Studyofmurder's Blog

The Austin, Texas Bomber and Criminal Profiling

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on March 20, 2018

When I retired from Santa Barbara City College last year and moved to the Austin, Texas area I thought I was moving to a safe community.  Apparently not.

Over the past two weeks a series of bombings in the Austin, Texas area has everyone on edge and, at the time of this writing, there appears to be no end in sight.

First, a brief recap of events.  Starting about two weeks ago there were three package bombs left on different residential doorsteps in the City of Austin.  In each case one of the residents found the package in the morning, took it into the house, and the package exploded when it was being opened.  Two people were killed and several were injured.  Obviously there was a great deal of media coverage of these events and, just as obviously, there was marked police activity in these areas which led to a predictable result.  The bomber changed tactics.

The next bombing, according to media reports, took place on a residential street in a different neighborhood.  This device may have been set off by the use of a tripwire on a sidewalk, injuring two people.

This morning, March 20, 2018, an explosive device hidden in a FedEx box apparently exploded on a conveyor belt at a FedEx transfer facility some 50+ miles away.  Early reports indicate the package was being sent to an address in Austin.

There are two purposes to this blog entry.  First, I want to discuss the process of criminal profiling, especially criminal profiling being done by media “experts,” and how unreliable such profiling can be.  Next, I will then try and suggest my own, and equally unreliable, criminal profile of this bomber.

 

Inductive v. Deductive Criminal Profiling

The type of criminal profiling that we are most often exposed to is the “Inductive” criminal profile.  This is a profile usually based on broad generalizations and statistical averages.  The source of information used for such a profile is commonly media reports, which we know can be wildly inaccurate, and can be misleading to the general public.  These are the profiles which are presented by news outlets using retired police detectives, FBI agents, or experts with a criminological background.  These criminal profiles are also based upon what is professionally called the S.W.A.G. method of analysis…..the Sophisticated Wild Ass Guess.

The more reliable method of criminal profiling is the “Deductive” profile.  This is the process, based on a thorough examination of all physical evidence, witness statements, crime scene analyses, etc. used to infer distinctive personality characteristics of individuals responsible for committing criminal acts.

Obviously, no retired FBI agent or police detective is going to be allowed to examine all of the crime scene evidence and then develop his or her own criminal profile.  Hence, we are left with the very unreliable Inductive method.

 

The Austin, Texas Bomber – A S.W.A.G. Criminal Profile

A general dichotomy of criminal offenders is the Organized v. the Disorganized offender.  The disorganized offender is usually very spontaneous in committing his offenses and is more likely to leave physical evidence behind like fingerprints or DNA.  In the case of the Austin Bomber it would appear, however, that we are dealing with an Organized offender.  This is based on the facts that so far he has apparently not been seen.  Had he been seen, the police would be circulating some form of police sketch.  We know from previous offenders that Organized offenders are generally intelligent, socially competent, and generally maintain their composure during the commission of their crimes.  This means that our offender would probably not stick out if he were to enter a FedEx facility to drop off a parcel containing a bomb.  I keep saying “He” as the statistical likelihood is that our offender is a male.

I saw one “expert” on local television this morning who described the offender as probably being “White.”  I won’t go that far for a number of reasons.  First, the Austin area is ethnically very diverse and there are a lot of intelligent people around here working in the tech industry (Dell Computers, for example).  Also, the apparent level of bomb-making expertise would indicate someone who might have a military or engineering background, and those occupations are clearly not limited to white males.

Another common characteristic of our organized offender is that it is not unusual for them to carefully follow news broadcasts and police press conferences.  Think of this as intelligence gathering for our criminal.  He is intelligent.  He is aware of the increased police presence in the area of his first three attacks so….he adapts, which is another characteristic of an organized offender.

 

The Unanswered Question – Why Is He Doing This?

This is, with the limited information that we have, the hardest question to answer.  When this offender is captured (and he will be) he will probably share his reasons with law enforcement, assuming he isn’t killed during the arrest procedure or take his own life.  Please understand that, no matter how unusual or bizarre these types of crimes appear, they always make sense to the offender.  He will have a reason for his actions.  It may involve some real or perceived “wrong” that has been done to him by specific groups of people…or by the government…or maybe by society at large.  But there will be a reason.

I, for one, am very interested in learning that reason.  If only he’d quit his bombings and tell us.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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When is a “School Shooting” Not a “School Shooting?”

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on March 2, 2018

“In order to understand the murderer, you must first try and discern his or her motivation.”

Note:  The purpose of this blog entry is NOT to minimize the horror and trauma of school shootings nor is it to comment one way or another on the ongoing political and social debates regarding gun control.  It is solely to provide the reader with investigative insight into mass murders and/or other violent crimes that may occur on school campuses.

Early this morning (March 2, 2018) there was another breaking news report of a “School Shooting” on the campus of Central Michigan University.  Two people were killed and the suspected gunman was identified.  A law enforcement spokesperson indicated that no students were injured and that the shootings seemed to have stemmed from some sort of domestic dispute.  It is my contention, therefore, that, even though this shooting took place on a college campus, it was not a “school shooting.”

