Friday, February 12, 2010

Why third party information is important in investigations

Forensic psychologists learn to be very thorough in our work, I assume (hope) that police investigators learn this also. However, I was a bit dismayed at the school shooting at Inskip Elementary in Knoxville where Principal Elisa Luna and Assistant Principal Amy Brace were shot by teacher Mark Foster.

My dismay comes from reading at WBIR.com that an anonymous emailer (who later turned out to be the suspect's brother) told the school that Foster was a "ticking time bomb." Naturally, this is not enough evidence to fire someone over, but it ought to be taken seriously, especially when there were two incidents reported at the school, involving yelling at students and grabbing one. An investigation on Foster was opened up but it seems the investigators did not go far enough. The most glaring mistake the investigators made was not contacting a boss from Oak Ridge that Foster threatened to shoot:

10News looked deeper into the school system's investigation on Mark Foster.

Despite the school system's repeated efforts, they missed an important link in their investigation.

Johnny Sellers' email listed Terry Mullins.

School investigators said they tried to contact Mullins twice, but never reached him.

10News quickly found Mullins Wednesday night. He told us Mark Foster was fired from his company, Oak Ridge Tool Engineering, in 1995 for absenteeism.

The CEO said a disgruntled Foster tried to return a few weeks later to shoot him.

Mullins also told us Foster was taken to Ridgeview after his arrest.

School investigators never heard Mullins' story.

Mullins told 10News he never got the messages investigators said they left for him.


Forensic psychologists are supposed to use third party information when we do a violence risk assessment. This means talking to family, friends and yes, co-workers and bosses. I realize that police investigators are not forensic psychologists but I would think they would be just as thorough or more so, given the stakes in these cases. The case should not have been closed until this boss had been reached. If not by phone, they could have gone in person, Oak Ridge is not that far. It is a big deal and not something to overlook or dismiss so easily. Surely, a little more effort on the part of the investigators would have been warranted.

A good book on workplace violence and how to avoid it is Mark Braverman's Preventing Workplace Violence: A Guide for Employers and Practitioners.

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7 Comments:

Blogger DADvocate said...

In all likelyhood the schools were more interested in going through the right steps rather than getting a valid evaluation/report. That way they can claim they did what they were supposed to do. I came across this when complaining to schools about one of my daughter's coaches. The school administrator simply shrugged and said that the coach had been cleared by the appropriate authority to coach. Reality means little to these people.

11:24 AM, February 12, 2010  
Blogger Kevin M said...

Well that proves how wrong my suspicions were.

12:36 PM, February 12, 2010  
Blogger Dr.D said...

As DADvocate has said, process is often more important than results. This way they have a documented paper trail, with all the boxes checked - CYA. If someone had pushed for real results, they might have been prosecuted in turn for excess zeal. In today's world, no good deed goes unpunished.

2:31 PM, February 12, 2010  
Blogger God Of Bacon said...

My son told me about some really lame anti-bullying classes everyone attended in middle school. Known bullies dominated the group discussions and routinely offered absurd solutions to the problem. The teacher pretended to take them seriously while attempting to hide the fact that she was watching the clock.

The school system obviously wasted my tax money to purchase a canned program of some sort that complied with the recommendations of their insurance carrier and their legal advisor. Neither the scumbag parents who raise bullies nor the school administrators are bright enough to absorb even the basic lessons of Columbine.

7:38 PM, February 12, 2010  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Neither the _____________ nor the school administrators are bright enough to ________________

Fill in the blanks.

On several occasions I've praised my kids' schools, which is a good school system, but in truth is no more than half as good as all schools should be. To many of the teachers and administrators are dimwits who couldn't make it at the company I work at or many other places that require real talent and intelligence.

9:11 PM, February 12, 2010  
Blogger br549 said...

I can't wait until the ad showing Carol Shea-Porter runs its course.

5:20 AM, February 13, 2010  
Blogger pdwalker said...

It's almost impossible to fire a teacher.

I wonder how long this guy will remain on the payroll?

9:25 AM, February 13, 2010  

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