How does this retarded redneck have access to enough weapons to kill 4 adults & 2 children? Ask The NRA Fascists.
Bryan Eugene Sweatt, 27, has been named as the deceased gunman and hostage-taker behind a horrific mass murder-suicide in Greenwood, South Carolina, that left two children and four adults dead. Police responded to a 911 call at 5:54 p.m. on Tuesday evening 2007 Callison Highway. A man called cops and said he was contemplating hurting himself. Cops arrived, followed by a SWAT team. After two hours of unsuccessful attempts to communicate with anyone inside, at 7:34 p.m., SWAT officers entered the home and discovered the deceased victims, in various rooms, bound in duct tape. Here’s what you should know about Sweatt and his role in this tragedy.
1. Sweatt Lay in Wait for His Victims According to a press conference conducted by Greenwood County Sheriff Tony Davis (above), police believe Sweatt lay in wait in the empty home of Richard and Melissa Fields, the parents of Chandra Fields, who was the mother of Sweatt’s baby daughter. The adults were away at work and visiting relatives, and the kids were in school. As they came home, sometime between 4 and 6 p.m., Sweatt bound his victims with duct tape and, in unknown order, executed both parents, Chandra, and Chandra’s two nephews, Tariq Robinson, 11, and William Robinson, 9, before turning the gun on himself. The weapon was a high-caliber handgun that was not registered to him.
Meanwhile, at some point four additional children — the suspect’s baby daughter, another child of his girlfriend, and two neighbors’ children — had been spared and told to get away from the house. They ran to a neighbor’s home — with one child carrying the baby — and reported a shot fired and a hostage situation, which resulted in a second 911 call to police. According to the sheriff, wounds to the victims were as follows: • Richard Fields, 51: 2 gunshot wounds to upper body • Melissa Fields, 49: 3 gunshot wounds • Chandra Marie Fields, 26: 1 gunshot to head • Tariq Robinson, 11: 1 gunshot wound to head • William Robinson, 9: 2 gunshot wounds to head • Suspect, 27: 1 self-inflicted wound to the head Chandra and Sweatt were found together in the den. The grandparents were in another room. And the boys were together in a third room.
2. There Was a Bitter Custody Dispute
The sheriff confirmed that Chandra and Sweatt were in the midst of a custody dispute over their 7-month-old daughter, and it’s believed this was a motive in the killings. Police had previously been called out to domestic disputes between the two.
County court records show a civil case involving Chandra Marie Fields as the plaintiff and Sweatt as the defendant.
3. Sweatt Was Facing Hard Jail Time & Failed to Show for Court on the Day of the Killing Greenwood County mugshot, via South Carolina Radio Network. Sweatt was due in court on the day of the killings and was facing “significant time,” up to 30 years in jail, for a recent burglary charge. He was out on bond. County court records show a long history of offenses, including this charge of “assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature”: The rest of his criminal record lists larceny, theft, forgery as well as dozens of traffic related offenses and probation violations. Sheriff Davis noted that there was “nothing in [Sweatt’s] prior record that would indicate something of this magnitude.”
4. Cops Released Sweatt’s Chilling 911 Call Above, via WISTV, is a recording of the 911 call Sweatt made on the evening of the massacre. Click to listen. Below is the chilling transcript.
Sweatt: “I need an officer to 2007 Callison Highway.”
Operator: “What’s wrong?”
Sweatt: “Oh, I’m just stressed out and I’m about to take my life. I mean…”
Operator: “What’s your name?”
Sweatt: “It’s unknown.”
Operator: “Do you have a weapon with you?”
Sweatt: “Huh?” Operator: “Do you have a weapon with you?”
Sweatt: “Yes.” Operator: “What do you have, sir?”
Sweatt: “A .44” [Sweatt tells someone to “get in there.”] [Victim says “Don’t point that at me.”]
Operator: “What’s going on?” [Hangs up].
Dispatch received a second 911 call, about two minutes later, from a neighbor’s house.