School Shooting – A Definition

There are several definitions available for the term “school shooting” but they generally refer to an attack, often with a firearm, by one student (or former student) on the students and/or faculty where the attacking student went to school.  This definition would clearly apply to the recent shooting at  Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 students and faculty members while wounding 14 others.  Cruz had been a student at Stoneman Douglas but had been expelled.  Clearly his motivation was to attack his former school.

Motivation and Mass Murder

In a previous blog I have described the various forms that mass murder can take.  These typologies can be most readily identified by the offender’s underlying motivation and behavior in carrying out the attacks.

For example, a “Disgruntled Employee Mass Murderer” attacks workers or former co-workers, supervisors, and even customers at his/her place of employment.  For example, on January 30, 2006, Jennifer Sanmarco, 44, gained access to a U.S. Post Office mail facility in Goleta, CA and shot and killed six people before killing herself.  While she clearly had a history of mental health issues, she had been forcibly removed from the mail facility and fired from her job two years previously.  Her motivation, in part, was to attack the people and the facility who, in her mind, had been the cause of her problems.

The “Family Annihilator Mass Murderer” specifically targets members of his/her own family.  This is the most common form of mass murder in the United States and is often brought on by a number of social and/or financial issues with the shooter.

An “Ideological Mass Murderer” seeks to further his/her personal ideological beliefs through violence.  These murderers can include the 9/11 hijackers or Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Federal Building bomber.  Though McVeigh’s ideological beliefs were quite different than those of the 9/11 hijackers they both felt that they were striking a a blow against the “unjust system” and all those within that system in order to set other people free.

The above examples to not, by any means, cover all the different typologies of mass murderers.  And, while each of the different mass murderers can kill many, many people they are distinguished not by their body counts, but by their individual motivations.

Point #1:  The first main point I want to make in this blog entry is the one stated at the top of the page: “In order to understand the murderer, you must first try and discern his or her motivation.”  In the words of the noted FBI Profiler, John Douglas, “Behavior reflects motivation.”  In other words, by examining the offender’s behavior, we can learn a great deal about his/her motivation.  What, exactly, did the offender do during the commission of the crime?  In what order did he do these things?  Was the attack organized or disorganized.  For example, this morning’s attack at Central Michigan University seems to be a spontaneous one whereas Mr. Cho’s attack at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, was as well-planned as a military operation.

Point #2: “It’s not the location, it’s the motivation.” This is the key to understanding the thesis of this blog: Sometimes a school shooting is not a school shooting.

On February 12, 2010, Dr. Amy Bishop walked into a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.  Other faculty members were surprised to see her as Dr. Bishop had recently been notified that she would not be receiving tenure and that this was her last semester teaching at UA Huntsville.  What the faculty members didn’t know was that Dr. Bishop had recently been at the shooting range practicing with the 9mm pistol that she now carried in her purse.  About halfway through the meeting Dr. Bishop took out that pistol, stood up, and then calmly shot and killed three faculty members while wounding three others.  Did this shooting take place on a college campus? Yes.  Was it a “school shooting?” No.  This was clearly the act of a “Disgruntled Employee.”

In 1999, Buford Furrow walked in to the North Valley Jewish Center in Los Angeles and began shooting at the children who were attending summer events.  Five people, including three children, were wounded but, thankfully, not killed.  Furrow, it turned out, was a known white supremacist and his attack was motivated by his ideological beliefs.  Again, a shooting that took place at a school that was not a school shooting.

This brings us to this morning’s shooting at Central Michigan University.  Did it take place on a school campus? Yes.  Was it a “school shooting?”  Based on initial reports (and these can change, as we all know) this was a case of a domestic violence murder that just happened to take place on a school campus.

You may be asking, “Why doesn’t the media make these distinctions?”  The answer, quite honestly is that they have neither the time nor, in many cases, the knowledge, to be able to make these distinctions.  Another reason is that most people aren’t interested in them. A shooting on a school is, therefore, a school shooting.

But you, as a student of criminology in general and murder to be more specific, are now able to make those distinctions.  Just remember, it’s the motivation, and not the location.

As always,  I look forward to your responses.

The Study of Murder Course – Part IA

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on February 6, 2018

INTRODUCTION AND TERMINOLOGY

The words “Murder” and “Homicide” are often used interchangeably but they are two different terms.  “Homicide” is the killing of one person by another.  This killing could be lawful (i.e. a police officer shoots and kills a bank robber in self-defense) or it might be unlawful (that same bank robber shoots and kills the police officer).  Either way, a homicide is the killing of one person by another.  A “Murder” is the unlawful killing of one person by another.  Not all homicides are murders, but just about every murder is a homicide.

There are also several legal forms of homicide/murder.  There is “Second Degree” murder where the murder is not generally planned but is the result of a spontaneous event (like an argument at a bar over a sporting event) and there are lesser forms such as Voluntary Manslaughter and Involuntary Manslaughter, neither of which necessarily require any intent to kill.

For “The Study of Murder” the focus will be on intentional murder and it will be presumed in the cases discussed that there was a specific intent to commit murder.

