“Fear and intimidation…

“Fear and intimidation may slowly rob the sense of self we each need to be productive and to thrive.” Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

The impact of bullying can not be measured in a single blog.  People carry the scars of bullying with them long into adulthood.  There must be a place in society for all children and families.  The price of becoming marginalized – shunted out of a social milieu – becomes like an encapulated tumor for human development.  It robs the organism of its vitality until death occurs.

“In the end…

“In the end, there is a subset of human beings who behave as they alone choose to behave, without regard for the feelings of others and without regard for the harm they do and the chaos they leave behind.” Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

Writing on topics of human behavior like domestic violence and recent mass shootings.  MIchael Sefton makes an effort to present a view of human behavior some people avoid.

Active shooter evoke images of horror – fear

DC shooting scene taken off news channel

Right now in Washington DC, Metropolitan police officers are searching for the motive to today’s shooting onslaught that took place at a heavily guarded Naval facility in the southeast section of the nation’s capitol.  Arguably, Washington DC has the highest per capita number of law enforcement officers in the country.  Between federal law enforcement agencies like ATF, FBI, National Park police, Capitol police, and the full complement of highly trained Metropolitan officers, the city is well guarded.  Or so we thought.

The active shooter call is one that no officer ever wants to get.  It requires fast action, teamwork, and herculean bravery like no other call.   The “active shooter” refers to just that – ongoing, systematic slaughter of innocent civilians with the specific purpose of violence and murder.  These events start and end quickly averaging only 7-10 minutes before the shooter is dead.  Usually killed by his own hand but not before the execution or injury to scores of men, women and children.   Most police officers have taken the active shooter training programs that evolved after the Columbine HS shooting.  Since then, officers are trained to “move to contact” – go find the bad guy – do not to wait for special weapons teams as the former response zeitgeist once required.  Many behavioral scientists believe shooters give off clues before they act on their violent plans.

The active shooter has become an all too frequent happenstance that we cannot ignore.  In a blog published in April, 2013 information became apparent about Jared Loughner’s change in mental status and growing detachment from others (Sefton, 4-24-13).  People suspected that Loughner was becoming a danger to himself and others.  Unfortunately, there was no in-depth assessment of his mental status before he went on the bloody rampage.  Loughner plead guilty to the Tuscon shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and killing or wounding 18 others.  He is serving 111 years in prison.


The repeated exposure to horrific events  such as the DC Navy base shooting and too many others raise the risk of making toxic our collective conscience toward the images and horror and loss of life.  People feel denuded and afraid when they hear about shooting events such as these but something more needs to be done.  What drives these individuals?  In the coming weeks or months more information about the apparent shooter will become known.  Behavioral experts will make assumptions about his motive and the underpinnings of the violent onslaught.  “The psychological autopsy is a detailed analysis of the pre-incident emotional comportment and behavior of the violent decedent although this is rarely done” according to Michael Sefton.   More of these studies should be undertaken to establish high risk conditions that may create stopping and containment points for derailment of action and greater understanding of those with a proclivity toward terminal violence – such as what happened today.

What is certain is the need for each of us to be more aware of our surroundings and to those who might do us harm.  When confronted with evil it is incumbant upon each of us to think and take aggressive action that may save your own life and the lives of others.

“Falling in with the wrong crowd”

Children need consistent, firm limits with allowance for individual choices that are unique to them, according to author Michael Sefton

In recent weeks there have been a host of noteworthy arrests of juveniles who committed crimes out of bordom including the beating of a 88 year old veteran who was murdered.  How can this happen?  In past generations, when teenage children were bored they play baseball, listened to music, or rode thier bikes.  Some believe adolescents are not equipped to deal with bordom and cannot tolerate having nothing to do.   Some say this is linked to a need for “instant gratification” and hunger for stimulation triggered by computer video games.  That is the subject of on-going debate.  People ask “where are the parents of these children?”

