Case Study 7--Veiled Threats
A team member took a phone call from a supervisor who said, One of
my employees said this morning that he knows where my kids go to school. I
know that doesn't sound like much to you, but if you saw the look in his eyes
and heard the anger in his voice, you'd know why I need your help in figuring
out what to do.
The team member who took the call heard more details about the incident
and then set up a meeting with the supervisor who made the report, a security
specialist, an employee relations specialist, and an Employee Assistance
Program (EAP) counselor.
At the meeting, the Supervisor who made the report told the team
that the employee who said that he knows where his kids go to school has been
engaging in intimidating behavior against him for the past year since he
became his supervisor. The supervisor had spoken with him on several
occasions to let him know that his behavior was unacceptable. He also had
given him a written warning along with a written referral to the EAP.
Because the office was in a General Services Administration controlled
building, the Security specialist then called the regional office of
the Federal Protective Service (FPS). The FPS contacted the threat assessment
unit of the state police, who agreed to assign a threat assessment consultant
to assist the agency. In a phone consultation with the team, the Threat
Assessment Consultant suggested that the team arrange for an immediate
investigation by an investigator who was experienced in workplace violence
cases. The investigator should explore the following areas:
- What further background information can be
learned about the relationship between the supervisor and alleged threatener?
- What is the relationship between the
supervisor and his other employees and coworkers?
- Have there been problems of a similar nature
with the alleged threatener's previous
supervisors? If so, how were they resolved or handled? If there were
problems with previous supervisors, were they similar to or different
from the current situation?
- What are the alleged threatener's
relationships with coworkers? Might there be other potential victims?
Are there also interpersonal problems between the alleged threatener and other employees?
- Are there unusually stressful problems in the
life of the alleged threatener, e.g., divorce,
financial reversal, or any other recent significant traumatic event?
- Does anyone else feel threatened based on
their interaction with the alleged threatener?
- Does the alleged threatener
have access to weapons? Has he recently acquired weapons?
The threat assessment consultant scheduled another telephone consultation
with the team for three days later. He also suggested that the investigator
not interview the alleged perpetrator until after the next phone
The investigation was conducted immediately by a Professional
Investigator and the team reviewed the investigative report prior to the
next phone conversation with the threat assessment consultant. The report
contained statements by the employee's supervisor about veiled threats the
employee had made, such as If you give me that assignment, you'll be
sorry, I know where you live, and I see you every day on your way to work.
(The employee lives at the opposite end of town from the supervisor.)
Also in the investigative report was a transcript (and a tape recording)
of two voice mail messages that the supervisor found intimidating -- one in
which the employee said he needed annual leave that day to go for target
practice and another one in which he said he couldn't come to work that day
because he had to go hunting. Again, the supervisor's statement showed that
he considered the employee's tone of voice to be intimidating and said that,
on the day previous to each of these phone calls, the employee had acted as
though he was angry about new assignments the supervisor had given him. The
supervisor said he has taken several precautions as a result of the threats.
For example, he told his children to take precautions, installed dead bolt
locks at his home, and asked the local police to do a security survey of his
home. In addition to the investigative report, the security office obtained a
police record showing a misdemeanor conviction for spousal abuse several
Participating in the phone consultation with the threat assessment
consultant was the workplace violence team, the second-line supervisor, and
the director of the office. The purpose of the consultation was to:
- Analyze the information contained in the
- Determine what additional information was
- Determine whether to interview the alleged
- Help the team members organize their thinking
about how to proceed with the case, and
- Discuss a range of options that could be
The threat assessment consultant recommended that the investigator
interview three coworkers, the employee's ex-wife, and subsequently the
alleged threatener. The purpose of the interview
with the alleged threatener would be to corroborate
what was said by the others and get his explanation of why he made the
statements. The interview would also communicate to him that this kind of
conduct has been noticed, troubles people, and is not condoned. He advised
that security measures, including having a security officer in the next room,
be taken when the alleged threatener was
interviewed. The threat assessment consultant also gave the team guidance in
the preservation of evidence, such as written material and tape recordings,
and in the documentation of all contacts.
During the interview, the alleged threatener
made what the investigator believed were several additional veiled threats
against the supervisor. He even behaved in a way that led the investigator to
be concerned about his own safety.
Based on the findings of the investigation, the threat assessment
consultant concluded that the employee presented behaviors that showed that a
real possibility existed that the employee, if pushed, might carry out some
of his threats toward the supervisor and his family. He expressed concern
that, if the employee continued to work in the same office, the situation
could escalate. Management decided to place the employee on excused absence
for the safety of the threatened supervisor.
The threat assessment consultant worked with team members to develop a
plan for ongoing security. For example, he suggested the team identify one
member to coordinate case management, recommended monitoring any further
communication between the employee and other agency employees (e.g., any
phone calls, any email messages, and any showing up at residences were to be
reported to the case manager). He recommended that security officials be in
the area, though not visible, whenever meetings were held with the employee.
The threat assessment consultant remained available for telephone
consultation as the team carried out the plan.
Though the agency had concerns that any agency action might trigger an
action against the supervisor's family, the agency went ahead and removed the
employee based on a charge of threatening behavior. The agency's analysis
considered the credibility of the supervisor and employee, and the
information and evidence gathered. The employee did not appeal the removal
The agency security officer gave the supervisor advice on personal safety
and discussed with him the pros and cons of obtaining a restraining order for
his family. The security officer also helped the supervisor get in touch with
the local office of victim assistance for additional ideas on ways to protect
his family. The threat assessment consultant also spoke with the supervisor and
suggested that he may want to go to the school, school bus driver, and
neighbors and make them aware of the problem and the alleged threatener's appearance (show them his picture). The
reason for involving the school and neighbors would be to encourage them to
report any suspicious activities to the police. He also talked to the
supervisor about police involvement and discussed filing criminal charges. If
the police said the situation was not serious enough to file criminal
charges, he suggested finding out from the police what was serious enough to
warrant an arrest. For example, he could explore with police what would
constitute a pattern of behavior that might be considered serious enough to
pursue action under the state's stalking or harassment statute.
Questions for the Agency Planning Group
- If this incident were reported at your
agency, would you have used a criminal investigator or administrative
investigator to conduct the initial investigation?
- If your agency has a criminal investigative
service, have you discussed the feasibility of involving agency criminal
investigators at an early stage in the process of dealing with
threatening behavior, i.e., in situations where threatening behavior
does not yet rise to the level of a crime?
- Has your agency identified a threat
assessment professional to whom you could turn for assistance if the
- How does your agency keep up with Merit
Systems Protection Board case law on charges and threats?
- If this happened at your
agency, and the threatening behavior continued, what would you do to
protect the supervisor and his family?