The VTA Active Shooting Could Have Been Avoided

Workplace shootings remain endemic in the United States, leaving homes and businesses under an ever-present threat of violence. In this article, Lindon Lilly reflects on the recent VTA shooting in San Jose and discusses how organisations can better orientate themselves to tackle workplace violence before a similar tragedy can occur.

Once again, an active shooter destroyed the lives of many family members and took his own life.

Sam Cassidy was a 57-year-old employee of the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in San Jose, California, with 20 years of experience under his belt. While fellow VTA employees were starting up the trains for the workday early in the morning on 26 May, Cassidy appeared on the scene toting three handguns with 32 full magazines. By the time law enforcement arrived on the scene, Cassidy had discharged 39 rounds, killing eight coworkers (a ninth died just hours later) and himself and injuring others.

These are the sad facts reported by the news media on that fateful Wednesday. But what makes the situation worse is that it did not have to happen. Cassidy left many red flags. But those close to him failed to heed them. For instance, Cassidy had expressed dissatisfaction with his job at the VTA and that he wanted to kill some of his coworkers and bosses, but his threats went unheeded. As the VTA active shooting revealed, failure to act on red flags shown by a disgruntled employee can be fatal.

How do we keep our work families safe?

By having a Threat Assessment Team (TAT), the VTA could have prevented the active shooting that occurred on its rail yard. The purpose of a TAT is to prevent targeted violence. The TAT is comprised of employees and supervisors and receives reports from staff members and other sources about threatening or violent behaviour by someone at a worksite. The TAT assesses the facts and evidence of reported behaviours. It then responds by providing support and resources to reduce the risk of future targeted violence.

What are the duties of a Threat Assessment Team?

The TAT meets regularly to share information and gather facts. During these meetings, members of the TAT discuss the latest news, laws, and procedures regarding workplace violence to enable their employer to avoid situations like the VTA active shooting. The duties of the TAT are:

  1. The TAT learns as much about an employee who is a potential threat to the workplace (i.e. potential means, motive, and opportunity to commit workplace violence).
  2. The TAT talks to coworkers and acquaintances of the employee to find out if they would like to share information or concerns about the employee.
  3. Assess: Based on the latest workplace violence trends and research, the TAT assesses whether or not the employee is a threat to the workplace or to themselves.
  4. If the employee is deemed a threat, the TAT will decide to whom to report the employee (e.g. HR, EAP counsellor, mental health, or law enforcement).
  5. If the employee is not deemed a threat, the TAT will continue to monitor the employee’s behaviours.

What are the roles of TAT members?

All TAT members play distinct roles in helping an employer to avoid workplace violence. TAT members include legal professionals, HR personnel, EAP counselors, facility security, local law enforcement, and first-line supervisors.

Legal professionals help the employer avoid lawsuits by involved parties by providing legal counsel of the rights and responsibilities of the employee and employer. Legal professionals can advise an employer of what information it has legal access to and what its responsibilities are in protecting its employees and organisation.

HR personnel can keep an employer abreast of an employee’s work history, including counselling, discipline, and career progression. HR personnel can also offer advice to an employer about suitable training for employees that will help foster a safe work environment.

EAP counsellors work directly with employees with work-related issues, so they can provide invaluable information to employers on an employee’s mental health. EAP counsellors are specially trained on employee safety, performance management, workplace trauma, coaching, and crisis intervention. Therefore, EAP counselors are the subject-matter experts regarding employees who have or are receiving counselling for work-related issues, or those who should be referred to receive it. As such, EAP counsellors can serve a vital role as liaisons between employers and disgruntled employees with the potential to cause workplace violence.

Legal professionals can advise an employer of what information it has legal access to and what its responsibilities are in protecting its employees and organisation.

Facility security is an integral part of a safe work environment. Thus, all security personnel should be relied on to respond to workplace violence in the most efficient and safe manner. To this end, the facility security supervisor must be up to date on the latest training on workplace violence and active shooter response. The facility security supervisor is also responsible for conducting realistic training on workplace violence response such as access control, evacuations, and applying first aid. In conjunction with facility security, an employer should implement an organisational code system that would be employed in the case of a hostile act at the workplace.

In the case of a hostile event at the workplace, local law enforcement should be called to help neutralise and secure the situation. The facility security supervisor should be in close contact with local law enforcement and incorporate its advice and guidance regarding responding to workplace violence in the organisation’s standard operating procedures.

The first-line supervisor of a potentially violent employee should be called on by the employer to gather timely information. Since the first-line supervisor knows the potentially violent employee’s personality and behaviours, the first-line supervisor is probably most suited to assess a potentially violent situation involving the individual on the job.

What are the employer’s responsibilities?

Months, and even years, after a violent workplace incident such as an active shooting, the employer is left to pick up the pieces and do damage control. For instance, even though most people knew little to nothing about the Valley Transportation Authority before the active shooting that occurred at its facility, its name, unfortunately, will probably be remembered only as the place where a disgruntled employee fatally flew off the handle. Of course, there are legal issues involving the incident that will appear to have no end in sight for the employer. Local and federal authorities and litigating opposing counsels will be asking the employer at least two obvious questions:

What did you do once your Threat Assessment Team informed you of the perpetrator’s potential violent behavior? How could your organisation have avoided this senseless act of violence? What actions must everyone involved take?

Months, and even years, after a violent workplace incident such as an active shooting, the employer is left to pick up the pieces and do damage control.

California Active Shooter Training Response is here to provide training to assist you with your fiduciary duties of protecting your staff. For more information, contact California Active Shooter Training Response at their website.

Lindon Lilly, President

California Active Shooter Academy LLC

Tel: (833) 922 6742




California Active Shooter Response Training is here to provide training to assist you with your fiduciary duties of protecting your staff. With decades of experience handling threat assessments and security consultations, their team identifies, locates and interviews witnesses for reporting purposes, and will surveil subjects in support of civil litigation. With their years of experience, they aim to bring the same discipline and knowledge of a large firm but with the compassion and care of a boutique agency.

Lindon Lilly has 30 years of experience in the legal support and security services industries, including years of protecting high-profile individuals, in addition to 20 years of experience in law enforcement. Lilly is a licensed private investigator who has designed and implemented threat assessment methodologies and standard operating procedures. He is also a physical security specialist specialising in perimeter security, internal security and surveillance monitoring. Lilly is a certified Active Shooter Instructor able to instruct on active shooter pre-attack behaviours, US Secret Service threat assessment training, and FBI debriefing training on active shooters and bombing investigations.

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