Despite a DUI conviction on Nicholas Slater’s record from about 10 years ago, the city of Kent hired Slater in November for a parks maintenance job that included driving.
Slater, 37, of SeaTac, was charged Wednesday in King County Superior Court for vehicular homicide after he allegedly struck Alan Kern, a 73-year-old Kent man walking across 108th Avenue Southeast on Feb. 23. Slater was driving a city of Kent pickup on his way back to the city maintenance shop on the East Hill after closing gates at a park, according to court documents.
King County prosecutors revealed in charging documents that Slater was convicted for DUI on March 7, 2009, in Pasco Municipal Court.
“Hindsight in an incident like this is always 20/20,” said Kent City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick in an email. “While Slater had a prior DUI, it was 9.5 years old when he applied for the position, and it appeared to be an isolated incident, because he had no other criminal convictions or traffic infractions – not even a speeding ticket.”
Slater had worked about four months with the city. The city hired Slater in November as a temporary, part-time employee assigned to the Parks Department’s maintenance division. The city fired Slater after his arrest for violation of the city’s substance abuse policy. He admitted to Kent Police he had been drinking at a nearby bar prior to the collision.
Fitzpatrick explained how the city’s hiring process works. Washington’s “Fair Chance Act,” which went into effect in 2018, prohibits Washington employers from requiring a prospective employee to disclose criminal record information until the employer determines the employee is “otherwise qualified” for the position. Once a person is deemed otherwise qualified, the employer can perform a criminal background check. That criminal background check can only go back 10 years.
For positions that involve driving, Fitzpatrick said the city also checks an otherwise qualified applicant’s driving record. In this case, the background check by the city revealed that Slater had a DUI offense approximately 9.5 years prior.
Because of Slater’s case, Fitzpatrick said the city will review its process for applicant background checks of those applicants who are otherwise qualified.
Fitzpatrick said any responsibility by the city won’t come into play during criminal proceedings against Slater.
“Mr. Slater’s criminal actions were well outside of the scope of his employment,” Fitzpatrick said about Slater driving a city vehicle. “As a result, the city plays no role in relation to his criminal court proceedings.”
The city’s insurance coverage on the vehicle won’t cover Slater.
“As a general rule, an employer is not liable when an employee commits a crime, because criminal acts are outside the course and scope of employment,” Fitzpatrick said. “If Mr. Slater is sued because of this accident, the city or its insurer will not defend or indemnify him (pay compensation for a loss or damages).”