A Tale of Three Allmans
A jovial devoted single father; a church-going, sharp-dressing author and entrepreneur; a former golden gloves boxer committed to regular workouts; an avid gun collector.
A poor performer with absenteeism issues; an unsafe truck driver; a perceived victim of racism.
A mass murderer; a hijacker; a fugitive; a decedent.
Each profile of the man, so different from the other. What happened in his life that brought him to a point where he could commit such horrific acts of violence, leaving three co-workers dead and seven others wounded? I will leave that question to be answered by the many experts who will analyze his upbringing, adult life, and all the events that transpired in between, in an effort to understand and make sense of such a heinous crime.
What I will comment on, however, is the importance of knowing the warning signs which, if recognized and acted upon, may have averted the bloodbath and loss of life; the importance of having a culture in the workplace that makes employees feel safe to report fears and concerns about their co-workers; and finally the steps employers need to take to make sure they provide a safe workplace for their employees.
Cupertino Gunman — History
Mr. Allman had a long career at Lehigh Hanson's Permanente Cement Plant. Fifteen years. We don’t know much yet about his early work history, but I am going to make an assumption, based on the many accounts of his co-workers regarding his unsafe driving record, numerous accidents and regular absenteeism, that such behavior did not constitute a long standing pattern of conduct.
I don’t believe it would have been tolerated for long by his employer. Something was changing in the life of Mr. Allman. These behaviors are compounded by the regular complaints and comments he made to friends, neighbors, and co-workers — that he is being discriminated against, due to his race. He was the only African American driver at the plant.
Two weeks before the shootings, Mr. Allman refused to be photographed with his "back stabbing" co-workers.
One week before the shooting, his union shop steward told him he would no longer represent him to management based on his numerous driving accidents.
Five daysbefore the shooting, a Friday, he was suspended for an accident where he struck power lines with his vehicle, and expressed to a union officer that he "didn’t feel the punishment fit the crime."
Four days before, Saturday, he visited a friend, who referred to Allman as "Uncle," and told the friend that he had just purchased an AK47 assault rifle. While this purchase would not be unusual for an avid gun collector, when asked "Why?" he replied, "There's some racist people at my job. They're messing with me."
On Monday, two days before the shootings, a meeting was held with management regarding Allman's unsafe driving record and the complaints by fellow workers — that they "...don’t feel safe and are tired of management taking no action."
We learned after the shootings (from his supervisor) that the previous day Mr. Allman came to work and "is working as he should be. He was on the ball."
His co-workers recounted a different story: "He wouldn’t even look at us as we went by or were anywhere near his vicinity and we got to wondering what was going on with him. It was enough that at lunch time, it was kind of the talk of our lunch, what's wrong with him, and then today this happens."
When we connect the dots, it tells a sad tale of missed opportunity to both identify and help an individual at risk. Many of the dots, in and of themselves, should have triggered intervention and responsive action by friends, family, co-workers, his supervisor, and management:
- Mr. Allman was having more accidents, putting his own life and the lives of others in jeopardy.
- Mr. Allman regularly complained that there were racists at work and that he was regularly the victim of racism.
- A similar statement was later paired with the explanation as to why he purchased an AK-47.
It is unrealistic to think that we as employers can train the friends, neighbors and family of our workforce. We can, however, train our employees, supervisors and management to learn about, become aware of and be sensitive to the high risk behaviors and major life events that make an individual more likely to commit a violent act.
5 Preaction™ Plan “We Can” Steps
- We can create a work environment where camaraderie and trust between a supervisor and their direct report is encouraged, thereby enabling a supervisor to detect warning signs long before they may be obvious to other co-workers.
- We can create a culture in the workplace where employees feel safe to report high-risk behaviors, knowing that they will be acted upon, without fear of retaliation.
- We can set up risk assessment, investigatory and intervention procedures to deal with identified threats, and design corrective action plans.
- We can implement security procedures and make use of technology and equipment to better safeguard our workplaces.
- We can train our employees on how to react in the face of threatening behavior.
What is the tale of Three Allmans? It is simple; it is a tale of missed opportunity.
It is also a call to action.
How can you help your company respond to this call to action? Every employer needs a workplace violence prevention program that includes an anonymous reporting mechanism. This would be a great first step.