COBB COUNTY, GA - A man arrested for child molestation more than a decade ago has been found working at a church-run child care program -- and according to law enforcement, he hasn't done anything wrong by keeping that a secret.
11Alive's Rebecca Lindstrom has also learned he worked as a bus driver for the Cobb County School District from Nov. 19, 2013 to May 25, 2016.
Last Wednesday, Ryan Rubin went to drop off his son at Bethany United Methodist Church.
"I just got a really uneasy feeling about the teacher," Rubin said.
It was the first time he had seen Joseph Farrington. He said he felt uneasy enough to go home and run a background check on the worker -- which showed a child molestation charge from 2000.
11Alive News would have to dig deeper to find out what happened next, because Farrington was sentenced under the state's First Offender program.
According to court records, Farrington was arrested for fondling a teenage family member for nearly two years. The district attorney allowed Farrington to plead guilty to a lesser charge -- sexual battery.
With that lower charge in place, he was sentenced to probation for 12 months, ordered to stay away from the family member he was accused of groping and told to continue attending counseling for sex offenders.
"That's the only sexual offense left on a child where an offender can plead First Offender," Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said.
Reynolds was not the district attorney in Cobb County at the time, and he does not know why the decision was made.
"If I had a child at that daycare, I'd raise hell," he said. "I'd be extremely upset."
While Rubin's background check showed the arrest, the service the church said it used -- Trak 1 -- did not. And the church told parents, Farrington denied having any arrest record on his job application.
In the eyes of the law, Farrington is not lying. Once he completed his sentence under the First Offender program, his arrest for child molestation, his guilty plea for sexual battery -- it all went away. To most of society, it's as if nothing ever happened.
"Everybody makes mistakes, and in most situations, people deserve a second chance," Rubin said. "When it comes to our children, I don't think you deserve a second chance."
The church program is registered with the state, but it's not required to be licensed. That means it's not even required to run a background check.
The Department of Early Care and Learning says a traditional licensed day care program must run a national fingerprint-based background check. They say that check, if run properly, would have caught the conviction and alerted the facility.
Rubin doesn't understand why there would be a difference.
"We really need to make a change to protect our kids," Rubin said.
Even Reynolds says lawmakers should consider making a few changes to protect children. It could remove sexual battery involving a minor from the list of offenses that qualify for First Offender and make background information more easily accessible to all groups, from boy scout troops to day care centers, trying to vet an applicant.
The Cobb County School District, which runs background checks on all employees, including bus drivers, said that Farrington's criminal history check came back clean when he was hired in 2013. He resigned after the 2015-2016 school year, according to John Stafford of the Cobb County School District.
The church does not believe any children were harmed. They say there are always two adults in the room at any point in time.
They sent a formal statement to 11Alive News Monday afternoon:
The safety of our children is and always will be our highest priority. As at many other institutions, we rely on criminal background checks and the truthful completion of employment materials when making hiring decisions. We also require all employees to complete youth protection and ethics training courses. As soon as we were made aware of a past incident, this person resigned. There has been no evidence of any problems in the Parents Morning Out (PMO).
Our policies call for having more than one adult present with children at all times. We have glass windows and dutch doors with the top always open for the protection of children. Again, safety of children in our care is our primary concern.
Still, Rubin had his son checked at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and encourages any parent concerned about child abuse to do the same.
© 2017 WXIA-TV