 

MOTIVATION

A significant part of this course is the examination of the MOTIVATION for murder.  Put simply, there are no such things as accidental murders. For one thing, an accident is just that….an accident, and generally not an act that is against the law.  If I’m driving my car down the street at or below the posted speed limit and if I’m sober, properly licensed and not violating any other laws and a dog darts out into traffic and I strike the dog that, while an unfortunate event, is an accident, not a crime.

It is important to remember that every person who intentionally murders another person has a motive.  If you haven’t already read one of my earlier blogs on why I believe that people don’t “snap” then I encourage you do so so before going any further (farther?).  The primary goal of this course is to help you in understanding an offender’s motive since, by understanding the motive, it is that much easier for an investigator to identify the offender and/or to interview the offender and obtain a confession.

Another important distinction to make is between the terms “Insanity” and “Mental Illness.”  Not all mentally ill individuals are insane and the mentally ill are capable of planning and carrying out murders.

Insanity is basically when someone has a break with reality.  Their mental illness is so severe that they are unable to distinguish between right and wrong and, subsequently, just as unable to carefully plan and carry out a murder.  Often, when they do commit a murder, it is unplanned, extremely violent and disorganized.

Mental illness, however, can take many forms.  A person can be depressed, bipolar, schizophrenic, etc. yet still have the ability to develop and carry out a plan to commit murder. On April 16, 2007, Seung-hui Cho committed a mass murder at Virginia Tech where he killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.  He had a history dating back to his high school days of mental illness yet he planned, over a several month period, a detailed methodology for carrying out his attack.  Mentally ill? Yes.  Insane? No.  Responsible legally for his actions? Absolutely.

Television and the movies have created a stereotype of serial killers especially that makes them appear evil and insane.  Heath Ledger’s “Joker” in the Batman movie and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” portrays individuals on the brink of sanity struggling hard to hold it together.

One of the hardest parts of this course, for me, is to try and convince sane, rational, good people such as you that sane, rational but evil people exist in this world who are visually indistinguishable from the rest of us. Never assume that evil is insane and never assume that evil has a conscience.

We’ll discuss more important terminology when we meet again to discuss violent crime.

As always, I welcome your questions and/or your feedback.

 

The Las Vegas Shooting – Observations Based on Limited Information

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on October 2, 2017

As I write this, law enforcement investigators and behavioral analysts are trying to determine  the motivation behind mass murderer Stephen Paddock, 64, who opened fire on concert goers last night killing at least 58 people and wounding in excess of 500 more.  Already, the various television and cable tv networks have begun their parade of “talking heads,” most of them retired law enforcement officers, who have been providing their expert opinions on what may have happened.

Based on the limited information available, here are my “expert” opinions.

 

CRAZY v. MENTALLY ILL

It is all too easy for reporters, politicians and bystanders to refer to the shooter as “crazy” or “insane.”  The first point I want to make is that there is a difference between “insane” and “mentally ill.”  It will probably come out that Paddock was, in fact, mentally ill but he was clearly not insane.  Most legal definitions of insanity state that an insane person cannot differentiate between right and wrong.  Most fatal attacks involving people who were later determined to be insane at the time of the attack revealed a person who acted spontaneously and with little or no planning.  Clearly, this is not the case in Las Vegas.

Paddock somehow had to get a hotel room high enough and on the correct side of the Mandalay Bay hotel for him to carry out his attack.  And, of course, he had to be there when there was a target-rich environment (concert) rather than just a few hotel guests for him to shoot. He then had to (probably) make several trips through the lobby carrying innocuous looking suitcases containing his firearms and lots of ammunition.  He also (probably) came prepared with a device of some sort that would allow him to break out the substantial hotel windows that were undoubtedly made to resist being broken out.

Paddock planned this attack.  He had the tactical advantages of height, darkness, and surprise.  He had overwhelming firepower (one video I saw sounded like automatic weapons were used).  He also knew he was going to die.  Again, Paddock was possibly mentally ill but he was not insane.

 

TYPOLOGY OF MASS MURDER

There are several different identified types of mass murderers.  A quick examination of them might help us identify Paddock’s typology and, thus, try and understand his motivation.

The Ideological Mass Murderer – these murders are carried out in the furtherance of some religious and/or political cause. ISIS has already tried to claim responsibility, saying that he converted to Islam a few months ago but, in technical terms, that’s bullshit.  So far there has been ZERO evidence linking this to any religious motivation.  While there might be a political motivation (we just don’t know yet) that seems unlikely to me at this point.

The Disgruntled Employee – this murderer attacks former or current employers/co-workers due to some disagreement in the workplace.  Unless there is some as yet unknown connection between the offender and Jason Aldean or his entourage, this also seems unlikely.

The Family Annihilator – this is the most common mass murderer but one who selects family members to murder.  Again, highly unlikely.

The Psychotic Mass Murderer – this is someone with extreme mental health issues.  He will kill spontaneously as the voices in his head command him to.  Again, not likely.