In Spokane, WA police have charged two 16-year old boys with first degree murder for the killing of Delbert Belton, a WW-II veteran.  People have said “there is nothing to do around here in the summer” according to an NBC News report.  The Spokane police chief has called for youth programs to help mentor adolescents and provide appropriate role models.  The uncle of Kenan Adams-Kinard, 16, believed his nephew had fallen in with the wrong crowd and now needed to be responsible for his actions.  Adams-Kenard is charged as an adult with murder.  In Fort Worth, TX, a 13-year old boy was arrested in June for murdering a 5-year old boy who was found bludgeoned to death.   And in Logan, Iowa, a 17 year old boy living in foster care is alleged to have murdered a 5-year old with whom he lived.  That child was found in a nearby ravine.  The motives in each of these cases are not readily apparent.

Michael Sefton, Ph.D., author of The Evil that Kid’s Do suggests that a greater partnership between parents and the community is needed to provide for the emotional needs of teens.  “Gangs and childhood violence result from a dearth of emotional resources and connection to others often compounded by exposure to domestic violence and child abuse” according to Sefton.  Families need greater support than ever but many are living in the fringes.  In The Evil that Kid’s Do, Dr. Sefton identified mentors, treatment for drug dependence, gang intervention, community religion, and keeping guns away from teenagers as possible action for keeping adolescents from becoming bored, angry, and marginalized.  It is true that children who are bored often become frustrated and look for things to do.  But healthy children fill in those blanks with prosocial activity – while angry, marginalized kid’s choose activity based upon underlying drives, tolerance and attachment.

As a police officer we are asked to come to juvenile court to present evidence and testimony in cases we bring forth.  Some are cases of intact families with good support and others may be single parent families and still others are foster families.  Would it surprise you if I said any of these family systems might have perfectly delightful children uninvolved in crime or delinquent behavior.  We see so many of these kinds of families.  In the same way, any of these family systems may produce a dangerous felon or drug dependent addict.  It takes more than an intact family to raise self-confident, curious children who attend school with an appetite for learning.  It takes a parental dyad that sets appropriate limits and model empathy, kindness, and social skills.  Children need to learn what is right and wrong and what behavior will be accepted as they develop.  All human beings make mistakes and should be taught how to succeed and shown forgiveness.


Just 2 weeks ago I published a blog about the dispicable behavior of celebrity athletes when another case of domestic violence was reported.  According to the Boston Globe, “on Aug. 16, Jared Remy was charged with the murder of Jennifer Martel, his girlfriend of seven years and the mother of their 4-year-old daughter. Prosecutors allege that Remy, the son of Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, attacked Martel in the kitchen of Image their home, in the living room, and on a stairway before stabbing her repeatedly”.  There was a significant history of domestic violence in the relationship.  In fact, Mr. Remy was arrested only hours before the murderous attack on Martel and released on his own recognizance.  Somehow, in spite of the specific nature of the allegations, e.g. choking Ms Martel, Remy was not held for a dangerousness hearing.  The early reports suggest a high degree of likelihood that Remy would become violent – the red flags were present and ultimately the behavior bared that out.  Had Remy been held for a dangerousness hearing a woman would be safe and alive today.

There needs to be a greater awareness of domestic violence and the proclivity to commit domestic violence homicide among abusive, intimate partners.  The killing of Jennifer Martel highlights the risk victims experience – especially those who are wanting to pull away from their abuser.  There appeared to be no safety plan for Ms. Martel and in fact, there is an allagation that family members went out of their way to block Martel’s attempts to keep her child and herself safe from Remy’s vitriol.  What could have triggered such a violent response against the mother of Remy’s only child?  A careful analysis of the pre-incident red flags can and will be of value to the greater body of literature on DV and domestic violence homicide as it was in careful work by Allanach, et al. in the Dexter, Maine homicide published in 2011.  Again a small child is without her mother because of the actions of one parent against another.

