Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Man kills his wife and himself at her workplace

CHAPEL HILL -- Five days after Randy Leverne McKendall was in front of a judge for violating a domestic violence protection order, police say, he jumped out of a black Ford truck outside his wife's workplace, exchanged words with her in the chilly morning air, then fatally shot her before taking his own life.

Shennel McCrimon McKendall, 37, was several hundred yards from the front door of UNC Hospitals' James T. Hedrick Building on Monday when the 34-year-old man she married nearly 5 1/2 years ago fired a 9 mm handgun at her at close range, police said. The murder-suicide took place shortly after 7:30 a.m., as UNC Hospitals employees were starting their day at the remote office building. Nearly half a dozen people saw it, investigators said. The couple's turbulent past month, one that legal officials know well, highlights the limits of protection orders and raises questions about whether a workplace can be fully protected from domestic rage.

"This is just gut-wrenching," said Kit Gruelle of Chatham County, a nationally recognized expert on domestic violence. Shennel McKendall, experts say, did everything by the book.
On Nov. 9, she sought an emergency protection order from Chatham County court officials. Her husband had so badly twisted her wrist while they argued about what to watch on TV that it bled, she told them. She also complained that in October her husband had grabbed a radio from her teenage daughter and thrown it across a room after the girl refused to turn it down.
A court date was set for Nov. 15. Judge Pat Devine was on the bench. Shennel McKendall was represented by Melissa Averett, director of Domestic Violence Civil Legal Services in Chapel Hill.
"My recollection of the hearing is that I had to admonish him, that this was very serious," Devine said Monday, referring to Randy McKendall. "He did some inappropriate laughing and smirking, which was troubling." Devine ordered Randy McKendall to stay away from the red brick home the couple shared at 612 Mitchell's Chapel Road, Pittsboro. He was not to go near his wife, to call her or to communicate with her family. He was to surrender any firearms.

A suicide threat

The very next day, court officials say, he violated the order.
On Nov. 16, Shennel McKendall told Chatham investigators that her husband had called her from the Mitchell's Chapel Road home and told her he was going to commit suicide. She heard two shots. Deputies rushed to the house. Randy McKendall was not there. But in Shennel McKendall's 17-year-old daughter's bedroom, there was evidence that a TV and nightstand had been shot. Investigators found a 9 mm shell casing. They also confiscated a rifle.

Randy McKendall was charged with violating the protection order by contacting his wife by telephone. The warrant was served in Lee County, where he had relatives. After a suicide attempt that landed him in a Lee County hospital, Randy McKendall turned himself in to county authorities Nov. 22 to be charged with violating the protection order. A magistrate released him on $1,000 bond, court records show.

Shennel McKendall was advised to stay away from her Mitchell's Chapel Road home, and she did.
On Nov. 23, after Domestic Violence Officer Cpl. Brad Johnson was briefed about the case, Randy McKendall was arrested and placed under 48-hour lockup with a suggested bail of $5,000. Johnson urged Kayley Taber, an assistant district attorney in Chatham, to seek a higher bail. Devine got the case.

"I set the bond at $10,000, and that is quite high for an alleged violation of a domestic protection order. "It's a horrible tragedy, but in this particular case, I'm satisfied that, with what we knew at the time, that we did what we could."

Randy McKendall, who had a teenage son from another relationship, was out on bail before the court-appointed public defender had time to meet with him. Where he went and what he did over the next four days is unclear. Relatives declined to comment. "I want to know where he got the gun," said Averett, the lawyer who represented Shennel McKendall.

Collecting evidence

Police were not sure when Randy McKendall arrived Monday at the Hedrick Building, which is nestled in woods nearly three miles from UNC-Chapel Hill's main campus. From witness interviews, they think Shennel McKendall parked her 1999 forest green Honda Accord in a lower parking lot, then met up with several fellow employees along the tree-lined walks.

