Graveyard Shift

The City of Denver's plan to stop workplace violence came too late to save John Adamo.

Don DeFiore is an early riser, and the way he figures it, if he's up, he might as well go to work. He often arrives at the City of Denver's wastewater building a good ninety minutes before the start of his 7 a.m. shift, using the extra time to relax and read the paper or get a jump on his paperwork. It's a habit he's developed after 26 years on the job.

Still, DeFiore isn't always the first to show up; until a few months ago, there was a running joke around the plant about who'd arrive earlier on any given day--DeFiore or Richard Brady, an equipment specialist who'd worked at Wastewater Management a year longer than DeFiore. Brady was frequently ensconced in a corner of the work bay, drinking a cup of tea and listening to country music on the radio when DeFiore got in.

In the early hours of January 17, however, DeFiore pretty much had the office, a gothic hulk of a building that sits on West Third Avenue just west of Interstate 25, to himself. The 56-year-old Brady was nowhere to be seen. And at 5:40 a.m., when janitor Lawrence Mason rushed frantically through the building calling for help, DeFiore was the first person he came across. Something was wrong with 27-year-old security guard John Adamo, Mason told DeFiore. "He said he was bleeding and that he didn't want to go back and check him by himself," DeFiore remembers. "I said I'd go and that maybe he needed an ambulance."

DeFiore and Mason took the elevator to the sixth floor. "As the elevator opened, I saw his feet first," DeFiore recalls. "[Mason] said, 'I can't go out there.' So I told him, 'Just hold the elevator.' I thought [Adamo] might have fallen. But once I looked at him and at all the blood, I realized he was dead.

"The cops came right away," DeFiore adds. "They separated me and Lawrence--I don't know why they do that--and then the cops questioned me for about an hour. They asked me about Richard [Brady]. They said, 'What do you know about him? Is it possible he could have done this?' And I said, 'No, no. You're barking up the wrong tree.'"

It seemed to DeFiore that Denver police detectives were jumping to conclusions, placing too much importance on the fact that, a day earlier, Brady had been placed on temporary paid leave following an argument with Adamo. After all, Brady was a hardworking family man, the father of four grown daughters and the guy who manned the barbecue at company picnics. In all his years working alongside Brady, DeFiore had never known him to have trouble with his co-workers. "He got along with everybody," DeFiore says.

But even as DeFiore was being interviewed, police were closing in on Brady. Just hours later, faced with mounting evidence, Brady allegedly confessed to shooting Adamo after a series of on-the-job confrontations.

The homicide has shaken many of the Wastewater department's 300 employees, particularly those who knew both Brady and Adamo. People have been taking sides, says one employee who asks to remain anonymous, and there's been a great deal of misplaced anger and blame. "We're all still in shock after five months," says Reza Kazemian, Wastewater's director of operations.

Compounding the tragedy is the fact that Adamo's murder occurred just two weeks after Wastewater employees had begun receiving training on violence in the workplace. They were taught how to identify threats and what measures to take with an employee who appeared to be on the edge.

Even so, nobody was ready for what happened. "It was so extreme," Kazemian says. "It's beyond anyone's imagination. No matter how much training you receive, you're never ready for something like this."

Workplace violence has become a numbingly familiar phenomenon. "Going postal" is part of the American vernacular, and according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, homicide is now second only to accidents as the leading cause of death in the workplace.

Many of those murders are the result of robberies or domestic disputes. But violence that pits one employee against another has become so prevalent that counselors and therapists hired by employers spend much of their time trying to head off such outbreaks.

"This sounds awful," says Loveland psychotherapist Art Barker, who serves as a consultant to numerous large businesses. "But I think we are more accepting of violence than we used to be. What I mean by that is that violence has become a viable option for many people as a way to problem-solve."

Concerned about the growing predicament--and worried that a failure to provide a safe workplace could expose them to legal liability--many large organizations, including the United States Postal Service and some metropolitan governments, have begun developing preventive strategies. In 1994 Denver psychologist John Nicoletti teamed with the Mountain States Employers Council to publish an employers' handbook on the subject. In February 1995 Denver Mayor Wellington Webb issued Executive Order 112, outlining a policy of zero tolerance for violence--or even the threat of violence--at city job sites.

As part of that executive order, the city arranged for its Career Service Authority to provide "trickle-down" training for personnel officers, who would attend in-depth classes and then train employees under their direction.

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