The Disgruntled Citizen – this is an individual who is “mad at the world.”  He blames the government and/or society at large for his problems and finally decides to make a violent and deadly statement.  That statement is often, “This is what you made me do.”  A recent news report regarding the offender said that, according to his brother, Paddock had recently “retired to Las Vegas because he liked to gamble.”  Could this be a motive?  Could Paddock have gotten so deeply in debt that he began blaming the casinos (remember where this shooting took place) for his financial difficulties?  At this point, this seems most likely to me.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Remember, this post is based on INCOMPLETE information based on SWAG analysis (Sophisticated Wild-Ass Guess).  I am no more informed than most, if not all, of the “talking heads” I mentioned earlier.  More information will come out and it might be that I am completely off track.  That happens all the time with INDUCTIVE analysis.

This was indeed another tragedy.  Sadly, it will not be the last.

“The Study of Murder” Course – Continued

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on July 12, 2017

For more than fifteen years I taught a course at Santa Barbara City College entitled, “The Study of Murder.” The primary focus of the course was to try and provide my students with an insight into the motivation of an offender. This was done by examining developmental behavior in violent, as well as sexually-motivated, offenders as well as looking at both serial killers and mass murderers.

I retired from Santa Barbara City College at the end of the Spring, 2017, semester. Since that time my wife and I have moved to another state and are currently settling into our new home.

And I need something to do….

So, over the next several months, I will be creating blog entries that outline and discuss some of the key lectures from my “Study of Murder” class. I will do my best to provide appropriate citations for the information and research I write about, but I will apologize ahead of time for some of the references that may have been lost over the past 15+ years.

Don’t expect a set schedule. After all, I am retired and I am a golfer.

I will also still take the opportunity to comment about current cases that I feel are interesting, or demonstrative of specific behaviors.

I hope to interact with you along the way.

Cheers!

Tom Mahoney

Beyond The News Story – A Tragedy Prevented

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on March 27, 2015

First, let’s look at the story:

Condoms, K-Y Jelly, a pistol and more: Police say Rock Hill man was spying on children in bushes

Rock Hill, South Carolina – March 24, 2015 – Written by James Brierton, Web Producer/Digital Journalist

A man carrying rope, condoms and a stolen weapon – found hiding in a bush –  was arrested Monday for allegedly spying on female students at a nearby bus stop, according to a Rock Hill Police Department incident report.

Concerned neighbors called 911 after they saw Michael Mobley, 25, hiding along Chestnut Street, according to the report.  It appeared that he was watching children at a bus stop.

Mobley told responding officers that he was waiting for a friend.  He then fled from police when asked if he was carrying a weapon.

Officers caught up with Mobley and placed him into custody.  They recovered a stolen handgun, a pair of latex gloves, yellow rope, three condoms, a tube of K-Y Jelly, a box cutter, a black beanie and a cell phone.  He is facing charges including possession of a stolen weapon, unlawful possession of a weapon and resisting arrest.

Michael Mobley

Michael Mobley

Analyzing the Story

Now, let’s ask ourselves just what this story actually told us and what tragedy might have been prevented by the neighbors who called police.  It should be noted here that the following is speculation on my part.  I have no additional information on this specific case.  What I am about to do is to create a criminal profile of what Mr. Mobley might have been planning to do based on his actions and his possessions at the time of his arrest.  Other media reports on this case indicate that Mobley has a prior criminal record but they do not indicate what the record is for.

Organized v. Disorganized – Organized offenders are relatively intelligent and take the time to plan and carry out their offenses.  Disorganized offenders are often spontaneous and, as a result, leave behind evidence that get them caught fairly quickly. Mr. Mobley clearly is an organized offender.  He was probably preparing to act out a violent, sexual fantasy that he had been mentally rehearsing and masturbating to for some time.  He had reached the point where he had decided to bring his fantasy to life.

Act-Focused v. Process-Focused – Act-focused offenders murder quickly and get it over with; all they want is for the victim to die.  Process-focused offenders, on the other hand, get pleasure and sexual satisfaction from the process of killing their victims.  The longer they can draw out their victim’s pain and suffering, the more they enjoy it.  Several of the items that Mr. Mobley had with him, and I will go over them one-by-one, suggest that he is a process-focused offender.

Ideal Victim Type – sexually-motivated offenders generally seek out a victim who matches the one that exists in their sexual fantasies.  Some of these victim types are general (i.e. female, mid-20’s) and some of them are very specific right down to hair color, body type, attire, etc.  In this case, some media reports have suggested that Mr. Mobley was hiding in the bushes watching young girls.  Absent statements by Mobley affirming this analysis, this might be an erroneous assumption.  Sure, most male serial killers attack females.  But not all.  Wesley Allan Dodd was a male serial killer in Washington State who, in the early 90s, specifically fantasized and preyed upon young boys.  He tortured and raped them before killing them.  It might very well be that Mobley, in this case, was seeking a young boy as his victim rather than a female.  Follow-up investigation on the part of detectives may determine this.

Mobley’s Possessions – now let’s take a look at what Mobley had with him when he was arrested and what they might tell us about what he had planned for his victim.

The Handgun – there’s no secret here.  The purpose of the handgun was to intimidate and control his victim.  Any child would be afraid of a menacing adult with a handgun.

The Boxcutter – This item had a different function: terror.  While the gun was to be used for control, the boxcutter was intended to terrorize his victim with its blade.  Mobley may have been planning to use it to cut off his victim’s clothing or to inflict cutting wounds on the victim’s body, especially in sexually significant areas.  Mobley wanted his victim, while he or she was alive, to grow more and more terrified.  It was about fear and the total domination over another human being.

