School Reviews Background Check Process After Teacher is Shot, Killed by Drug Cartel

A North Carolina school is reviewing and updating its background check process and considering heavier surveillance in response to the shooting.

School Reviews Background Check Process After Teacher is Shot, Killed by Drug Cartel

Union County, N.C. — The Union Academy Charter School in Union, North Carolina, is dealing with the aftermath of a drug-related shooting of a teacher and coach. Connected to a Mexican drug cartel, the shooting took place during a drug raid of a mobile home in Alamance County. Investigators say the teacher, Barney Harris, along with others, went to the mobile home to steal drugs and money, at which time a shootout ensued.

Although no other drug connections have been made to the school, administrators are escalating security measures, including taking a closer review of the school’s background check procedures and the possibility of additional police protection. Head of the school John Marshall explains that Harris, like all newly hired employees, had undergone during his employment review a scan for federal, state and local criminal records. For additional protection, the school also uses a system, “Guardian,” that alerts administration to new employees’ run-ins with the law in the state of North Carolina.

Last fall, the school had been alerted by Guardian when Harris was charged with a misdemeanor for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. The administration addressed this issue with Harris, who was due in court this week.

However, Harris was also facing charges in Oklahoma for the possession, delivery, sale and manufacture of drug paraphernalia in September 2020. When queried about this charge after the shooting, Marshall delivered the following statement to local press:

Union Academy’s first priority is always to protect the children entrusted to us and to create a safe place for our students and staff. That includes a comprehensive process that begins before any employees are hired. Every Union Academy employee candidate undergoes an extensive background check before he or she is hired, which includes a search of federal, state, and local criminal records. In addition, Union Academy has technology that searches a list of our employees against North Carolina law enforcement records daily. If there is a match, we receive an email alert. The process worked, and Union Academy received an alert regarding the misdemeanor concealed weapon citation Barney Harris received in New Hanover County, N.C. in August 2020. School administrators immediately addressed the situation with Mr. Harris and took action they believed was appropriate, based on the information available at the time. Union Academy recently learned that the Oklahoma Highway Patrol cited Mr. Harris for possession of a container that included marijuana residue on Sept. 17, 2020. It is important to note that the alert system we use only searches North Carolina records, and Union Academy was not aware of this charge. We are currently reviewing and updating our background check and response policies and processes to determine whether changes are needed. Union Academy is a close community, and we are devastated by the details surrounding this situation. We continue to focus on supporting our students, families and staff now and in the days ahead. Any questions about the investigation should be directed to the appropriate law enforcement officials.

In addition to tightened security measures and better background checks, the school is providing students and staff with guidance counselors to help deal with the tragedy.

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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