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Police miss vital insight

The Barnes County Sheriff's Department conducted a state criminal background check on Moe Maurice Gibbs, but did not perform a national check or look into his prior name, Sheriff Randy McClaflin said Friday.

The Barnes County Sheriff's Department conducted a state criminal background check on Moe Maurice Gibbs, but did not perform a national check or look into his prior name, Sheriff Randy McClaflin said Friday.

He said while the department was aware Gibbs had changed his name from Glen Dale Morgan Jr. in August 2005, it did not believe anything would come up under the name.

"If you would have told me you could hide your record by changing your name, I would have called you a liar," McClaflin said.

Gibbs, who had worked at the Barnes County Correctional Facility as a jailer since May, faces a Class AA felony murder charge in the Sept. 13 death of 22-year-old Valley City State University student Mindy Morgenstern.

Gibbs was convicted of attempted pre-meditated murder brought in military court while in the U.S. Navy and served 5½ years of a 10-year sentence for the 1992 charge.

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An initial Feb. 24 check - done through the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation - came back clear on Gibbs, according to a letter signed by Barnes County commissioners and McClaflin.

After Gibbs interviewed for the jailer position March 3, the Sheriff's Department asked the Valley City Dispatch Center "to undertake additional criminal background checks on Gibbs," the letter reads.

McClaflin said he expected a national search to be done and believed one had been done rather than just the local check that was performed.

McClaflin said he did not specify what search he wanted done or what was to be included in the search.

"I just can't blame anybody because I didn't make a request saying, 'You have to check this name, you have to check that name,' " he said. "I just asked for a records check, that's what I asked for."

A national criminal background check on Gibbs would have been conducted free of charge because of the type of position he was applying for, said FBI senior adviser Roy Weise.

Different searches would have revealed different things about Gibbs' past, depending upon what was used for the search.

Most searches use names to link a person to a criminal record, which often return an incomplete background check, he said.

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"Names are a big problem, period," Weise said. "It's a real unreliable identifier."

Weise said the bureau recommends using fingerprints for criminal background checks because a person's criminal record is tied to his or her fingerprints taken when arrested.

The FBI receives about 70,000 search requests a day and has more than 53 million people in its database, said spokesman Steve Fischer.

Depending on the type of search done, the findings are guaranteed to be returned between two and 24 hours, but often take less time, he said.

Name changes often create problems in finding someone's criminal background, especially when fingerprinting isn't done, Weise said.

A person's new name is entered into the system only after they are caught and linked to the old name.

"How can you hide your record underneath a name change?" McClaflin said. "I'd have never guessed that."

He added that his department used the same system for checking out potential employees as does the state prison in Bismarck.

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The North Dakota State Penitentiary did not use fingerprints in the past, but will now do so, said Larry Tice, human resource officer.

Gibbs' employment history with the Valley City Fire Department and as a temporary night security guard at Valley City State University was confirmed by the Sheriff's Department, according to the letter.

The Sheriff's Department was aware Gibbs moved to Valley City in December 2005 and did not receive any "concerns regarding Gibbs' conduct in the community or elsewhere" until his arrest, the letter states.

No relationship between Gibbs' employment as a jailer and Morgenstern has been established, according to the letter.

The county is reviewing its employment procedures and how it obtains information about potential employees.

Barnes County State's Attorney Brad Cruff has said the county is conducting an internal investigation into Gibbs' hiring.

Cruff did not return a call Friday seeking comment on the investigation.

Gibbs is being held in the Cass County Jail without bond.

His original appearance for a preliminary hearing Tuesday in Barnes County District Court has been rescheduled to Oct. 26.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541

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