 The Yellow Rope – this would be used to bind and control his victim while Mobley transported the child to wherever he intended to carry out his sexual fantasy. News reports indicated that Mobley lived in Rock Hill.  I would be interested in just how far away from the actual scene of the arrest he lived.  Would he be able to carry his victim to a nearby house or apartment or would he need a car?

Latex Gloves – this is a clear indication, among others, that Mobley is an organized offender.  He is well aware of the fact that his fingerprints are on file from previous arrests and, if they were discovered in connection with his current victim, he would be immediately identified.  The gloves are primarily to protect his identity.

The Condoms – this is another indication of organization and intelligence.  South Carolina has a law that allows the collection of DNA from offenders.  Mobley knew his DNA was on file and was planning on using the condoms to prevent his subsequent identification.

The K-Y Jelly – whether his intended victim was a young girl or a young boy Mobley knew that either vaginal or anal penetration of such a small child would require lubrication.  The K-Y Jelly was for his comfort.

The Planned Offense – this is more difficult to speculate on with any great detail.  It seems reasonable to me, though, that Mobley went to the bus stop with the intention of identifying and capturing a small child that met his Ideal Victim Type in his sexual fantasy.  He planned on taking this victim to a pre-determined location where he would have the time to carry out his violent sexual fantasy before ultimately killing the child and disposing of the body.

The Offender Typology – this is also a bit difficult but, if the rest of my analysis is correct, I believe that Mobley might fall under the category of Thrill Serial Killer.  The Thrill offender receives his sexual satisfaction from instilling fear and dependency in his victims.  He is into intimidation and both physical and psychological terror.  Also, while I realize that we do not, as yet, have any information that Mobley has killed before (and he may not have), my assessment of him as a serial killer is based on what I believe were his future intentions.  Had he killed once, he would have killed again.

There is no doubt in my mind that the observations and reporting of the neighbors, coupled with a quick police response, may have saved the life of a young child.  Unfortunately, Mobley cannot be prosecuted for what he was planning to do and he’s probably much too smart to discuss his sexual fantasies with detectives.  He will be prosecuted for the possession of the stolen gun and, hopefully, sent away for a long time.  If he is released, however, his violent sexual fantasies will still be there, and the local authorities need to be well aware of his presence as a further threat to children.

As always, I welcome your responses.

 

UPDATE:  On October 29, 2015, Mobley plead guilty to weapons, stolen property, and drug charges.  He received four years in prison.  At his sentencing hearing the prosecutor stated that, “A tragedy has been prevented.”  I agree.  But this potential tragedy will be back on the streets within the next four years.  I don’t think he’s finished with his fantasies.

The Ferguson, MO shooting of Michael Brown and What Might Have Happened

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on August 18, 2014

Let me first preface this blog with the caveat that everything I write about the shooting of Michael Brown will be based upon limited media reports.  I have not had access to any official law enforcement documents so some of my “facts” may be in error.  With that said….

I was a police officer for more than 24 years.  During that period of time I was (earlier in my career) involved in an officer-involved shooting where the suspect died and (later in my career) involved in conducting officer-involved shooting investigations.

MY SHOOTING

Prior to becoming a police officer I served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years.  Later, I completed a boot camp-like police academy before going on patrol.  I was well-trained and accurate in the use of my pistol.  My partner that evening has served in the U.S. Army in Viet Nam and was a decorated combat veteran.  You would think, therefore, that we would at all times be cool, calm and collected.  Guess again.

Shortly after midnight on March 7, 1975, we stopped our police car to investigate what appeared to be the burglary of a motor home parked on the street. We approached the motor home and saw some movement in nearby bushes.  We ordered the suspect to come out of the bushes and he started firing a .38 caliber pistol at us.  At one level, I responded to my training.  I pulled my pistol, took cover, and returned fire.  At another level, I was in a form of shock as I, for the first time in my life, confronted my own mortality.  When it was over (the suspect, though mortally wounded, had run out of bullets and yelled “I give up!”) my partner and I called for back-up.  At the time, I could not recollect, nor could my partner remember, how many shots we had fired (I had fired five; he had fired six).  My point in all of this is that, in such moments of crisis, training can take over and control an officer’s actions while reasoned, calm thinking can take a short vacation.

 

INVESTIGATING OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

Years later, as a police Lieutenant, I was part of my department’s Officer-Involved Shooting Team.  I first went through extensive and very specialized training and it was drilled into me over and over that, most importantly, my job was to find the truth.

One of the things that I learned was that it was critical to try and determine the officer’s “state of mind” at the time he or she fired. It really didn’t matter that much what was learned after the shooting occurred about the person who was shot but it was critical to determine what the officer’s perception of reality was when the gun was fired.

As an example…one evening two officers were confronted by a burglary suspect who reached into his waistband and pointed a gun at them when they tried to arrest him.  Their state-of-mind was that they were being confronted by an armed felon and they drew their weapons, fired, and killed the suspect.  Later, it was determined that this suspect had a replica firearm, a pistol that was identical in appearance to a real weapon but, obviously, could not fire any bullets.  While that made the situation a bit more tragic (and confusing….why did he do it?) it did not negate the fact that this was a lawful use of force based upon what the officers were confronted with.

