Security and Crime News
Slashing Suspect Talked Of Respect
By Stephanie McCrummen and Annie Gowen
January 12, 2005 - A man who slashed six people at a retirement home in Alexandria on Sunday mumbled, "She didn't respect me," after he went from room to room attacking residents, visitors and co-workers with a dull knife, a woman who helped subdue him said yesterday.
"He kind of rambled on," said Jane Margaret Dow, 59, an editor from Arlington who was visiting her 93-year-old mother at Goodwin House when she heard someone screaming in the hallway. ". . .He seemed to be out of his mind -- he wasn't coherent."
Mustafa Mohamed, 30, a housekeeping employee at the retirement home, has been charged with two counts of malicious wounding in the knife attack. One of the victims, whose neck was broken, remained hospitalized yesterday, police said. A resident required 200 stitches.
Investigators are trying to determine what caused the burst of violence that residents and employees described as "random" and "out of the blue." Experts who have studied violence in workplaces -- in offices, factories and other public places -- said, however, that such acts typically are quite purposeful, at least in the mind of the attacker, and the result of frustrations that often have simmered for some time.
"Most of these cases are cases of vengeance," said Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston. "The worker or ex-worker seeks sweet revenge" against an employee or manager who he perceives has humiliated or threatened him.
Officials at Goodwin House said that Mohamed had "no major problems" with his supervisor, who was not working there Sunday. Prosecutors said yesterday that they were pursuing a theory that the attack might have stemmed from a disagreement with a staff member.
The first co-worker who was slashed, food services manager Jeanne Hobbs, worked with Mohamed only on weekends, occasionally, and she said they'd never had a problem, according to her husband. Another visitor, John Springer, lunged toward the attacker as he slashed at Hobbs, who required 60 stitches on her face. Springer also was seriously injured.
Mohamed had been accused of attacking a co-worker before -- at a CVS store in 2003 after the worker laughed at him for tripping over some boxes, according to court documents. Those charges were dropped and, because there was no conviction, a background check by Goodwin House did not reveal the accusation before his hiring in 2003.
Levin and other experts said attacks on colleagues are perhaps best understood not as "workplace violence" but as "crimes of vengeance," a category that would include such shootings as those at Columbine High School and other mass killings in public places.
Typically, the attacker in such cases has been isolated socially, perhaps because he recently moved a great distance from his home or is predisposed to be a loner.
According to a government official familiar with his history, Mohamed immigrated from Somalia to the United States with his family in March 1992. He is a permanent resident but not a citizen.
Workers and residents at the Goodwin House said that Mohamed seemed like a pleasant person and a model employee who "just snapped," but experts said that in other cases, that scenario has rarely turned out to be true.
"I've been in this business 40 years, and I can count on one hand the number of cases where someone snapped," said Roger Depue, a former head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit who founded the Academy Group in Manassas, which counsels private companies across the country on workplace behavioral issues. "For the vast majority, it's an evolving process. The person begins to feel like they're being treated unfairly, and it grows."
Overall, the number of assaults and killings in the workplace has declined about 20 percent since the mid-1990s, although the number rose slightly in 2003, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Depue said that while it is often difficult to detect signs that a worker might be on the verge of violence, he counsels his clients to set up support networks.
Goodwin House has an employee assistance program, a hotline employees can call if they encounter problems and an "open door" policy with supervisors, said Colleen Ryan Mallon, a company spokeswoman.
During her visit Sunday, Dow said that she heard someone scream, "He's killing them!" She looked down the hallway and saw a large man in a housekeeping uniform bent over the bed of an elderly patient. Dow tried to lock the door of her mother's room, but there was no lock. When she looked back out in the hallway, the man was attacking another patient.
A man who apparently knew Mohamed was trying to calm him, Dow said. She fumbled for the pepper spray in her purse, then sprayed his eyes, and he lunged at her, stabbing at her stomach with the knife, which bent instead of piercing her clothes. She then convinced Mohamed to sit in a chair, Dow said. He began mumbling the word "respect."
Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
Task force saturates high-crime sectors
Teams from 21 law enforcement agencies in Jefferson County hit the streets April 5. They say they are seeing immediate success - and gratitude.
Thursday night in West End, authorities said, one older resident approached the officers and said, "Are you with that task force I've heard about?" When they said yes, he said, "Glad you're here."
"It's starting to work, starting to take hold," Hale said Friday. "People in areas that need relief have come out on the front porch and applauded. It's just awesome."
Operation Unity is a 60-day initiative to fight the rise in homicides in Birmingham and other areas of the county. Birmingham finished 2005 with 105 homicides, up from 64 in 2004. In all of Jefferson County, there were 143 homicides last year and 92 in 2004. As of Friday, the city had had 29 homicides. It didn't reach that total in 2005 until May 8.
The teams are saturating areas that have high levels of violent crime or unsolved homicides.
A similar task force was formed in the 1980s under Sheriff Mel Bailey after the number of killings surged in Bessemer. Agencies pooled resources for 60 days and cut the number of killings in half that year.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Randy Christian said the county is broken into southeast, southwest, northeast and northwest quadrants. In four teams of five officers each, the task force works one area each day, putting 25 marked units in that area for patrol.
Deputies are conducting investigations, increasing high-intensity patrols of target communities and coordinating narcotics, anti-gang and street-crime enforcement.
So far, the task force has made arrests on charges ranging from murder to bad checks, Christian said. Officers have opened 35 new criminal cases - nine of them felonies - and cleared 186 outstanding warrants.
Of the warrants cleared, 62 were for bad checks. The remaining 124 were for felonies including theft, rape, shooting, murder and shooting into an occupied dwelling.
They have issued 110 traffic tickets, including five DUIs, and have impounded nine vehicles and confiscated 10 guns.
"They've hit every corner of the county," Christian said. "They are working street crimes, they are knocking on doors where they know there's an outstanding warrant, and they are setting up drivers license checkpoints."
Hale said the morale of the task force deputies is high, and Birmingham beat officers have embraced the concept and are funneling intelligence to them.
"The concept of defeating violent crime is exactly what this community needs," Hale said. "The message is this: Law enforcement has gotten its act together and erased boundaries. To the thugs and thieves: We're coming after you."
© J. R. Roberts, Security Strategies