Police were not sure whether Randy McKendall jumped out of the Ford truck with the engine on or backed it over a curb and a small tree flanking the street. They found it with the gear shift in reverse. Late Monday, investigators were collecting witness statements to piece together what happened in the parking lot. There were reports of as many as five gunshots.

Rarely do UNC police get such cases. "The last homicide was actually a similar situation, it was a murder-suicide, and that was more than 10 years ago," Maj. Jeff McCracken said.
Neither campus police nor UNC Hospitals police were aware of the couple's problems. Shennel McKendall had not sought extra protection, they said. The mood was somber at the Hedrick Building all day. Few of the 200 employees wanted to talk.

"I think people are scared because it happened at work," said Michael Barbee, who arrived about 10 minutes before the shooting. "Anybody could have been walking in at the time."

Shennel McKendall worked in the human resources department with six other co-workers. She was the receptionist that job applicants first encountered. Shaken co-workers were ushered to their cars after the event. The employment office closed. Grief counselors were on the scene.
Those who stayed shed tears as they remembered a sweet, spunky woman caught in a dark web that she had tried to escape.

Outside Shennel McKendall's grandmother's house Monday evening, aunts, uncles and cousins gathered and talked quietly near the front porch, waiting for McKendall's parents to arrive. They live in New York, where McKendall grew up, relatives said. Few knew of her marital problems.
Kenneth Dark, an uncle, lived nearby. "She was a good neighbor, but he wasn't; he wanted to fight all the time," Dark said. "If I knew it was going to get to this, I don't know what I would have done."

In the Berkley Place neighborhood in Sanford where Randy McKendall grew up, Cora McIver, a longtime resident who lived across the street, was saddened by the news Monday.
"I feel really low right now," McIver said, "because Pie -- that's what we called him -- he knew he could come talk to me. I don't know what was going on up there. He was just a fine young man to me."

Monday, November 29, 2004

Workplace Violence Research Study Released

A two year workplace violence research study by Northeastern University has been released. This research measures community responses of both workers and supervisors in Wakefield, MA in the aftermath of a December 2000 workplace violence incident claiming seven lives.

WATERTOWN, MA (PRWEB) November 29, 2004 -- Doherty Partners LLC president Stephen Doherty, the retired Chief of the Wakefield (MA) Police Department announced the release of a major workplace violence research study.This community based research was in response to the December 26, 2000 workplace shootings of seven employees at Edgewater Technology in Wakefield, MA. The research was funded by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety. It is believed to be the first post critical workplace violence incident research in the United States.

The two year study conducted by Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice under the direction of noted criminologist and Dean, Dr. Jack Greene sought to supply information regarding the nature and scope of workplace violence in Wakefield as well as information and ideas on what police strategies could be used to prevent and reduce the likelihood of workplace violence from occurring.Both employees and supervisors from manufacturing, construction, retail, personal services, health, social services, government, and hi tech workplaces responded to the randomized anonymous survey. Examined as well were differences in perceptions and response by industry, gender and managers versus employees.

Some major findings of the research were:
• Females appear to have a lower threshold for violence in the workplace. They also seem to be more in touch with the role that domestic violence plays in the workplace.
• Individuals can become both desensitized as well as more sensitive to certain behaviors depending on their work environment.
• There is no clear consensus on what acts and behaviors constitute workplace violence.• There is a difference in how managers and employees view the problem of workplace violence even though they are victimized at the same rate.
• Women were more likely than males to perceive that receiving threats of workplace violence was likely. Eighty percent of females as compared to 56.5 percent of males believe that they are likely to receive any type of threat.

The entire workplace violence research study is available in downloadable .pdf format at http://www.dohertypartners.com.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Alaska Court Finds Domestic Violence Victim Incapacitated Enough for Leave Eligibility

An Anchorage, Alaska, police officer who fled the state after allegedly experiencing domestic violence put the department on notice that she wanted Family and Medical Leave Act leave by saying she wanted to "get her life back together" and cope with her pregnancy and emotional abuse related to the domestic violence, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled Nov. 12 (Anchorage v. Gregg, Alaska, No. S-10722, 11/12/04 ).