 

THE FERGUSON, MO, SHOOTING OF MICHAEL BROWN

As I said, the “facts” are still in a state of flux and vary depending on which side is telling the tale.  I will first provide the general facts as I know them today and offer a few possible scenarios as to what might have happened.  You can decide for yourself which one you believe is most reasonable, or e-mail me with a different scenario as you see it.

August 9, 2014, 11:51 – A report of a robbery of a convenience store is received by the Ferguson P.D.  A suspect description matching Michael Brown is given.

12:01 – Officer Darren Wilson, 28, encounters Michael Brown, 18, 6’4″ tall and 292#, and a friend of his (who was apparently present at the robbery) Doxian Johnson, 22, walking in the street, blocking traffic.  Shortly thereafter, the shooting occurred.

 

Scenario #1

Officer Wilson, with no knowledge of the robbery, sees two black males walking in the street and confronts them about this (albeit minor) traffic violation.  Officer Wilson normally wouldn’t bother with this type of behavior, but decided to confront these two males because they are black and Officer Wilson is biased.  While the two young men are fairly cooperative, for some apparent reason Officer Wilson picks on the largest of the two and shoots him unjustifiably.  At the same time, he chooses NOT to shoot Mr. Johnson.  If this is the case, Officer Wilson deserves to go to prison for the rest of his life.

 

Scenario #2

Officer Wilson, with no knowledge of the robbery, sees two black males walking in the street and confronts them.  Mr. Brown, who has just committed a robbery of a nearby convenience store and believes that Wilson knows about it and is about to arrest him, decides to resist arrest and/or attack Officer Wilson.  Mr. Johnson, it appears, did not attempt to assist Mr. Brown in this hypothetical attack and, as a result, was not the focus of any shooting by Officer Wilson.  Officer Wilson (whose vital statistics are not known to me but whose picture seems to depict an average-sized individual), confronted with a very large and assaultive male, and who arguably was in fear for his life, pulls out his gun and shoots.  Mr. Johnson later said that Mr. Brown’s hands were raised up as if to surrender.  Or were they raised over his head in an attempt to grab him?  I don’t know.  IF Officer Wilson fired because he felt his life was in danger, he is not guilty of any crime and should not be prosecuted.

 

Scenario #3

This one is far less likely only because of what has been publicly stated by the police department.  Officer Wilson, who has heard about the recent robbery, sees Mr. Brown, who answers the description of the suspect and attempted to detain/arrest him.  Mr. Brown resisted arrest and/or attempted to grab the officer’s gun at which point, Officer Wilson, confronted by a very large and assaultive felony suspect and in fear for his life, shoots and kills Mr. Brown.

 

I don’t know, exactly, what happened.  We may never really know.  What I ask my students to do is to work past the rhetoric and seek out the facts and then apply common sense.  Is this about race or is it about the unfortunate decision of a young man to fight a police officer to avoid going to jail?

There’s a lot we don’t know about Michael Brown and even more that we don’t know about Officer Wilson.  Perhaps he has a personnel file full of complaints of racial discrimination.  Or, just as likely, he has a file full of commendations for excellent performance of his duties.  There will, at least, be a civil lawsuit (I’m sure that planeloads of lawyers have been parachuting in since the 10th of August) and, perhaps, Officer Wilson will be prosecuted.  In either case, the contents of his personnel file will likely become a part of the public record.

Think about the scenarios that I have suggested.  Which one makes the most sense to you?  I’d love to hear from you.

Officer Involved Shootings and Dead Children

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on October 26, 2013

Two Sheriff’s deputies in Santa Rosa, California came upon what they initially radioed to their dispatcher as a “suspicious person.”  This person was wearing a hooded sweatshirt at 3:14 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22nd.  The person’s back was to the deputies but it appeared that he was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle.  Both deputies, believing this person was armed and dangerous, took cover behind their patrol vehicle.  One of the deputies, (confirmed by witnesses) twice ordered the person to drop the weapon.  For some reason we will probably never understand, the 13-year old boy holding the replica AK-47 then turned towards the deputies.  One deputy, fearing for his life and the life of his partner, opened fire and killed the boy.  Later it was discovered that the boy, Andy Lopez, was also carrying a toy handgun in his waistband.  The AK-47 turned out to be an airsoft pellet gun.

Throughout the area, people are asking why this young man had to die.  The FBI is conducting a separate investigation into the shooting.  Both deputies, as policy dictates, have been placed on administrative leave during these investigations.

At the website “Fact Sheet About Toy Guns” (http://www.irol.com/avc/fact_sheet_about_toy_guns.html) there are over 70 cases going back to 1983 where children have either been shot by police for threatening them with toy guns or who have themselves used toy guns to commit violent crimes.  Many of these stories are tragedies but not because the cops made mistakes, but because the young people did.