TERRELL, Texas(AP) — A man accused of killing his mother, aunt and three other people before police arrested him early Tuesday following a high-speed chase has a long criminal history that includes a conviction for assaulting a family member.
Court records don’t indicate which family member Charles Everett Brownlow Jr. was convicted of assaulting in 2011. But they show that two years earlier, he was sentenced to three years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm, and that he was paroled after seven months.
Police haven’t disclosed the preliminary charges against Brownlow, but they said he is suspected in all five killings Monday night in Terrell, a rural community about 30 miles east of Dallas. Investigators spent the night going from one grisly crime scene to the next until an officer spotted the suspect running from a local convenience store to his car and sped after him.
“We’re all in a state of shock,” police Chief Jody Law said at a news conference hours after Brownlow’s arrest. “You have a tendency to think, `How can that happen here?’ This is a country community, a rural community, people are real close. This is going to be, it’s going to have a really big impact on us.”
Brownlow’s brother, Terrence Walker, told The Associated Press that the 36-year-old Brownlow struggled with drug addiction and lived with their mother, Mary Brownlow. His brother’s criminal record, which dates back to 1995, also includes convictions for drug possession and burglary.
Walker said his brother “always wanted to take something that wasn’t his,” and that their mother put up with it.
“I was hoping my mom would open her eyes and realize that she needed to let him grow up, put him out,” said Walker, who said an aunt was among the other victims. Walker said his own family spent the night at a hotel instead of their home in Forney, and that he was armed with a pistol in case his brother came after him.
Lay didn’t release the victims’ names or discuss a possible motive for the attacks, which began around 5 p.m. Monday when a woman was gunned down at a Terrell home.
About 30 minutes later, fire units responded to the blaze at Mary Brownlow’s house a few blocks away. When the fire was extinguished, crews found a woman’s body in the smoldering wreckage. Lay said it was clearly arson.
At about 10:30 p.m., police responding to a report of a shooting elsewhere in Terrell found the bodies of a man and a woman who had been shot at a home and a 3-year-old boy who wasn’t harmed. The child was released to relatives, Lay said.
At this point a description of the stolen vehicle the suspect was believed to be driving was released to officers and, just minutes later, an off-duty police officer saw that vehicle parked outside the convenience store. As the officer called in the sighting, the suspect ran from the store, jumped in the vehicle and sped away, Lay said.
A high-speed police chase ensued. The suspect wrecked the car and took off on foot into thick woods, dropping a holster or handgun on the way, the chief said.
A police helicopter and dogs were summoned to assist in the manhunt, and the suspect was found hiding in a creek.
The fifth victim, a male clerk, was found slain at the store.
The store’s owner, Ali Karimi, said the slain clerk was a model employee and “beautiful young man” who leaves behind a 1-year-old son.
“We’re still in the process of putting this massive investigation together,” Lay said. “We’re still making sure that surviving family members are appropriately notified.”
Brownlow’s criminal history goes back to 1995.
Records show he was sentenced in 2009 to three years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was paroled after seven months.
Brownlow was convicted two years ago on an assault charge related to family violence. Court records don’t indicate which family member was involved.
This includes a 2-year-old who, last weekend, fatally shot herself with a loaded .22-caliber pistol she found in her family’s living room. And it includes the 12-year-old who earlier this week opened fire at his middle school in Nevada and the teacher he killed in the shooting.
It includes, frankly, 28,177 more people than it should. And most of those 28,177 people don’t even register on our public radar as we become disgustingly numbed to the everyday prevalence of gun violence in our communities.
We don’t know all the solutions to gun violence and violence in general. But not having the perfect answer doesn’t mean we should do nothing at all — and we know some very simple and, not incidentally, very popular measures that we could take to curb gun violence.
Almost 9 in 10 Americans support universal background checks for gun sales — which is also supported by 75 percent of actual NRA members. Seventy percent of Americans support bans on military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Even a strong majority of NRA members think that people with certain types of recent criminal charges should not be able to buy guns and that illegally selling guns should carry a minimum two year prison sentence.