Allanach, R. L., Gagan B., & Sefton M. (2011). Psychological Autopsy Report of the Dexter, Maine Homicide and Suicide. Presented to Domestic Violence Homicide Review Board, November, 2011.


Despicable behavior by celebrity athletes

Former Kansas City Chiefs running back, Larry Johnson, plead no contest on Tuesday to a domestic violence charge from last October

New Braintree, MA July 27, 2013  In the court of public opinion one needs to think about a former NFL player pleading no contest to a horrific case of domestic violence.  Simply put, by pleading no contest to a charge of domestic violence Larry Johnson is admitting to the facts of the case as they are presented by Clark County, NV prosecutors.  I did it and have no defense for what I am accused.  Johnson has a history of violence against women. 

The case was first in the news in October 2012 when former Kansas City Chief’s running back Larry Johnson was said to have choked his then girlfriend until she became unconscious.  Johnson left her in the hotel hallway wearing only her underwear – in despicable fashion.  The 32-year old woman eventually regained consciousness and went door to door looking for help.  According to media reports Larry Johnson has had several violent and coercive relationships with intimate partners.  The 2012 event occurred in Las Vegas, NV.

In 2003, Johnson was charged with aggravated assault and misdemeanor battery after being accused of brandishing a gun during an argument with a former girlfriend. The Florida charges were dropped after he completed a domestic violence diversion program. Cases like this result in  jurisdictions handling cases of DV separately without access to detail from a case that may have occurred across country say during the football season in another state. 

Given the prior cases of domestic violence including the threat to kill his girlfriend, choking to the point of unconsciousness, and use of a firearm in conjunction with domestic assault and battery, anyone involved with Johnson should be considered at high risk for domestic violence homicide.  By now Mr. Johnson is happily attached to another partner and has spun off all responsibility for these events calling them “spurious accusations of a jealous and disrespectful media seeking to besmirch his good name”.  And sadly, his current girlfriend probably believes him.

Within the next few weeks or months Johnson is apt to again become engaged in coercive control maneuvers raising the ante in an effort to blame, humiliate, and bully his mate into emotional submission.  Imagine his next girlfriend reading about Johnson leaving a woman unconscious in a hotel hallway wearing only her underwear.  Imagine then that she understands the meaning of no contest – I did it and have no defense for what I am accused.  The danger she faces is escalated the first time she confronts him with the reports she reads.  This risk is elevated further if she has any remaining self-esteem and decides he is not the man for her – he may not let her leave.  The risk to women grows when they first seek their freedom from the indenture of domestic violence.


Measuring Risk and Setting Bail

New Braintree, MA  July 8, 2013  A notorius case of domestic violence has been in the news in Maine.  Police officers shot and killed a man holding his family at bay.  The failure to measure “risk” and identify red flag behavior likely put this family and these brave officers at great risk.  The absence of a criminal record should mean nothing when making bail decisions because of the inherent secrecy that belies domestic violence and the proclivity for intimate partner abuse.  It is well known that those who would commit violence against a spouse or their own children exhibit a cowardice like no other and fly below the casual law enforcement radar when it comes to bail requirement and public safety.  The Psychological Autopsy of The Dexter, Maine Homicide revealed a host of stopping points and behaviors that required containment of Mr. Lake.  Unfortunately this did not occur. This may be the case of Mr. Phinney as well.  We do not know but the brave officers who responded to the 911 call must now wait to have thier names “cleared” by the same State Attorney General who may ultimately review the next case of domestic violence homicide – identical to this one.  Until bail conditions are tied in to level of risk posed by domestic terrorists these cases will continue to occur on a monthly or bimonthly basis.  Public safety requires an analysis of risk to make an educated assessment of bail conditions to mitigate the incidence of these cowardly acts.  The failure to assess the potential for terminal violence in cases of intimate partner abuse will result in the ongoing incidence of familicide that impacts us all.