WESTBOROUGH, MA August 27, 2015 The killing of television reporter Alison Parker and Photographer Adam Ward both of WDBJ in Roanoke, VA and wounding of Vicki Gardner, the person being interviewed, raises the bar for the specter of workplace violence. Experts will be analyzing this sequence of behaviors for clues as to how best to keep businesses safe from disgruntled former employees. “Like dozens of mass killers before him, the shooter embodied a deadly mix of resentment, delusion, and thwarted aspiration” according to Sarah Kaplan (Washington Post, August 27, 2015). The live twitter posts, videotaping the shooting, and horrific execution of the victims by Vester Flanagan on live television will be a specter for years to come. Just as important may be the analysis of Mr. Flangan’s mental status in the months and days leading up to the terminal event. Nothing has been said about any relationships Flanagan may have had that provided support, understood his torment and brought him pleasure. Without human contact the torment of living in the margins adds to the emotional fugue sometimes felt by those who feel persecuted. One cannot say just how many events like this one may have been averted simply by having meaningful, intact relationships.
Red flag indicators are often demonstrated in behaviors that are observable and measurable sometimes for weeks and months before the terminal event. Flanagan exhibited the signs of enduring anger and resentment over perceived prejudice. Arguably, he brought himself into conflict with colleagues by being demanding. His employer made an effort to provide mentoring and internal “job” counseling as much as he needed – finally referring him to the employee assistance program for mental health counseling.
“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, Ph.D.(Sefton, 2013).
It is a single case study initiated to analyze the specific sequence of events that proceed a suicide in an effort to understand the motives and triggers to the death. If ever a case were in need of this type of analysis, a psychological autopsy of Vester Flanagan, AKA Bryce Williams, may provide clues as to the red flags that were raised that may have been points of contact for police and mental health experts to intervene. These points of contact are those initial signs of distress that authorities must have to provide stopping and containment of Flanagan before he was able to follow through with his plans. In May, 2014, Elliot Rodger, 22 posted a You Tube video declaring his intention to slaughter “those with a good life”. This occurred in Santa Barbara, CA, where his murderous rampage was posted using social media sites as a prequel to the killing of 6 college students including his two room mates – one of whom he stabbed 94 times.
WHEN TO ACT ON THREATS?
Stopping points are the first signs of danger that may have been present as early as 2000 in Flanagan. He had been fired by at least two television outlets because he was brash and difficulty to work with, according to human resource sources now being discussed. These are stopping points. The perpetrator in the Santa Barbara slaying planned the rampage for over a year and was receiving mental health intervention. In the end, Flanagan was escorted out of a newsroom in 2011 by police after being terminated for having a ‘major tantrum’ for being referred for mental health treatment. The television station was on lock down and yet Flanagan made threats as he left his job for the last time.
So much has been published about the “live tweets” left by Vester Flanagan posted while on the run. His use of social media exemplifies the planning and execution of a version of retribution never previously seen before. The posted video was surreal in its abject callousness. “The videos got out widely, forging a new path for nihilists to gain a moment in the media spotlight: an example that, given its success at garnering wide publicity, will most likely be followed by others” said Farhad Manjoo, NY Times, August 27.
It is now known that Flanagan identified with Virginia Tech mass killer Seung-Hui Cho who wrote a profanity laden manifesto blaming everyone for their maltreatment of him that sounded paranoid and vindictive and he was able to send the videotaped diatribe to a news agency. We can expect an uptick in the outrageous expose of violence as those who are so marginalized in society grow more detached and the festering of their plight becomes realized in the posts they leave behind.
Sefton, M. (2103) Blog post https://msefton.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/the-psychologi/ Taken August 27, 2015.
Slattery, D. (2014) New York Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/santa-barbara-killer-plotted-murder-spree-year-police-article-1.2122168
WESTBOROUGH, MA August 22, 2015 The call for police training in de-escalation for persons who are menacing with guns, knives, or bombs is patently unattainable and wantonly dangerous to everyone. Those who call for “more training in mental health counseling and less training in the use of firearms” or use of force continuum have never been faced with the life or death conundrum – kill or be killed. The split second it takes to respond to a threat in defense of oneself or another person will not permit time to introduce strategies for de-escalation. In the time it takes to find ‘just the right words’ to engage the subject who is waving a firearm and shouting that “anyone who comes close will be shot,” people will die – including members of the police who are trained and responsible for calls like this. That being said, the use of force continuum serves as a template upon which police officers first judge their response to calls for service. Officers are trained to give clear commands that are geared toward de-escalating the scenario with a goal of compliance. If the subjects complies with officer commands there will be no force utilized or needed to end a high risk call such as the one described.
People are asking for added training for law enforcement personnel in mental health awareness. Those individuals wrongly believe that having better “people” skills will reduce the number of officer involved shootings. It is incumbent on society – not the police service to provide care for those who are mentally ill. Unfortunately, there are too few options for those suffering with emotional affliction. It does not matter that Mr. Jones is depressed over an impending divorce if he is engaged in lethal violence toward his wife and children. Once the threat of armed violence is reduced or eliminated when Jones is taken into custody than police officers can offer a sympathetic ear and refer him for psychotherapy – something he surely needs.
The essential element in officer involved shootings is noncompliance to police commands by the subject of police scrutiny. It is the actions of the subject that direct officer behavior. If those actions are coupled with the threat of imminent, life threatening harm only then is a law enforcement officer justified in using lethal force. As long as that threat exists, no one is safe and police officers must adhere to the established use of force continuum that allows for the use of lethal force when an officer is met with the threat of lethal violence.
The incidence of violence against the police is far greater than police acting violently against a citizen. Ask any police officer and they will tell you that police encounter menacing and violent citizens on a daily basis and rarely are required to use lethal violence. Why? Most officers are already highly skilled at using their verbal skills to de-escalate a violent perpetrator without using lethal force – even when a higher level of force may have been warranted. Excessive alcohol and drug use coupled with the lack of clinical infrastructure to provide treatment are the underpinnings of violence – especially in the setting of unemployment and abject poverty.