In addition to expanding mental health treatment and access for all Americans (Obamacare, anyone?), these simple gun safety laws would make a serious dent in our runaway gun violence epidemic. So why the inaction?
Sure, it has something to do with the disproportionate stranglehold that the NRA leadership — divorced from the desires of their actual members — has on Congress, both Republicans, and to a disturbing extent, some key Democrats as well. And sure, to an extent part of the challenge is that while a small number of gun rights extremists feel particularly passionate about this issue, the large majority of Americans who want sensible reforms don’t feel as impassioned. The persistence of the minority fringe trumps the desires of the reasonable majority. Tyranny of the majority, this ain’t.
But the other factor is surely the irony that we have become so inoculated to the massive and ever-present reality of gun violence that we shake our collective fist less and less vociferously in its constant wake. According to one report, there is a mass shooting every five days in the United States. Every five days! That is nothing short of horrifying. And yet like many horrors of a grand scale, whether global widespread poverty or rampant domestic violence against women, such social issues can seem overwhelming and therefore intractable.
Once in a while, an episode shocks our conscience and captures our collective attention for a moment or two, such as when a gunman bursts into an elementary school and kills six adults and 20 children in less than five minutes. But more often, sadly, the cases of violent shootouts in cities like Chicago or suicides in small towns across America are so absurdly commonplace that we barely bat an eye. Or phone our members of Congress.
What’s most sad about this state of affairs is not that the overwhelming majority of Americans support common sense gun laws, or even that a majority of responsible gun owners support such laws and yet nothing happens. Nor is the most depressing fact that Congress fails to stand up to the fringe power of the NRA or that President Obama, generally ineffective at wielding political capital even when he has it, is not adept at pushing through Congress the basic reforms that are in all of our best interest.
No, what’s most sad is that 28,177 Americans have died in less than a year because of gun violence — a number that would never be zero, but would certainly be much lower if we patched our broken laws to ensure that dangerous people don’t have access to dangerous weapons.
And for those 28,177 families, even one less death would be a big deal.
Why the NRA keeps talking about mental illness, rather than guns
“WE DON’T go around shooting people, the sick people do. They need to be fixed.” So said the gun-owning pensioner in the Korean War veteran’s hat, demonstrating outside Connecticut’s state capitol on March 11th. He was holding a sign reading: “Stop the Crazies—Step Up Enforcement of Current Laws”, and like many of the gun-rights supporters rallying in Hartford this week, he wanted to talk about how improving mental health care was the proper response to massacres such as December’s school shooting in Newtown, an hour’s drive away.
Your reporter was in Hartford to report on the gun lobby, and its campaign to push back against state and federal gun-control plans proposed after Newtown’s horrors, which saw 20 young children and six staff murdered. The politics of gun control will form the basis for this week’s print column, but this posting is about something more specific: the gun lobby’s focus on mental illness as the “true” cause of such massacres.
The message discipline of the National Rifle Association and congressional allies has been impressive. After an initial period of silence, the NRA came out with a consistent narrative about mass shootings. The problem, said such spokesmen as Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice-president, was that criminals and the dangerously ill can get their hands on guns.
At moments, the NRA and supporters almost sounded like liberal gun-control advocates. “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed,” Mr LaPierre told NBC television on December 23rdlast year, days after the Newtown murders. The NRA backs the FBI-run instant background checks system used by gun dealers when selling firearms, Mr LaPierre noted. It supports putting all those adjudicated mentally incompetent into the system, and deplores the fact that many states are still putting only a small number of records into the system.
On the chill streets of Hartford this week, that same sentiment went down well with the Korean War veteran and his fellow demonstrators. All of which is perfectly sensible, yet puzzling. For the demonstrators, holding signs that read “Stand and Fight” and “Feels like Nazi Germany”, made clear their deep distrust of government. Did they really support a large expansion of officialdom’s right to declare someone mentally unfit, trumping their right to bear arms under the constitution’s second amendment? In Hartford the question provoked some debate. But most demonstrators followed the NRA’s line in opposing any talk of moving to “universal” background checks: jargon for closing the loophole that currently allows private individuals to buy and sell guns without any checks on the criminal or mental-health records of buyers. Almost 40% of gun sales currently fall through that loophole.
