Mistaken Criminal History Almost Prevents Adoption
Mar. 29 - KGO (KGO) -- A San Francisco couple was looking forward to adopting two children from overseas, until a routine criminal background check put their dream in jeopardy. They were shocked: they'd never been in trouble with the law.
Toni and Kenton Hairston always wanted a big family. They adopted Michael from Somoa four years ago. And they're now in the process of adopting three-month-old Maria and five-month-old Ruth -- two babies from Guatemala.
Toni Hairston, Prospective Adoptive Parent: "We looked at international adoption as being a beautiful way to blend our family and build our family."
They thought it would be just as easy as the last time. They filled out the forms and waited for the green light from the standard background checks. San Francisco Police and the FBI cleared them, saying they have no criminal record.
But in January, the Hairstons got a disturbing letter from the State Deptartment of Justice.
Toni Hairston: "What we received in the mail was shocking. Kenton received a letter stating that he in fact has fingerprints that match him to a criminal history record in the state of California."
ABC7's Vic Lee: "Kenton, are you a criminal?"
Kenton Hairston "No."
ABC7's Vic Lee: "Ever been charged with a crime?"
Kenton Hairston: "No -- throughout my life I've never been in any kind of trouble, ever for anything. So this for me, you know is surprising. It angers me."
The only encounter the Hairstons ever had with police was two years ago, when Kenton called 911 after Toni fell and hurt herself. Police detained and questioned him, thinking she may have been a victim of domestic violence. But they found no evidence of that.
Paul Puri, Hairston's attorney: "It stopped right there. It stopped at the point where they take some information from him, they listen to his story and they decide if whether they'll ultimately recommend any charges. They did not. He wasn't fingerprinted and he wasn't booked."
We assumed everything was ok and we've gone now throughout these two years assuming nothing would come of this.
But Puri thinks the incident, found its way into the State Justice Dept's computers through the police report. As for Hairston's fingerprint, the one he gave on the adoption application, also somehow ended up in the state's criminal databank.
Toni Hairston: "The bottom line is without clearance from the Department of Justice, the Guatemalan court will not approve or finalize the adoption."
Attorney Puri was preparing to go to court to get a judge to declare his client factually innocent, which hopefully would satisfy the adoption agency. Two weeks ago, ABC7 asked the state attorney general's office to respond to the couple's plight. Suddenly last week, the Hairstons received a letter. The Justice Department official apologized, saying "an error was made" and that "you have no criminal record."
But this letter never explained how the error occurred. The information that caused it probably still exists. That's because the Justice Department can erase data from its computers. We don't know why because the department never responded to our requests for an interview.
Paul Puri, Hairston's attorney: "This incident, your name and identifying information is tied to an incident that was untrue from the beginning and it stays with you apparently forever."
At least for now, the Hairstons prayers have been answered. With the state clearing their background check, They should be able to realize their dream of adopting Maria and Ruth.
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