In my law enforcement career I was trained to investigate officer-involved shootings and had the opportunity to conduct several such investigations.  In fact, one case involved a 16-year old who burglarized a high school office late one night and stole, among other things, a replica revolver.  While fleeing he was confronted by two police officers.  His immediate response was to draw this replica revolver and point it at the officers who shot and killed him.  Maybe he thought the revolver was real (it certainly looked identical to a real revolver), or maybe he thought he could scare the officers.  We’ll never know.

In attempting to determine whether or not an officer-involved shooting was justified the most important thing to ascertain is the “state of mind” of the officer(s) at the time of the shooting.  The fact that the gun turned out to be a toy is interesting and adds to the tragedy of the situation, but it is ultimately irrelevant in determining whether the officers were justified or not in the use of deadly force.

In the Santa Rosa case there are certain facts that appear to be undisputed:

1.  The officers saw a person they believed to be carrying a high-powered assault weapon, a 7.62mm AK-47.

2.  So concerned were the officers for their safety that they took refuge behind their police vehicle while ordering the person to drop the weapon.

3.  The shots that killed Andy Lopez were in his thigh and chest….in other words, it appear as though he was facing the officers at the time they fired.

Teen carrying replica rifle shot by police

 

Look at these two weapons.  The one on the left is a real AK-47 and the one on the right is the “toy” replica that Andy Lopez was carrying and apparently pointed towards the officers.

Much is being made about the fact that the deputy who fired at Andy did so only 10 seconds after he notified dispatch of the suspicious person.  Trust me when I say that 10 seconds is an eternity if you believe someone is pointing a loaded weapon at you.

Others believe that the officers should have been able to tell the difference between the “toy” replica and a real AK-47.  It took me a few seconds looking at this picture before I could tell the difference and not one was pointing it at me.  And my adrenaline wasn’t pumping.

Some say that this child did not have to die and I agree.  He could have dropped the weapon when ordered to and he would still be alive.  I’m assuming that his parents bought him that “toy” pellet gun so they must assume part of the blame for giving such a weapon to a 13-year old and letting him take it outside.

Andy Lopez’s death is a tragedy but a tragedy that could have been avoided through common-sense on the part of Andy and his parents.  But to blame the deputies for this death is wrong.  They did what they were trained to do and acted within the law and their department policy.

Knowing cops the way I do I can tell you that the deputy who fired at this child and killed him will not be celebrating.  He will not be seeking “high-fives” from his colleagues.  The Deputy will regret this incident for the rest of his life and will always second-guess about what could have been done to save Andy Lopez’s life.