Mr LaPierre’s line is both clear and not. He supports improving the quality of the federal database used for background checks, but opposes using that same database more often, calling any talk of universal background checks a ruse paving the way for the creation of the national gun register that the government craves, so it can confiscate America’s guns.
He talks of improving mental-health treatment, but then uses the harshest possible language to describe the mentally ill, telling NBC:
We have no national database of these lunatics… We have a completely cracked mentally ill system that’s got these monsters walking the streets.
So what is really going on? Interviewing the Democratic governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy, he accused the NRA of a “bait-and-switch”, in which the gun lobby is trying to appear constructive without allowing any gun rules to change.
The argument quickly drifts into party politics. Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, casts the debate about post-Newtown gun controls as an either/or question, in which gun curbs and improved mental health are somehow antithetical. Responding to President Barack Obama’s calls for ambitious gun controls in the wake of the school shootings, including a renewed ban on assault weapons, Mr Rubio said:
Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook… Rolling back responsible citizens’ rights is not the proper response to tragedies committed by criminals and the mentally ill.
On the Democratic side, the new junior senator for Connecticut, Chris Murphy, asserts that the general public are not buying such arguments, which he calls a “smokescreen”. People understand that a mental-health system that can pick out mass murderers before they strike is a “policy illusion”.
On balance, the talk of a gun lobby smokescreen is fair. Examine the NRA’s arguments more closely, and Mr LaPierre demolishes his own suggestions even as he makes them. In a ferocious speech to supporters in Salt Lake City on February 23rd, he predicted that criminal records and the mentally incompetent would “never” be part of a background check system, which was really aimed at “one thing—registering your guns”.
Instead, Mr LaPierre and allies paint a picture of an American dystopia, in which hand-wringing liberals, having closed down mental hospitals during the civil-rights era, refuse to put dangerous criminals behind bars:
They’re not serious about prosecuting violent criminals… They’re not serious about fixing the mental-health system. They’ve emptied the institutions and every police officer knows dangerous people out there on the streets right now. They shouldn’t be on the streets, they’ve stopped taking their medicine and yet they’re out there walking around…
The powerful elites aren’t talking about limiting their capacity for protection. They’ll have all the security they want… Our only means of security is the second amendment. When the glass breaks in the middle of the night, we have the right to defend ourselves
Such rhetoric has effects far beyond the world of gun rights. Both in Congress and in state legislatures around the country, politicians are debating proposals for increased supervision of the mentally ill, and mandatory reporting of those seen as posing a danger to themselves or others.
New York state has already passed a package of gun-control measures that includes a requirement for mental-health professionals—from psychiatrists to social workers and nurses—to report anyone deemed likely to seriously harm themselves or others. A report triggers a cross-check against a database of state gun licences and police may be authorised to find and remove that person’s firearms.
Such intense attention to mental illness—for years the forgotten Cinderella of public-health policy—both pleases and alarms doctors and academics working in the field. Professor Jeffrey Swanson of Duke University has written acommentary for the Journal of the American Medical Association, examining the “promise and the peril of crisis-driven policy”, and arguing that in a nation with constitutionally protected gun rights, the “real action in gun control is people control”, or preventing dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun.
That carries risks, he writes:
The first is overidentification; the law could include too many people who are not at significant risk. The second is the chilling effect on help seeking; the law could drive people away from the treatment they need or inhibit their disclosures in therapy. The third is invasion of patient privacy; the law amounts to a breach of the confidential patient-physician relationship. Mental health professionals already have an established duty to take reasonable steps to protect identifiable persons when a patient threatens harm. However, clinicians can discharge that duty in several ways… For example, the clinician could decide to see the patient more frequently or prescribe a different medication. Voluntary hospitalization is also an option for many at-risk patients
Reached by telephone as he waited for a flight, Professor Swanson elaborated on a fourth risk, that of over-estimating the small proportion of violent crimes carried out by the mentally ill. What’s more, he noted, the mental-health system is good at describing behaviour patterns but very poor at predicting specific acts by specific people. With hindsight, mass shooters are often described as obviously disturbed, he notes. “But you can’t go around locking up all the socially awkward young men.”
