Carnivals and fairs have recently been a hot topic up for public debate after several incidents this year involving assault, sexual harassment, and drug abuse happened all over the nation. With no government oversight, state laws, or local regulations, it’s important to understand how each employee is vetted and hired so we can all feel safe and have peace of mind at our next carnival.
What it essentially comes down to, is that the hiring and vetting processes are solely determined by each company for each carnival, festival, and fair. This includes determining whether or not a company wants to perform a background check at all on a candidate, and even when deciding which past criminal offenses they will or will not accept when looking at an applicant’s record. Sometimes, this means applicants with criminal history can slip through the cracks…
For example, employee Jeffrey Thomas Pendzimas of the Minnesota State Fair, was charged with sexual assault on a woman in front of her children at the fair in August. Upon further investigation, police found that Pendzimas also possessed several other convictions, including four felony counts of indecent exposures, one felony interference with the privacy of a minor, and three gross misdemeanors of indecent exposures. Yet somehow, he still passed the Minnesota State Fair’s vetting process.
Timothy Peterson, hired by Funtastic Rides Inc. at the Clay County Fair in Alabama, is a similar case. He was accused of sexually assaulting a woman while working at the fair. After digging into his Alabama court records a little more, it was discovered Peterson spent time in prison for theft and drug-related charges. Even worse, he was actually on probation at the time he was hired to operate carnival rides.
Still, many carnival and fair companies claim to have a thorough background screening process they make mandatory; however, it is best to remain cautious and alert and fairs and carnivals until there is a clear, standard protocol for all to follow.
So, what about future legislation? Some, like Arnold Amusements, Inc., are of the opinion that if background checks are going to be required, then they must be required for all industries, not just the carnival industry. But local and state officials nationwide have different points of view. A Washington State Representative is pushing for statewide background check legislation after a 2014 incident involving carnival worker Bryan McCann. Currently, Illinois and Massachusetts are the only states that require sweeping background checks.
Do you think more should be done? Share your thoughts with us!