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Diocese Unsure How Ex-Convict Got Coach Job

Education: Oakland Catholic school administrators will probe why man now suspected in rape did not undergo a background check when he was hired.

September 03, 1997|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland said Tuesday that it does not know how someone with numerous felony convictions, a man who is now a suspect in a series of rapes, was hired as a track coach at a girls Catholic high school in the East Bay city.

"It is our policy to do a fingerprint check on every employee who is going to work with students," said Ann Manchester, superintendent of schools for the diocese.

But Laura Held, president of Holy Names High School, said an investigation had been launched to determine why no background check was done on onetime track coach Tony Lawayne Ransom.

Held said the school had experienced no problems with Ransom. "We were very pleased with his demeanor," she said. "He was fulfilling his responsibilities as a coach."

Ransom, 37, was arrested in his San Leandro home Monday night. He is expected to be arraigned today on charges of rape and robbery in connection with an Aug. 20 assault on a Chabot College student.

Background checks by the state Department of Justice may take as long as three months, Manchester said, and sometimes employees in the diocese's 64 schools are hired provisionally, pending completion of the checks. Ransom worked at the school four months earlier this year.

Law enforcement officials said they are examining evidence they believe may link Ransom to at least some of a dozen sexual assaults in the East Bay since July.

The assault on the Chabot student took place during the afternoon in the school's music building. The student was practicing in a soundproof room when she was raped and robbed by a man wearing a black ski mask, police said. Ransom's fingerprints were taken from the room where the attack occurred, according to authorities.

The other attacks occurred in Oakland, San Leandro, Berkeley and Hayward, with the most recent reported on the night of Aug. 25 when a woman walking along the beach near Alameda's Shoreline Drive was attacked by a masked man. Officers chased but were unable to catch her alleged assailant.

"I am confident that this is a major breakthrough in the case," Alameda County Dist. Atty. Thomas Orloff said of Ransom's arrest. "We're still sifting through the evidence to see what, if any, additional charges will be filed."

Manchester said administrators at Holy Names, which is owned and operated by the Sisters of the Holy Names order, were shocked by the arrest and by news reports indicating that Ransom has an extensive criminal record.

He had been convicted of crimes including burglary, possession of a gun and possession of stolen property, Alameda County Deputy Dist. Atty. Nancy O'Malley confirmed Tuesday.

She said Oakland police were bringing in some assault victims Tuesday to see if they could identify Ransom in lineups. Depending on the outcome of those lineups and the ongoing investigation, she said, additional charges could be filed as early as today.

Four months after Ransom completed his parole for his most recent felony conviction, he was hired to coach track at Holy Names.

"He was employed for [the spring] semester this year, from February through May, and they didn't renew his contract for this year," Manchester said. She said she did not know why the contract was not renewed.

In the wake of the arrest, Manchester said, the diocese will review its hiring policies.

"Whenever something like this happens, it always gives us an opportunity to review our processes, to make sure they are working properly and that we don't have a situation where things may fall through the cracks," she said.

Administrators and teachers at Holy Names fielded questions about the arrest from students at an assembly Tuesday morning, Manchester said.

"[School officials] are surprised and very saddened by this information, and they are working with their students to answer any questions that students and parents may have so they feel . . . that the environment is safe," she said.

She described Holy Names, with an enrollment of about 300 girls in grades 9 through 12 as "a treasure," a high school that is "doing a wonderful job training future women leaders."

The state Legislature has been considering reforming hiring practices in the public school system since May, when a suburban Sacramento high school senior was killed, allegedly by a janitor who was a paroled ex-convict. The janitor, a substitute employee, was hired before his background check was completed.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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