In one area—suicide by gun—mental illness plays a very strong role, Professor Swanson says, and closer supervision could do real good, despite the risks. In 2010 suicide accounted for 61% of gun-injury deaths in America.
Such statistics do not fit the narrative of the gun lobby, of course, with their insistence that a gun in the home makes citizens safer. Yet even here, where improved gun controls linked to mental health could do real good, it is vital to get the details right and avoid “knee-jerk” law-making, says Dr Harold Schwartz, chief psychiatrist and director of the Institute of Living, one of the oldest psychiatric hospitals in America, founded in Hartford in 1822.
The post-Newtown national discussion about mental health is distinctly double-edged, says Dr Schwartz. It may increase access to some programmes. But the debate is also being used by those with other motives. Mental illness is ubiquitous, he notes, with rates of schizophrenia or bipolar disorders more or less the same around the world, with some rare exceptions. Yet rates of gun violence differ dramatically between America and comparable countries. And those differences tally closely with differences in the accessibility of weapons. To Dr Schwartz the diagnosis is straightforward: “the NRA is demonising mental illness to distract from the obvious, in-your-face relationship between the availability of guns and murder rates.”
Opponents of gun controls may respond with familiar flurries of statistics. In Hartford, for instance, several pro-gun demonstrators cited the same talking point, claiming (falsely) that home invasion rates soared in Australia after that country banned the most powerful forms of guns in 1996, following a mass shooting. Actually, home break-in and robbery rates have fallen sharply in Australia since 1996, as have gun-death rates, with no corresponding rise in other forms of homicide.
America’s murder rate is four times higher than Britain’s and six times higher than Germany’s. Only an idiot, or an anti-American bigot prepared to maintain that Americans are four times more murderous than Britons, could possibly pretend that no connection exists between those figures and the fact that 300m guns are “out there” in the United States, more than one for every adult
Mr LaPierre of the NRA is a proud patriot. But when he talks of mentally ill “monsters” and “lunatics” walking the streets in such numbers that all prudent citizens must arm themselves to the teeth, he is slandering both them and his country, just as surely as any American-hating bigot.
“We’ve listened to our viewers and will not air that particular episode of ‘Under Wild Skies’ again. We’re also taking a close look at our internal standards as part of this process because this content should not have aired . . . While this form of hunting is legal, we understand that many viewers find it objectionable. As a result we are taking an aggressive approach towards objectionable content within future episodes of ‘Under Wild Skies’ and other series.”
Well, it is good that NBC was able to listen to viewers to learn that many people would find it disturbing to see its host sneak up on an elephant, shoot it in the face, then shoot it again when it fled in pain, and then chased it down to finish it off . . . before celebrating the victory over some champagne. Absent hearing from viewers, no one at NBC appears to have had an inkling about this being somehow disturbing.
For his part, Makris, the NRA lobbyist, was not content to take his one-tusked trophy and go home. Makris insisted that he kills all animals equally: ducks, deer, elephants. That appears to make him a type of gun-toting Martin Luther King by embracing all of the beautiful creatures of the Earth and then shooting them in the face. Those who distinguish elephants from deer on the basis for their rarity or intelligence are engaging in his view in a form of “animal racism.” The only way to be a non-racist, it seems, is to kill them all.
