Rantz: State knowingly hired, promoted felon now accused of stealing from patients
Western State Hospital knowingly hired and promoted a prolific offender. It didn’t end well for the patients in his care, nor Washington taxpayers. He’s now accused of stealing money from mental patients. But he maintained his job thanks to the state’s “equity” agenda that pretends felons are worthy of endless chances.
Mark James was hired as an Institution Counselor on April 24, 2017. The date is notable because he was booked into the Pierce County Jail on a fugitive warrant from Oregon just 13 days earlier. The Tacoma News Tribune (TNT), which first reported the story, notes the hire happened six days after he was booked on charges of dealing heroin and other drug-related offenses in Oregon.
Washington state hiring officials knew James had at least 22 felony convictions for drug possession, identity theft, forgery, and theft since the 1990s. He said he underwent several background checks. Washington state hired him anyway.
Mark James earned convictions while employed
While employed with the state, TNT reports James earned five more felony drug convictions.
Oregon police said James was dealing heroin and had 19 grams of heroin, a gram of cocaine, and a scale and packaging material when arrested. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 36 months of probation.
His supervisor at the time, Allison Bayba, and coworkers at Western State Hospital didn’t seem to mind. In 2018, they wrote to the judge on his behalf. Bayba called him an “exemplary employee.”
Despite his conviction, Western State Hospital continued to offer James important responsibilities.
James was tasked with managing highly vulnerable patients, giving him access to some of their finances. He was even promoted, earning a salary of $118,000 in 2020, according to documents reviewed by TNT.
Accusations of theft
As James was earning a six-figure salary courtesy of Washington taxpayers, officials allege he was stealing from his patients.
When patients are admitted to the hospital, they may access personal accounts stored in a petty cash drawer. James had access to them. Over nine months, the state alleges James dipped into the petty cash drawer 117 times, stealing over $5,000. He allegedly took under $50 each time, which is under the threshold that requires supervisory approval.
Police records obtained by TNT note Western State Hospital did not follow internal procedures around the account withdrawals. They required receipts and signatures from staffers, but that did not occur. Some of the patients James allegedly stole from weren’t even in his care.
No consequences yet
The state confronted James with the allegations and transferred him to a job in the hospital kitchen while an investigation was underway. Seven months later, James chose to resign, according to TNT.
State investigators forwarded their report to the Lakewood Police, which recommended felony charges.
But James escaped any consequences for the alleged crimes after the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office declined to charge him. The victims were reluctant or “incoherent,” so prosecutors were not confident they could prove the crime in court. Making the case more difficult, Western State’s procedures were so lax, the lack of record-keeping made the case nearly impossible to prosecute.
In an interview with TNT, James neither confirmed nor denied the theft allegations. He now works in Oregon in the same industry.
This is the equity movement at work
Though left-wing activists and the state government accelerated the “equity” movement in 2020, it was alive and well in 2017. It just didn’t get the same media coverage.
Washington Democrats passed legislation to “ban the box,” which severely limits the use of criminal background checks to screen applicants. There’s also been an effort to prevent landlords from keeping dangerous criminals off their properties.
Activists have long viewed criminals as victims of a racist criminal justice system. They’ve spent decades pushing legislation giving criminals a pass for their lawlessness. It explains why someone like James didn’t just get the job in the first place but had defenders enabling him.
While Western State Hospital officials admit James should not have been hired, this exact issue will undoubtedly come up again. But it may look a bit different.
The current equity movement is so extreme that it seeks to give criminals a total pass. Many suspects won’t ever see a judge. Instead, they’re being pushed into ineffective restorative justice programs that allow them to continue their criminal behavior.
So it’s probable that an identity thief or drug dealer doesn’t ever earn a conviction before getting a job, which makes it easy for them to continue to create victims. The only thing equitable about the movement is that every Washingtonian will have an equal opportunity to become victimized.
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