Upholding a jury verdict in favor of Theresa Gregg, Alaska's highest court ruled the city was aware that Gregg qualified for FMLA leave and therefore its failure to provide the necessary leave after Gregg fled the state to deal with injuries from a car accident, post-traumatic stress related to the domestic violence, and her pregnancy was an FMLA violation.

In affirming the lower court, the state supreme court found that a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder combined with Gregg's pregnancy was the type of incapacitating health condition anticipated by the FMLA and therefore the city's insistence on a contemporaneous diagnosis was misplaced.

"When an employee is actually incapacitated by illness, the failure to get a correct diagnosis cannot disqualify an employee from the Act's protection," Justice Alexander O. Bryner wrote for the unanimous court. "To hold that a doctor must agree, contemporaneously and at all times, that the employee is unable to work, places a burden on the employee that we find nowhere in the plain text of the Act, and ignores the reality of debilitating illness."

While it may be preferable to have a diagnosis at the moment the leave is requested, the court said Gregg's employer was already aware of her car accident, the pregnancy, and the alleged abuse and therefore should have known that she was eligible for FMLA coverage. Failing to offer that protection, the court said, justified a trial court's verdict.

The court added that while the FMLA permits employers to demand a contemporaneous diagnosis at the time it grants FMLA leave, the city in this case never granted the leave and therefore should not have expected Gregg to provide a diagnosis in order to reject her.

Viewed Herself as Hostage

Gregg joined the police department in 1995 and had an excellent employment record until she was involved in a car accident in 1997. The accident, which occurred in January, came as Gregg was two-and-a-half months pregnant with the child of another Anchorage police officer, who is now Gregg's husband. At the time of the accident, she was married to Michael Wimer--an Army officer--but the child was not his.

While Gregg was on sick leave because of the accident, Wimer was arrested for threatening to kill Gregg's future husband. Gregg told the police that she felt she was in a hostage situation with Wimer and that he had been mentally abusive and extremely controlling. Gregg was released to go back to work, but she remained on sick leave.

While still on sick leave, Gregg chose to travel to Florida to "work things out" and spend time with her mother. This request was approved by department officials. Wimer soon followed her to Florida and then, after they agreed to attempt reconciliation, they moved to Virginia. In Virginia, Wimer again was involved in a confrontation with Gregg's future husband, who unsuccessfully attempted to convince Gregg to move back to Alaska.

In early March 1997, Gregg's leave status was changed from sick leave to annual leave because her supervisor learned she was medically released to go back to work. Gregg requested that she be placed on leave without pay status so she could focus on "her personal issues" but that she intended to return to work, but the department rejected that request.

The denial of leave without pay appeared to be in contrast with department policy, which required such requests to be in writing. Gregg was not told that the request needed to be in writing or that she may be qualified for state and federal family leave, even though her supervisor knew the reason for her leave.

While still in Florida, her supervisor informed her that she needed to return to work in three days or she would be terminated for abandoning her position. Gregg asked for more time to "get her life together" and "deal with her pregnancy" and "deal with her injuries," but the request was again denied. Wimer ultimately faxed a copy of Gregg's signed resignation to the department, but when Gregg attempted to cancel her resignation, the request was refused.

Upon termination, she was informed she could be rehired but attempts to rejoin the force were thwarted because of a negative recommendation in her file. At a bench trial in 2001, Gregg--now divorced from Wimer--was awarded $628,706 for economic losses, but the court found liquidated damages unwarranted.

Supervisor Should Have Seen Incapacity

In affirming the decision--but remanding the calculation of interest and liquidated damages after a finding of lack of good faith--the court said that the fact Gregg was "retroactively" diagnosed with post-traumatic stress after her termination was no reason to reject the diagnosis.

