If Arizona had required gun-ownership background checks for security guards, Joshua Kosatschenko might not have received his license. And he might not have begun work as an armed guard at a Tucson Circle K convenience store where, six weeks later, he shot and paralyzed an unarmed teenager.
The incident took place in 2009, after Daniel Tarango, then 18, drove several friends to the store. He waited in the car while they grabbed three bean-and-cheese burritos, a bag of Cheetos and Hot Pockets and fled without paying.
Kosatschenko, who was working with another security guard that night, chased them.
When Tarango tried to drive away, Kosatschenko shot him three times. Kosatschenko told police that Tarango was going to run over the other guard, but the detectives and second guard said he was never in danger.
In a court deposition related to the case, Kosatschenko said the shooting was justified – his job was to “to arrest shoplifters for anything, period.”
Kosatschenko, then 19, had been prohibited from possessing firearms due to a juvenile criminal record that included assault and possession of a deadly weapon on school grounds at age 11 and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon at age 13. Although the crimes occurred when he was a juvenile, his gun prohibition remained in effect.
But state regulators did not check the federal database on prohibited possessors when they licensed Kosatschenko.
“We never thought to ask anybody, ‘Are you a prohibited possessor?’ We figured this kid would know he’s not supposed to have a weapon,” said Kim Karbon-Sines, the former supervisor of the state Department of Public Safety’s Licensing Unit. “We did not know until after that incident.”
A majority of states – 41 – do require armed-guard applicants to go through some kind of FBI background check, but Reveal found the checks in many states are far from thorough, plagued by delays, gaps in criminal records databases and bureaucratic inefficiencies. In several states, even when existing guards were convicted of violent crimes, they kept their licenses for months or even years, allowing them to find work easily as hired guns.
If you buy a gun from a licensed firearms dealer, you have to go through a background check to determine whether you have lost the right to bear arms. But 39 states do not run the same check on armed-guard applicants. The search includes records such as restraining orders, mental health commitments or warrants that do not usually appear in a routine FBI background check.
On average, Wisconsin regulators took a little more than a year to revoke the licenses of armed guards convicted of serious crimes, while Pennsylvania regulators took an average of two and a half years to revoke an armed-guard license after a conviction, from illegally selling firearms to sexual abuse of children.
Illinois regulators took even longer. Reveal examined disciplinary records in the state to find all cases involving guards with firearms. On average, it took regulators more than three years to discipline guards after they had been arrested for or convicted of firearm-related offenses or crimes.
The information gap is slow to close. Following the Tarango shooting, the Arizona Department of Public Safety added a box to the security guard form asking whether the applicant is a prohibited possessor. However, Capt. Steve Enteman, who leads the compliance and information services bureau at the department, said the state still does not check that database.
When state Sen. John Kavanagh tried to change that policy, he hit a wall of bureaucracy. Regulators told Kavanagh that the FBI forbids them from performing the searches. But the FBI told Reveal that criminal justice agencies like the Department of Public Safety may perform the searches for firearm permitting purposes. However, it would require a new law in Arizona for regulators to begin issuing firearm permits to armed guards, instead of issuing them security guard licenses.
Tarango, who now uses a wheelchair, lives with his wife and two children in Tucson. He told Reveal that he makes no excuse for his conduct at the convenience store but still can’t believe he almost was killed over stealing snacks.
“I just want to know that when I’m gone that my kids are going to be safe, that … if they make a bad decision like kids do, that they won’t be punished as severely as I was,” he said.
Charges against Kosatschenko of attempted murder and aggravated assault were dropped, and he was convicted of illegally possessing a firearm. He lost his armed-guard license. He and his employer, Valley Protective Services, declined to be interviewed.
As recently as this year, Kosatschenko still worked at Valley Protective Services, where, according to his LinkedIn account, he is the hiring manager and a corporate trainer.
This story was edited by Robert Salladay and Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath and Nikki Frick.