Adam Lanza and the Struggle to Understand Evil

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on December 29, 2012

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, of Newtown, Connecticut, shot and killed his mother, Nancy while she was sleeping in her bed. He shot her four times at close range. He then drove over to the nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School where he proceeded to shoot and kill 20 students and six adults before taking his own life as the police arrived.
Since then various media outlets have written stories trying to understand why Lanza “snapped” and committed these murders. Lanza has been described as being “dark and disturbed,” “deeply troubled,” and having some form of “developmental disorder.” Others say that he “snapped” because his mother had threatened to have him institutionalized. Now we hear that his DNA is going to be studied to determine if there is a genetic link to extreme violence and/or mental illness.
Just about every reporter or commentator agrees that what Lanza did should be classified as “evil” and that every effort should be made to understand just what could have caused this young man to become “evil.”
First, let me speak to the popular notion that something, or someone, caused Lanza to “snap” just before he began killing. Those of you who have read previous blog entries know that I have a particular disdain for the careless use of the word “snap” to describe violent behavior, especially the violent behavior of a mass murderer or a serial killer.
The use of the word “snap” is a way to take from an offender part of the responsibility for committing the crime. To “snap” is to act without thinking or in some blind rage. In fact, in my opinion, very few violent acts occur when a person is not thinking. I believe that just about every violent act is a decision, something done by choice.
One common response to this theory of mine (and others) is for people to point to the consequences of these actions and ask how any sane, rational person could have made such a decision, knowing what probably would happen. My response is to point out that all of us, at one or more times in our lives, have made decisions that we would happily go back in time and change if we could. Not all “sane” decisions are good ones.
At the beginning of every semester in my “Study of Murder” class I tell my students that one of the most difficult challenges for me is to try and convince good, honest, and law-abiding people such as they that there exists in this world people who are visually indistinguishable from them who commit evil acts for their own reasons, without hesitation, and without remorse. This difficulty for me is compounded by the fact that each and every one of us has our own personal barometer for behaviors we feel are “normal,” “reasonable,” or “acceptable.” When someone does something outside of these norms of ours, especially something violent and harmful, we try to find a way to explain these behaviors in terms that we can understand and accept.
One of the first things we tend to do is to bifurcate our “good” behavior from that of the “bad” behavior of the violent offender. We start to rationalize that, if we are intelligent, logical, and “good” and would never consider committing such a violent act then the only type of person who would commit such a violent act must, therefore, be unintelligent, illogical, and “bad.” We then start to use words such as “sick,” “insane,” or “demented” to explain such an individual’s behavior and, in doing so, begin to remove from the individual the responsibility for having made the decision to commit the violent act. We reason that no “sane” person could have conceived of such a violent action, especially a young person, so something must have been “wrong” with him or her to cause them to act in such a horrific manner.
I do not disagree that there are violent offenders who suffer from some form of mental illness. Not all, of course, but some. Mr. Cho from Virginia Tech, who killed 32 people before taking his own life, had been diagnosed with depression, mutism, and was referred for treatment. Unfortunately, he also suffered from anosognosia, which, in essence, is an individual’s inability to accept that they need psychiatric help and, thus, refuse to seek or accept it.
But Mr. Cho was not “insane.” In fact, his crimes were diabolically planned. He first killed two people at one end of the campus and then, while the police were all gathered there, went to the other end of campus and, after securing the entry doors with pre-cut lengths of chain and padlocks, began to systematically kill students on the second floor of that building. It was later determined that he spent hours on a nearby pistol range practicing his reloading techniques. Like in the Lanza case, Cho killed himself as soon as the police SWAT team made entry into the building. Mr. Cho, however, did not “snap,” he made decisions that, to him, made sense in his life at that time.
Recently, I watched a movie on television. It was a relatively bad re-make of “The Three Musketeers” and I didn’t watch the movie very long. Just before I turned the channel, however, one of the “bad” guys in the movie commented to another of the “bad” guys that something he was planning on doing was “evil.” Bad Guy #2’s response was, I thought, brilliant. “Evil,” he said, “is just a point of view.”
In that one sentence is the essence of understanding behaviors that most of us consider “evil.”
People who commit “evil” acts know the difference between “right” and “wrong,” “legal” and “illegal.” They know the differences, but they don’t care. Whether it’s Timothy McVeigh who, in 1995, blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City murdering 168 people in an attempt to stir up an anti-government revolt or Dennis Rader, the self-described “BTK” serial killer of 10 people whose motive primarily was sexual sadism, there are individuals who are mass murderers, serial killers, rapists, thieves, and others who are all aware of the social and legal limitations of behavior but who just do not accept the fact that those limitations should apply to them. If you want to label these people “evil,” then do so. Just understand that they do not necessarily agree with you.
We may never know why Lanza killed his mother and all of those innocent children and adults. There are many theories and there will undoubtedly be many more expressed in books and criminological journals.
The purpose of this blog, however, is not to explain why he did what he did but, rather, to dispel the notion that it was somehow not really his fault, that he couldn’t help himself. In a word……bullshit.
Lanza gave his actions a lot of thought. He waited until his mother was asleep and helpless before killing her. He then drove to the elementary school armed with four weapons and lots of ammunition and began killing adults and children as quickly and methodically as he could.
But I doubt that Lanza thought of himself as “evil.” He may have suffered from some form of mental illness but he was not insane. In fact, there’s a good chance that he honestly believed that he was doing what he had to do for his own reasons and from his point of view.
As always, I welcome your responses and feedback.

Lanza

Book Review: “Camouflaged Killer” by David A. Gibb

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on October 27, 2011

Those of you who have been reading my all too infrequent blogs are aware that I have never before authored a book review.  During my studies on the subject of murder I have read hundreds of books, scholastic journals, law enforcement training publications, and other sources.  There’s a lot of great material out there on the subject, as dark and disturbing as it can be, but I want to take this opportunity to recommend to you my most recent read, “Camouflaged Killer” by David Gibb.

The subject is Canadian serial killer and former Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams.

I became fascinated with the Williams case from the beginning.  Here is a serial killer who seemed to have begun his rapid and progressive degeneration into a sexually-motivated serial offender much later in life than average.  He also seemed to have progressed very quickly from being a voyeur (peeping tom),  to a fetish-burglar (women’s panties), to a home-invader/sexual attacker, and finally to a murderer acting out his violent, controlling fantasies all while unbelievably maintaining a stoic mask of normalcy as the local Canadian Forces Air Base Commander.

At first, when the book was released a little more than a year after Williams was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, I was skeptical that this was some quickie pulp-sensation book full of speculation and based entirely on media reports.  I was, happy to say, quite wrong.

David Gibb has clearly been deeply involved in investigating this case as a journalist from the very beginning.  Using police investigative reports and the input of witnesses, law enforcement sources, criminal profilers and psychologists, he has written a chronological description of the events that occurred and provided insightful analysis into just how Russell Williams may have developed into a cruel and sadistic rapist and murderer.

The Author recreates the crimes in detail, a process made fairly easy by the fact that Williams kept video, photographic, and written records of all of his crimes. The reader is taken through Williams’ life story and his stellar rise through the ranks of the Canadian Air Force.  The police investigation and the subsequent arrest and interview of Colonel Williams are recreated.

For me, however, the best part of this book begins with Chapter 24, entitled “Character Unbecoming.”   In this chapter the Author uses experts such as former FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood (The Evil that Men Do) to meticulously dissect and analyze Williams criminal behavior to closely examine his motivation.  It is, to me, the most enlightening part of the book and, quite interestingly, the part of the book Mr. Gibb’s publisher suggested that he not include.

If you are one of my “Study of Murder” students, or if you are a student of criminal behavior, I commend this book to you as an extremely well-written and though provoking case study of an absolutely fascinating, and at the same time, evil, serial murderer.