I expect that Makris may have been deliberately provocative or even humorous but it is unlikely to be welcomed by the rising number of critics for the show. Here is a fuller account of the interview:
MAKRIS: The nice ones will come up and go, you shoot elephant? Why? And I said well, the short answer is because hungry people eat them and because I’m a hunter. You know, I’m not an elephant hunter. I’m a hunter. I hunt all things. And they go, well nobody should shoot an elephant. I said, why? And they go they’re so big and kind and gentle and smart and I said, okay, let me ask you a question. Should I be able to shoot birds? Well, I guess that’s okay. Ducks? Yeah. Pigeons? Oh, they’re flying rats, okay. Rabbits? Well rabbits are cute. But yea. Squirrels? That’s nothing but a rat with a tail — with a fuzzy tail. And I said, well deer eat all my mother’s roses in Long Island and I go– so I can shoot all of those, but not an elephant? No. Do you realize that if you subscribe to that philosophy you are committing a very unique form of animal racism?
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: [laughter]
MAKRIS: And now they’re shocked. And they said but they’re so big and special and they’re smarter. And I went, you know, Hitler would have said the same thing.
The HSUS has a long history of working closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to combat cruelty to animals. Many of these agencies have become acutely interested in the connection between animal cruelty and other forms of violent, antisocial behavior. They have found that the investigation and prosecution of crimes against animals is an important tool for identifying people who are, or may become, perpetrators of violent crimes against people.
Earlier this year , Senator William Cohen of Maine formally asked U.S. attorney general Janet Reno to accelerate the U.S. Department of Justices research in this area. On June 6, The HSUS met with the staffs of Senator Cohen and Senator Robert Smith of New Hampshire and with representatives of the FBI and the Justice Department. One participant was Supervisory Special Agent Alan Brantley of the FBIs Investigative Support Unit (ISU), also known as the Behavioral Science Unit. The ISU is responsible for providing information on the behavior of violent criminals to FBI field offices and law enforcement agencies worldwide. Special Agent Brantley served as a psychologist at a maximum-security prison in North Carolinabefore joining the FBI. He has interviewed and profiled numerous violent criminals and has direct knowledge of their animal-abuse histories. In his role as an ISU special agent, he shares that information with agents at the FBI Academy and law enforcement officers selected to attend the FBIs National Academy Program. When we asked Special Agent Brantley how many serial killers had a history of abusing animals, his response was, “The real question should be, how many have not?”
As law enforcement officials become more aware of the connection between animal abuse and human-directed violence, they become more supportive of strong anticruelty laws and their enforcement. We are encouraged by this development. We were granted permission to visit the FBI Academy, in Quantico,Virginia, to continue our discussion with Special Agent Brantley.
HSUS: What is the history of the Behavioral Science Unit/ISU?
BRANTLEY: The Behavioral Science Unit originated in the 1970s and is located at the FBI Academy. Its purpose is to teach behavioral sciences to FBI trainees and National Academy students. The instructors were often asked questions about violent criminals, such as, “What do you think causes a person to do something like this?” The instructors offered some ideas, and as the students went out and applied some of these ideas, it was seen that there might be some merit to using this knowledge in field operations. In the mid-1980s, theNational Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime was founded with the primary mission of identifying and tracking serial killers, but it also was given the task of looking at any violent crime that was particularly vicious, unusual, or repetitive, including serial rape and child molestation. We now look at and provide operational assistance to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors worldwide who are confronted with any type of violent crime.
HSUS: You have said that the FBI takes the connection between animal cruelty and violent crime very seriously. How is this awareness applied on a daily basis?
BRANTLEY: A lot of what we do is called threat assessment. If we have a known subject, we want as much information as we can obtain from family members, co-workers, local police, and others, before we offer an opinion about this persons threat level and dangerousness. Something we believe is prominently displayed in the histories of people who are habitually violent is animal abuse. We look not only for a history of animal abuse, torment, or torture, but also for childhood or adolescent acts of violence toward other children and possibly adults and for a history of destructiveness to property.
Sometimes this violence against animals is symbolic. We have had cases where individuals had an early history of taking stuffed animals or even pictures of animals and carving them up. That is a risk indicator.
You can look at cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans as a continuum. We first see people begin to fantasize about these violent actions. If there is escalation along this continuum, we may see acting out against inanimate objects. This may also be manifest in the writings or drawings of the individual affected. The next phase is usually acting out against animals.
