Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

TOP STORY >> Some crime less serious than others

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor-in-chief

George Biggs, who resigned last week as director of the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department, hardly served any time in prison for killing a man 18 years ago in Texarkana, Texas.

He served less than six months behind bars, which is as startling as his getting hired without a background check.

Biggs had killed a black man for seeing his estranged wife. Until a generation ago, black-on-black crime wasn’t even prosecuted in many parts of the country. Had Biggs shot a white man, would he have gone free after a few months?

Probably not.

Biggs hired a good lawyer who had the charge reduced from murder to manslaughter. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

But he served just one-tenth of his sentence. And you thought in Texas, they throw away the keys after they send you to prison.

You probably thought they didn’t have parole or pardons in Texas. Even in Arkansas, criminals must serve at least a third of their sentence.

Biggs held his job longer with the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department than he served time for manslaughter. People have spent more time in jail for nonpayment of fines than some do for a heinous crime.

Biggs was still on parole when Jacksonville hired him in 1995. Even if city officials had just checked his references — it looks like they didn’t even bother calling the Texarkana-area school district where he’d coached before he went to prison — somebody would have told them it wasn’t a good idea to let someone with his violent past work closely with children.

Biggs became a popular member of the community, rising to director in just a few years.

He joined the Jacksonville Rotary Club and was named president of the Lighthouse Academy charter school, which will open this fall.

Biggs quit as parks director and school president just hours before The Leader revealed that he was a convicted felon and was hired without a background check, which is now mandatory for all city employees.

Biggs could have rebuilt his life and no one would have known about his past — another newspaper even ran a puff piece about him last year, every sentence, we now know, a lie — but his philandering and short temper brought him down.

He’d told one of his girlfriends he had killed a man in Texarkana. Last summer, he posed for a magazine ad in handcuffs, urging employers to do background checks on their workers because you never know what they might be hiding. It’s as if he was begging to be caught.

A few weeks ago, he pushed his girlfriend to the ground in front of the community center, and it was downhill from there. The girlfriend’s mother, a former Benton police officer, did a background check and took the report of Biggs’ arrest to the mayor.

Although he’s been here almost 15 years, Biggs and I never talked. He never returned phone calls or even made eye contact. He avoided me whenever he saw me. I thought that was strange, but I didn’t think that made him a killer.

There are other city officials who don’t make eye contact. At least one hasn’t returned phone calls in more than 20 years — not once.

That doesn’t mean he’s a convicted felon, but still you wonder about someone who’s working on the public’s dime.

Allegiance Health Management, which now runs North Metro Medical Center, hasn’t returned phone calls all year. I guess they don’t think keeping the public informed is part of the job, even though they’re leasing a city-owned facility.

They just never took public relations 101 or know what that is. Biggs was smarter than that, but not smart enough.