ST. CHARLES COUNTY • A woman who was sexually assaulted by a cable repairman is suing her attacker and three companies, claiming the crime could have been prevented if they had done better background checks.
The woman, listed in court papers as Jane Doe, was attacked by James Helderle at her O’Fallon, Mo., apartment in December 2012, two days after he answered a service call there.
Seven months later, Helderle was sentenced to 75 years in prison after a jury convicted him of burglary, forcible sodomy, felonious restraint and armed criminal action. In handing down the sentence, Circuit Judge Nancy Schneider called it “one of the most terrifying accounts I have heard in my career on the bench.”
The woman’s civil suit, filed in St. Charles County, questions the job screening of Charter Communications and two of its subcontractors — Broadband Infrastructure Connection and Communications Unlimited Contracting Services Inc.
According to the woman’s attorneys, Adam Goffstein and Joseph Taylor, all three of the companies had supervision and control of Helderle’s employment. A Charter spokeswoman said Helderle worked for Broadband, but counterclaims by Broadband and CUI dispute which company employed Helderle.
Goffstein said none of the companies checked Helderle’s previous employers or personal references before hiring him, and the limited criminal background check that was performed was inadequate for Helderle, who was 21 at the time.
“You need to call all those references and see who you are putting into people’s bedrooms and house,” he said.
Those sources could have revealed that Helderle had fabricated his job duties with multiple prior employers, Goffstein said.
He said they also might have learned from a personal reference that Helderle allegedly suffered mental and physical abuse from relatives and foster families. The lawsuit claims those episodes made Helderle capable of violence if faced with stressful or confrontational situations, especially if he was not taking his antipsychotic medications.
In addition, none of the companies conducted a Google search of Helderle, the suit alleges. If they had, they would have seen posts on Facebook indicating that Helderle “suffered from extreme anger issues; that he was not afraid to die and even welcomed death; and that he sought physical fights with multiple people.”
Anita Lamont, a spokeswoman for Charter, said in a statement that all employees were required to pass drug and alcohol screening as well as criminal and financial background checks.
“We require the same of contractors like the one who employed this technician,” she said.
The statement called Helderle’s criminal acts “incomprehensible” and offered the victim “our profound sympathy.”
An attorney for CUI said he could not comment on pending litigation. An attorney for Broadband could not be reached for comment.
Several other companies that install TV and Internet services did not respond to requests to discuss their screening process, but AT&T did. According to spokeswoman Katie Nagus, the company does background checks on all new hires and requires that vendors certify they have performed checks on employees who will be doing work on their behalf.
“Our background checks are extensive and include things like criminal checks, sex offender registry checks and confirming employment history,” she said in an email.
Helderle had worked as a technician for about a week at the time he met the woman in December 2012, so he was considered a trainee. He was required to be accompanied by a supervisor in her apartment, the suit claims, but he was not.
According to court documents, Helderle repeatedly asked the woman during the service call whether she had a boyfriend or was dating anyone and what she liked to do for fun. When Helderle returned to the work truck he told his supervisor he thought the woman was “cute” and he “found out her boyfriend was in the Air Force.”
Helderle got the woman’s cellphone number from a company phone, and he used it later to text her asking her to have drinks with him, according to the lawsuit.
When the woman told the story to her boss and said the request made her feel uneasy, the boss called Charter on her behalf, and Helderle was fired.
During the attack later, Helderle told the woman that he knew she was the reason he had lost his job. The company should have warned her, the suit claims.
“They pointed the finger right at her,” Goffstein said. “He had been inside of her home and knew the layout of her place, which was a factor when he broke in.”
That happened the next day, shortly after midnight. He forced in her apartment door and grabbed the woman by the neck and threw her to the ground, telling her she had ruined his life.
He kneeled on her back, first handcuffing her, then hog-tying her in such a way that if she moved, she would strangle herself.
Helderle stuffed a handkerchief and a ball gag into the woman’s mouth and covered her head with a pillowcase to try to keep her quiet during the assault. He also told the woman he would kill her and her family.
The woman had been video-chatting with her boyfriend when Helderle broke in, and he called police after the line went dead and he couldn’t reach her again. Officers interrupted the attack. Helderle tried to escape by jumping off the woman’s balcony, but he was arrested a short time later.
Goffstein said the woman, now 26, continues to recover emotionally from the attack, but her sense of security has been forever compromised. The lawsuit asks for at least $250,000 in damages, but Goffstein said a specific amount had not been set.