JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Robert Slater's webcam caught a maintenance worker in his Jacksonville apartment rummaging through his drawers. Slater gave permission for the worker, Gerald Bacon, to be in his apartment to fix a leak, so he never expected Bacon to be going room to room, riffling through his stuff.
Slater showed the video to police who he say then showed the landlord at the apartment community where Slater lives on Hodges Boulevard. Bacon was fired and evicted. But, the state attorney's office dropped charges against the repairman.
"While it is very creepy and very unusual that this man would go rummaging through drawers, we cannot prove a criminal intent to steal or do damage to the homeowner's items," explained State Attorney Angela Corey.
Corey (pictured, right) says that if something had been stolen or damaged, then Bacon could have been prosecuted. But going through Slater's stuff is not illegal because Bacon had permission to be in the apartment –- because he was there to fix a leak.
Corey added, "We would love it if the law said that if you have limited access to someone else's premises and you are found doing anything else, that we could prosecute, but the law isn't set up that way. "
Slater says his apartment community told him it had done a background check on its maintenance worker. We checked, too. Bacon had a few traffic offenses, but nothing that could have predicted behavior like rummaging through Slater's drawers and personal items.
But we were stunned by what we learned about other maintenance workers. A Gainesville man was arrested two months ago accused of raping a woman after he was sent to her Alachua County apartment to fix her blinds.
We don't know if a background check was done on Vernon Bernard Moss, but he had several prior arrests for violent behavior.
In 1993, Moss was arrested for spousal abuse. In 1994 he was arrested for battery. In 1995, he was arrested for domestic violence. He was sent to prison in 2005 for aggravated assault and felony battery.
Police say the rape victim's three-year-old child was at home when Moss attacked her.
In another case, John Middleton is currently serving a life sentence for the 2007 murder of an elderly woman who lived in Woodlake Park Apartments in Mandarin. Middleton worked at the apartments as a maintenance worker.
Middleton (pictured, right) had a prior arrest for domestic battery. He also had a drug charge, but that was dropped. Middleton pleaded guilty to the murder telling police he killed the 80-year-old Mandarin woman to steal her money to buy drugs.
Keep in mind, apartment complexes should do their own background checks on anyone who works there to protect themselves against liability, especially maintenance workers who have regular access to master keys. The family of the elderly woman who was murdered in Mandarin in 2007, sued Woodlake Park Apartments for negligence.
When we investigated her death, State Rep. Dick Kravitz, told us, "Anytime someone has access to someone's home, there should be some sort of requirement for background checks. Because you brought this issue to my attention, I will try to make that change in the next legislative session."
I talked with Kravitz, who says he tried to make background checks mandatory during the 2008 legislative session, but says he couldn't get much support, citing lobbyists for apartment communities. There is no state law that requires it.
You should always ask your landlord if a background check has been done on workers who have access to master keys and your home. And take it one step further, you can find out a lot about someone by just Googling his or her name. That's never a bad idea when it comes to you and your family's safety.
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