It may have happened in Washington, and this may be the Boston criminal lawyer blog, but we have seen such stories from all around the country…including Massachusetts.
I am referring to the former Navy reservist, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis (hereinafter, the “Shooter”). The Shooter is dead now, of course. Along with at least 12 other people after yesterday’s mass murder at what was supposed to be a secure military facility.
As is typical, chaos ensued during and just after the shootings. At first, there were thought to be co-conspirators. There was a rush to lock down part of the nation’s capital. Witness accounts had to be taken.
The chaos at the facility, the Washington Navy Yard, started just after 8 a.m. Civilian employees described a scene of confusion as shots erupted through the hallways of the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, on the banks of the Anacostia River a few miles from the White House and about a half-mile from the Capitol.
“I heard three gunshots, pow, pow, pow, straight in a row,” said Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist from Woodbridge, Va., who was in the cafeteria on the first floor when the shooting started. “About three seconds later, there were four more gunshots, and all of the people in the cafeteria were panicking, trying to figure out which way we were going to run out.”
Police officers who swarmed the military facility exchanged fire with the Shooter. Finally, he was shot to death, law enforcement officials said, but not before a dozen people were killed and several others, including a city police officer, were wounded and taken to local hospitals.
Officials now opine that the Shooter drove a rental car to the base and entered using his access as a contractor and shot an officer and one other person outside Building 197, the Sea Systems Command headquarters. Inside, he is believed to have made his way to a floor overlooking an atrium to take aim at employees eating breakfast below.
And that is when the shooting began.
It would appear that the Shooter came looking to leave many victims. Three weapons were found on him: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol, a senior law enforcement officer said. It was unclear whether he had brought all the guns with him, another law enforcement official said, or if he had taken one or more of them from his victims.
Officials said they were still searching for a motive as they asked the public for help by posting pictures of the Shooter on the F.B.I. Web site.
Navy officials said late Monday that the Shooter had worked as a contractor in information technology. A spokesman for Hewlett-Packard said that he had been an employee of a company called The Experts, a subcontractor on an HP Enterprise Services contract.
Navy officials said the Shooter had been given a general discharge in 2011 after exhibiting a “pattern of misbehavior,” which officials declined to detail. The year before, he was arrested in Fort Worth for discharging a firearm after an upstairs neighbor said he had confronted her in the parking lot about making too much noise, according to a Fort Worth police report.
The police in Seattle, where the Shooter had once lived, said Monday that they had arrested him in 2004 for shooting the tires of another man’s vehicle in what he later described to detectives as an anger-fueled “blackout.”
Since then, more reports have been released indicating the Shooter’s emotional issues, including post traumatic stress disorder, sleeplessness and the hearing of voices in his head.
There is now a call for investigations as to how the Shooter could have accessed the opportunity to perpetrate the atrocity. Attention is being paid to the question of security.
It might be time to spend a couple of minutes on the question of how seriously we take issues pertaining to mental health.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Mental Health Time Bombs And Crime
Let’s face it.
One thing that history has shown us is that if there is someone who is absolutely determined to kill someone or someones, perhaps especially if they are disturbed individuals, unafraid to die they are likely to find a way. We can talk all about security as much as we like. Remember, the Shooter had access to the locations…he worked there.
This blog has decried the fact that our society seems to take the “law and order” approach to problems. Kids misbehaving? Drag them into court and maybe lock them away. Someone is emotionally disturbed, commits a crime and lives? Lock them up until a jury says that they are crazy. Someone is emotionally disturbed, commits a crime and dies? Let’s look at security and how we could’ve locked them up.
The problem is two-fold.
One problem is that the approach does not really prevent similar happenings. How many school shootings do we need to show us that?
The other problem is that it criminalizes mental illness. Why not, instead of an approach which attaches incarceration and criminal records to treatment, actually try to help the person, while not stigmatizing them for the rest of their lives?
In my practice, I have seen many people who simply appear “weird” and do questionable things or have “dangerous” thoughts. The moment they start to look for help, they run the risk of destroying what slim choices they still have in their future.
Again, two reasons that I have found to be most prevalent.
One is the omni-present need for institutions and law enforcement agencies to cover their backsides should something go wrong. Better to lock someone up than let them out and take a chance that things will not go well. Of course, the most dangerous part of this is that we, as a society, applaud those who take this approach and indicate that they should move up to higher political office.
The other reason is that it is simply easier. Human beings are complicated. They are messy (which, by the way, is one of the reasons the criminal justice system is messy). Now, when you add mental illness into the situation, it becomes even messier. Even more difficult.
The Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog has a few stories coming up which may surprise you in this regard. In the meantime, though, let me break down another danger of this approach for you.
Have you or a loved one ever acted odd? Ever done something that, in retrospect, was a result of what we often call a “brain fart”? Do you know anyone who has mental illness?
If so…do you suppose that this “safer” approach of criminalizing, establishing a criminal record for and locking away folks such as you or your loved one will help the situation?
Rest assured…as “safe” as you might think you are because you “know” you or the loved one will not hurt anybody…many of these other folks thought that too.
Further, the powers that be will not share your confidence that you or your loved one are either “different” or “safe”.
The “safe” approach has become policy.
A policy that is politically rewarded.
On Friday, let’s venture deeper into the darker side of mental health and deranged ideas.
To read the original story upon which this blog is based, please go to http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/us/shooting-reported-at-washington-navy-yard.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 and http://www.boston.com/news/nation/2013/09/18/mother-navy-yard-shooter-very-sorry/iozR5zThrrx3uiSsfYiUbI/story.html