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New London school employee had revealed felony conviction prior to hire

New London — An elementary school employee charged with inappropriate behavior with an underage student disclosed a federal felony conviction on his job application in 2015, the school district revealed this week.

Corriche Gaskin, 34, a former New London High School basketball star, also submitted references to support his application and was hired as a substitute paraprofessional. He later was appointed as a school climate specialist at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, working with students, staff and families in “peer mediation, behavior supports, and creating opportunities for students to be successful using Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.”

Gaskin was working at Harbor Elementary School this school year but was placed on paid administrative leave in March amid the criminal investigation.

New London police charged Gaskin on April 5 with risk of injury to a minor, a felony that encompasses crimes ranging from impairing the morals of a child to inappropriate sexual contact. The charges stem from an alleged incident on March 1, 2017, when Gaskin was working at the middle school.

Police have not yet disclosed any details of the alleged crime and the arrest warrant affidavit in the case remains sealed by a court order because of the ongoing investigation.

School board member Jason Catala called Gaskin’s hire in 2015 a “huge mistake,” considering Gaskin's conviction in 2011 on a federal charge of possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine.

“I think anyone involved in (Gaskin’s) hiring should be put on leave until there is a full investigation,” Catala said. “I don’t know what the thinking was. When you’re dealing with kids, there is no wiggle room. It makes me think about who he knows in the district.”

"As a parent, as a board member and community member, it disgusts me. It could have been prevented," Catala said.

Manuel Rivera, now president of the Board of Education, was hired as school superintendent in 2015, the year Gaskin was hired. He could not be reached to comment.

The school district has not yet responded to a host of questions and Freedom of Information requests from The Day but issued an unattributed statement on Thursday confirming Gaskin was open about his conviction on his application.

Gaskin was hired “prior to the current administration or related staff in human resources began their work with the district. All information provided comes from a file review,” the statement reads.

The school district maintains a policy to perform criminal background checks.

"We do have a policy and State of CT General Statute language which mandates that we have to fingerprint staff and expresses possible outcomes when an employee or potential employee fails to disclose their past criminal history. However, there is not language in the statute that speaks to when an employee discloses the criminal record prior to the processing of fingerprints and in accordance (with) federal law, NLPS cannot discriminate against an applicant because of his/her criminal history,” the statement reads.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from treating people with criminal records differently because of their race, national origin or sex or using policies or practices that screen individuals based on criminal history information.

"Title VII does not specifically say you are prohibited from refusing to hire someone because of a criminal conviction,” said Sachin S. Pandya, a professor of law at the University of Connecticut. But relying on a criminal conviction for purposes of hiring or firing may sometimes count as illegal discrimination under that law, he said.

For example, if the school district refused to hire a black job applicant based on the applicant’s criminal record but did hire an equally qualified white applicant with roughly the same record, an argument could be made for race discrimination, Pandya said.

If an employer is engaged in a practice, even without discriminatory intent, that has a disparate impact on one group of individuals protected by Title VII, that may violate federal law. Pandya said that one example is always rejecting job applicants with certain criminal convictions when the practice disproportionately impacts African American or Latino applicants.

Gaskin’s conviction stems from his arrest by New London police in October 2008, after he was caught transporting 100 grams of crack cocaine and $1,000 for Charlene “Umi” Thomas of New London. Both faced federal felony charges and the possibility of mandatory prison terms.

In documents related to his guilty plea in the case, Gaskin wrote that he met with Thomas to borrow money and agreed to transport a black bandana containing cash and crack cocaine. Gaskin claimed that Thomas agreed to loan him money in exchange for taking the drugs and cash to her home because she knew she was being followed by authorities.

Despite the amount of crack, Gaskin had no intention of distributing the drugs, attorney Justin T. Smith, who represented Gaskin in the case, wrote in court documents.

“He was unwittingly helping Ms. Thomas evade detection by law enforcement,” Smith wrote.

In a sentencing memorandum, Gaskin’s attorney explains that Gaskin, who previously had worked with the Eastern Community Development Corp. as an assistant to children with disabilities, had applied to be a police officer in New London.

Gaskin also had a valid pistol permit at the time and faced state charges related to the illegal transfer of firearms, according to court records. The charges apparently were dropped after the sentencing in the federal case.

“By all accounts, Mr. Gaskin is a good father to his 3-year-old son and provides for him both emotionally and financially,” Smith wrote. “Mr. Gaskin has also given back to the community by mentoring youths as part of his work with the Greater Hartford Pro-Am Summer Climate and elsewhere...”

Gaskin later was sentenced to six months of home confinement, three years of supervised release and ordered to perform 120 hours of community service.

It appears Gaskin continued his work with youth after his hire by the school district. He was listed online as one of the contacts for a “Tuff and Buff Boys Fitness Club” at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and also involved with an 18-and-over basketball league.

The school district’s fiscal year 2017-18 budget lists Gaskin in an unaffiliated, grant-funded position with a yearly salary of $36,934. More recent budgets do not list the names of school employees.

Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie said the school system, state Department of Children and Families and police responded immediately when issues were raised, and the system continues to work with agencies involved in the investigation.

School board Vice President Jeff Hart said he has the same concerns of other parents and was waiting for more information from district officials.

Gaskin, who lives in Groton and could not be reached to comment, is due to appear April 18 in New London Superior Court.

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