us, and in this case, we had experience with Seattle: Seattle did not provide police reports, and they had their own good reasons, I’m sure. And what we were referred to by Seattle was the state database, the state of Washington’s, their report records, that revealed that Mr. Alexis was charged with malicious mischief.” Kaplan added that the state of Washington record did not contain the police report.
Kaplan was grilled on the issue by Senators from both sides of the aisle.
“I find it actually incredibly shocking that we wouldn’t pursue a police report in any of these,” said New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a former attorney general, saying that the disposition of a case often reveals no information, while “getting a police report would have flagged a very different set of conduct.”
Still, Kaplan said, the background check would have passed a quality control investigation based on the current laws.
“It was not, in our view, a case of malfeasance on the part of the contractor,” she said. “We believe the contractor did what we were supposed to do.”
The question she said, was whether the regulations governing background checks were tough enough.
“Are the standards up to snuff?” she said. “Should we be required to get police reports, for example? Should we be required to get mental health reports?”