"While courts have rejected retroactive diagnoses, it is generally for other evidentiary reasons, such as when the diagnosis was also speculative or given without actually examining the patient," Bryner said, adding that the city failed to identify cases showing retroactive medical diagnoses were a complete bar to establishing an FMLA claim.

In addition to the diagnosis, the court said Gregg's supervisor was aware of her condition and the multiple problems she was experiencing since the supervisor talked to her every week. The supervisor believed Gregg was so emotionally distraught that he even suggested that she may need a psychological evaluation before returning to work early in 1997.

"A reasonable person could conclude that Gregg was effectively unable to work because she fled the state to leave an abusive husband who followed her, and that she was unable to perform daily activities because she was held in a 'hostage situation,' where her behavior was dictated by the combination of fear for her children, a high level of emotional stress, her accident injuries, and her pregnancy," Bryner said.

In a footnote, the court said a victim of domestic violence is not automatically entitled to FMLA protection, but that a victim who meets the test for a serious health condition--as Gregg did--has the right to statutory leave.

Justices Warren W. Matthews, Robert L. Eastaugh, Dana Fabe, and Walter L. Carpeneti joined in the decision. Linda J. Johnson of the municipal attorney's office in Anchorage, Alaska, represented the city. Kenneth W. Legacki in Anchorage represented Gregg.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Deadly Domestic Disputes in the Workplace A Rarity

Workplace experts say incidents like Tuesday’s double shooting in Palm Springs represent a relatively rare form of workplace violence -- the kind that apparently stems from a domestic situation.But that type of incident is also among the hardest to foresee or prevent."The domestic situations that spill into the workplace are sometimes the most violent," said Steve Kaufer, co-founder of the Workplace Violence Research Institute in Palm Springs.

Kaufer was not commenting specifically on Tuesday’s incident, and investigators are still trying to piece together the circumstances. The assailant and victim were apparently an estranged boyfriend and girlfriend.However, Kaufer noted that 80 percent of workplace homicides nationwide -- of which there were 560 in 2003 -- are robbery-related. They occur most often among high-risk occupations like convenience store clerks and taxi cab drivers.Another 12 to 13 percent stem from internal workplace confrontations -- among employees, or between workers and their supervisors or customers.Kaufer said the remaining 6 to 7 percent stem from domestic situations carried into the workplace.

From initial indications, Tuesday’s incident stemmed from non-work-related matters.Because the circumstances and triggers are so varied, workplace violence defies simple preventive measures.

In the case of robbery-related violence, said California Department of Industrial Relations spokesman Dean Fryer, the answers are usually common-sense moves -- locking areas, manning shifts with more than one employee and installing security cameras.Extra wariness by employees also helps. "Know your surroundings," Frryar said. "Know who should be in the area and who shouldn’t."

But outside of robbery prevention, experts said other circumstances are harder to guard against. There may be even less that can be done if a small-business operator normally has few other employees on the premises -- the apparent shooting victim owned the dog-grooming business where the Palm Springs incident occurred.I

n places where there are several employees, Kaufer said co-workers and supervisors need to be on the lookout for emotional signs that something is wrong. An employee’s behavior or mood might change, impacting that person’s job performance and interaction with others.That could be a sign of a domestic problem that could enter the workplace in the form of violence.

Employers should be ready to refer workers to counseling agencies, and give those workers time off to address the problems.For instance, a worker might need to check in to a domestic violence shelter to deal with an abusive relationship."Every community, including the Palm Springs area, has resources available," Kaufer said.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

1 in 3 ER Patients Victims of DV in Wales, UK

One in three people treated in emergency departments in Wales for assault injuries is the victim of domestic violence, new research has revealed. The research, carried out by the University of Glamorgan also found that 75% of the victims of domestic violence treated at the emergency room were female, and 25% were male. The findings have led for calls for all hospital Accident and Emergency departments in Wales to set up referral schemes that allow victims of such assaults to readily access help and support when they are ready.