HSUS: When did the FBI first begin to see this connection?
BRANTLEY: We first quantified it when we did research in the late 1970s, interviewing thirty-six multiple murderers in prison. This kind of theme had already emerged in our work with violent criminals. We all believed this was an important factor, so we said, “Lets go and ask the offenders themselves and see what they have to say about it.” By self report, 36 percent described killing and torturing animals as children and 46 percent said they did this as adolescents. We believe that the real figure was much higher, but that people might not have been willing to admit to it.
HSUS: You mean that people who commit multiple, brutal murders might be reluctant to admit to killing animals?
BRANTLEY: I believe that to be true in some cases. In the inmate population, its one thing to be a big-time criminal and kill peoplemany inmates have no empathy or concern for human victimsbut they might identify with animals. Ive worked with prisoners who kept pets even though they werent supposed to. They would consider someone else hurting their pet as reason enough to commit homicide. Also, within prisons, criminals usually dont want to talk about what they have done to animals or children for fear that other inmates may retaliate against them or that they may lose status among their peers.
HSUS: Where is violence against animals coming from? Are criminals witnessing it in others? Convicted serial killer Ted Bundy recounted being forced to watch his grandfathers animal abuse.
BRANTLEY: For the most part, in my experience, offenders who harm animals as children pretty much come up with this on their own. Quite often they will do this in the presence of others and teach it to others, but the ones with a rich history of violence are usually the instigators. Some children might follow along to be accepted, but the ones we need to worry about are the one or two dominant, influential children who initiate the cruelty.
HSUS: What components need to be present for you to think a child or adolescent is really in trouble?
BRANTLEY: You have to look at the quality of the act and the frequency and severity. If a child kicks the dog when somebodys been aggressive toward him, thats one issue, but if its a daily thing or if he has a pattern of tormenting and physically torturing the family dog or cat, thats another. I would look to see if the pattern is escalating. I look at any type of abuse of an animal as serious to begin with, unless I have other information that might explain it. It should not be dismissed. Ive seen it too often develop into something more severe.
Some types of abuse, for example, against insects, seem to be fundamentally different. Our society doesnt consider insects attractive or worthy of affection. But our pets are friendly and affectionate and they often symbolically represent the qualities and characteristics of human beings. Violence against them indicates violence that may well escalate into violence against humans.
You also need to look at the bigger picture. Whats going on at home? What other supports, if any, are in place? How is the child doing in school? Is he drinking or doing drugs?
HSUS: We are familiar with the “classic” cases of serial killers, like Jeffrey Dahmer, who had early histories of animal abuse (see the Summer 1986 HSUS News). Are there any recent cases you have worked on?
BRANTLEY: The Jason Massey case jumps out as being a prominent one. This was a case from 1993 inTexas. This individual, from an early age, started his career killing many dogs and cats. He finally graduated, at the age of 20, to beheading a thirteen-year-old girl and shooting her fourteen-year-old stepbrother to death.
He was convicted of murder. I was brought in for the sentencing phase to testify as to his dangerousness and future threat to the community. The prosecutors knew that he was a prolific killer of animals and that he was saving the body parts of these animals. The prosecutor discovered a cooler full of animal remains that belonged to Massey and brought it to the courtroom for the sentencing hearing. It caused the jurors to react strongly, and ultimately the sentence was death.
HSUS: Mr. Massey had been institutionalized at his mothers request two years before the murders since she was aware of his diaries, which recorded his violent fantasies and his animal killings, yet he was released. Do you think that mental health officials have been slower than law enforcement agencies in taking animal abuse seriously?
BRANTLEY: Weve made this a part of a lot of our training for local police, and I think most police recognize that when they see animal mutilation or torture that they need to check it out; but police have triage and prioritize their cases. We try to tell people that investigating animal cruelty and investigating homicides may not be mutually exclusive.
We are trying to do the same for mental health professionals. We offer training to forensic psychiatrists through a fellowship program and provide other training to the mental health community. I think psychiatrists are receptive to our message when we can give them examples and case studies demonstrating this connection. The word is getting out.
