Jason Dalton sat with his eyes downcast Monday as the judge read the charges against him: six counts of murder, two counts of assault with intent to commit murder and eight charges of using a firearm during the commission of a felony.
The 45-year-old married father of two admitted to police that he went on a shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Mich., over the weekend, killing six people and wounding two others over four hours. Chillingly, he took breaks to work as an Uber driver, picking up and dropping off passengers in between the bloodshed.
What set off his apparent breakdown remains a mystery. Dalton’s neighbors described him as “nice.” He wasn’t reclusive. He worked as an insurance adjuster. He had no criminal history, according to police, and he picked his victims at random.
In the absence of all the facts, some have blamed Uber, saying the ride-sharing company should never have allowed such a dangerous man to roam the roads as an approved driver. After all, it was only a few weeks ago that Uber settled two class-action lawsuits for $28.5 million that accused the company of exaggerating the safety of its background checks.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has said there are “systemic failures” with the way Uber screens drivers. The heavily regulated taxi and limo companies also want Uber and Lyft to adhere to stricter regulations, including background checks that run fingerprints through an FBI database.
But based on what we know so far, Uber had no reason to turn Dalton down. He passed one of the company’s background checks, which looks for felonies and sex crimes going back seven years.
According to police, his record showed only a few speeding tickets. And some of Uber’s critics have ulterior motives. Taxi and limo companies have seen their profits drop dramatically thanks to competition from ride-sharing companies, which remain largely free of regulations. Just last week, the Senate held a joint oversight hearing at the Capitol on how to “level the playing field” within the industry.
No employment background check is perfect, certainly not to the point that one could predict a psychotic break in a previously law-abiding person. Even with the more rigorous screenings that cab companies do, drivers have assaulted passengers.
But while we’re on the subject of background checks, we can’t help wondering what sort of due diligence was done when Dalton armed himself for these mass murders. According to news accounts, he was the proud and legal owner of several guns.