Lynn Lynch, a consultant midwife who carried out the research, said, "Domestic violence is ongoing and I am sure that these figures do not represent the true levels of abuse, they only show those who have needed emergency medical attention. There is surely a difference between these numbers and those that we do not know about."

The research, which was presented at a world conference in Florida, also discovered that in a fifth of all domestic violence attacks seen at Prince Charles Hospital, children were present. The main perpetrators of domestic violence in cases involving women were partners or ex-partners; in attacks on men, other family members were found to be largely responsible.
(Source: Western Mail, Wales UK, 11-5-04.)

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Devastation of Domestic Violence

When Amherst, New York resident Ulner Lee Still had his adolescent son record a 50-minute video of Still beating and verbally abusing his wife, he did more than seal his own jury conviction.
He created a one-of-a-kind record of abuse that is now being sought by numerous police, court and domestic-violence advocacy groups for use as a training tool. Still was convicted last month on 12 counts of felony and misdemeanor assault against his wife, Susan.

"You can't understand the dynamics of the psychological damage and abuse and control unless you are exposed to it with this kind of in-your-face intensity," said Lisa Bloch Rodwin, Domestic Violence Bureau chief in the Erie County district attorney's office.
Until now, no video record of a domestic violence has been available to highlight the vicious pattern of abuse, according to experts on the subject. The closest real-life examples have come primarily from 911 calls to police.

But Susan Still has consented to release the recording of her abuse to legitimate court and police agencies for training purposes. "This video speaks for every woman and child who were not believed or thought no one would believe them," she said in a statement. "If viewing it helps one judge, one police officer, or one person take steps to save one other woman or child, then it should be used as a positive tool to end a very heart-wrenching and devastating issue in our society."

Videos that now exist to help people understand the nature of domestic violence use actors, experts said, and their performances do not always appear credible.

That is why the Still case, in which the video captured one of the assaults against Susan Still in the spring of 2003, has received immediate attention from domestic-violence and criminal-justice agencies from as far away as Australia. The video may be released to these groups after Ulner Still's sentencing in December, Rodwin said.

Those who have seen the Still video say that it is useful not just because it shows physical violence, but because the 40 minutes preceding the beating shows the husband interrogating and tearing his wife down verbally.

"It's the progression from the quiet, verbal discussion to the verbal abuse, moving into the physical abuse," said State Supreme Court Justice Sharon S. Townsend, administrative judge of the Eighth Judicial District.

The video also highlights the impact that spousal abuse has on children, she said, because Ulner Still had his 13-year-old son record the incident, and the son is heard on the recording.
In the video, Still criticizes his wife for not leaving quickly enough after she asks him what he wants for lunch and accuses her of being a bad mother.

"Don't just stand there looking stupid!" he says in the recording, compelling her to speak before he eventually throws her to the floor and attacks her.

"It sounds like a classic pattern of abuse which we have heard time and time again," said Laurie Ogden, an advocate with the Grace Smith House shelter for battered women in Dutchess County, who has requested the video. "Having this actually videotaped sounds very validating for victims who describe years and years of this type of abuse."

For many victims, the psychological abuse is worse than the physical abuse, Ogden said. But that experience is often extremely difficult to convey to law enforcement. "I think the video might really help us reach the judges and the lawyers who don't really get what the perpetrators are doing," she said.

Townsend said that she wants to use the video to train village and town judges but that she wants to obtain additional consents and ensure that showing the recording would not give Ulner Still any basis for appeal.

Ulner Still's attorney, David G. Jay, described the recorded abuse as a "momentary lapse" by a man devoted to his family.

Susan Still's former work supervisor, Lynne Jasper, has agreed to talk with local business groups about the impact of domestic violence on the workplace.
Many abuse victims are isolated from friends and family, she said, so fellow workers often are the only ones in a position to help.

"People who stay in this situation are not weak, nor are they stupid," said Jasper, who works for American Coradius in Williamsville. "They have been chipped away at and controlled and erased from having an identity."