HSUS: Do you think more aggressive prosecution of animal-cruelty cases can help get some people in the legal system who might otherwise slip through?
BRANTLEY: I think that it is a legitimate way to deal with someone who poses a threat. Remember, Al Capone was finally imprisoned for income-tax evasion rather than for murder or racketeeringcharges which could never be proven.
HSUS: Have you ever encountered a situation where extreme or repeated animal cruelty is the only warning you see in an individual, where there is no other violent behavior? Or does such abuse not occur in a vacuum?
BRANTLEY: I would agree with that last concept. But lets say that you do have a case of an individual who seems not to have had any other adjustment problems but is harming animals. What that says is that while, up to that point, there is no documented history of adjustment problems, there are adjustment problems now and there could be greater problems down the road. We have some kids who start early and move toward greater and greater levels of violence, some who get into it starting in adolescence, and some who are adults before they start to blossom into violent offenders.
HSUS: Do you find animal cruelty developing in those who have already begun killing people?
BRANTLEY: We know that certain types of offenders who have escalated to human victims will, at times, regress back to earlier offenses such as making obscene phone calls, stalking people, or killing animals. Rarely, if We know that certain types of offenders who have escalated to human victims will, at times, regress back to earlier offenses such as making obscene phone calls, stalking people, or killing animals. Rarely, if ever, do we see humans being killed as a precursor to the killing of animals.
HSUS: How would you respond to the argument that animal cruelty provides an outlet that prevents violent individuals from acting against people?
BRANTLEY: I would disagree with that. Animal cruelty is not as serious as killing human beings, we have to agree to that, but certainly its moving in a very ominous direction. This is not a harmless venting of emotion in a healthy individual; this is a warning sign that this individual is not mentally healthy and needs some sort of intervention. Abusing animals does not dissipate those violent emotions; instead, it may fuel them.
HSUS: What problems do you have in trying to assess the dangerousness of a suspect or a known offender?
BRANTLEY: Getting background information is the main problem. People know this person has done these things, but there may be no record or we havent found the right people to interview.
HSUS: Thats one of the reasons why we have put an emphasis on stronger anticruelty laws and more aggressive enforcementto get such information on the record.
BRANTLEY: A lot of times, people who encounter this kind of behavior are looking for the best in people. We also see cases where people are quite frankly afraid to get involved, because if they are dealing with a child or adult who seems to be bizarre or threatening, they are afraid that he or she may no longer kill animals but instead come after them. Ive seen a lot of mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, and private citizens who dont want to get involved because they are afraid and for good reason. There are very scary people out there doing scary things. Thats largely why they are doing it and talking about it: they want to intimidate and shock and offend, sometimes regardless of the consequences.
HSUS: Is there hope for such an individual?
BRANTLEY: The earlier you can intervene, the better off youll be. I like to be optimistic. I think in the vast majority of cases, especially if you get to them as children, you can intervene. People shouldnt discount animal abuse as a childish prank or childish experimentation.
HSUS: Have you ever seen any serial killers who have been rehabilitated?
BRANTLEY: Ive seen no examples of it and no real efforts to even attempt it! Even if you had a program that might work, the potential consequences of being wrong and releasing someone like that greatly outweigh the benefits of attempting it, in my opinion.
HSUS: There is also a problem in trying to understand which acts against animals and others are associated with the escalation of violence, since police records, if they exist, are often unavailable or juvenile offenses are expunged. Sometimes only local humane societies or animal-control agencies have any record. The HSUS hopes to facilitate consolidating some of those records.
BRANTLEY: That would be great. If animal-cruelty investigators are aware of a case such as a sexual homicide in their community and they are also aware of any animal mutilation going on in the same area, I would encourage them to reach out to us.
Randall Lockwood, Ph.D., is HSUS vice president, Training Initiatives.
Ann Church is HSUS deputy director, Government Affairs.
This information is provided with permission from The Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L St. NW, Washington, DC20037.