Chief of police may lose new job at airport

Friday, November 8, 2002

The embattled Dexter, Mo., police chief may have resigned that job only to lose another -- this one as a federal screener at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.

Ken Rinehart, indicted in January on a charge that he hindered prosecution of sex crimes committed by one of his officers, submitted his resignation to the Dexter mayor this week and told his local newspaper he was taking a job with the federal government.

A Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that Rinehart was training for a position as a screener at the Cape Girardeau airport, but the indictment likely would keep him from getting the job.

"We're going to talk to him first, determine the situation, pull his application and see if he was forthcoming," said Washington-based spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan. "If the report is true, he will not be a TSA screener."

She said TSA officials were unaware Rinehart was indicted until a reporter told her Thursday, but a question on the initial application is aimed at weeding out people in his situation. Screeners fill out the application to begin 40 hours of classroom training and 60 hours of on-the-job training at an airport. As the training progresses, the TSA runs an extensive background check that Rhatigan said would have caught the indictment.

"It's a long process, and we have 44,000 new employees," she said. "We have to rely on their honesty."

A man who identified himself as Rinehart's father-in-law got on the phone at the former chief's Dexter home, said Rinehart wasn't there, declined comment and took a message. It wasn't returned late Thursday.

'Some concerns'

Airport manager Bruce Loy, who also learned for the first time Thursday that Rinehart was in TSA training and Cape Girardeau bound, said he "had some concerns" about the hiring but hadn't had the opportunity to ask TSA officials about it.

Stoddard County indictments allege Rinehart and police Sgt. Sammy Stone met at a "deserted location" with officer Robert Kennedy and agreed to keep accusations against Kennedy among the three of them. Kennedy later pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory rape and one count of deviant sexual intercourse, which was related to a traffic stop, and was sentenced to probation in September 2001.

After Rinehart was indicted, the Dexter Board of Aldermen moved him out of the police department and gave him a variety of other paid jobs within the city. The case was moved to Dunklin County on a change of venue, and a gag order is in place.

Bond reduction

Court records available on the Internet don't show a date set for Rinehart's trial, but his bond was reduced from $15,000 to $1,500 on Sept. 17.

Rinehart's resignation, accepted by Dexter Mayor Joe Weber, is effective Tuesday.

The TSA was created in November 2001 when President Bush signed legislation aimed at making air travel safer in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The law made baggage handlers and airport security agents federal employees.

There are six temporary, part-time TSA screeners at the Cape Girardeau airport this week. They will be replaced next week by permanent employees being trained in St. Louis, said Clem Spencer, a federal security director with the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA screeners are being put to work at every U.S. airport by Nov. 19 as mandated by the federal government.

Under "frequently asked questions" on the TSA Web site, there's a broad definition of the job screening process. It reads: "Suitability is fitness or eligibility for employment and refers to identifiable character traits and past conduct that are sufficient to determine if an individual is likely or not likely to carry out the duties of a federal job with appropriate efficiency and effectiveness. The focus of suitability adjudication is whether the employment or continued employment of an individual can reasonably be expected to promote the efficiency of federal service."

Staff writer Mike Wells and the Daily American Republic contributed to this report.

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