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.

"It was '96, maybe late '95, when we got together," says Rama Mallett, human-resources director for the Department of Public Works. "We had a couple sixteen-hour sessions with professional trainers, and we talked about dispute resolution. There is a video series on violence-in-the-workplace issues, and Career Services bought some of those tapes and gave some out to each of the agencies. They also developed an eight-hour training session."

Mallett attended the lengthy training sessions, along with members of her staff and Manager of Public Works Bruce Baumgartner. But it was decided that the department couldn't afford to provide a full-day class for each of its 1,300 employees. "We condensed it into a two-hour training, with extra training for supervisors on how to manage violent situations and what their responsibilities are," Mallett says.

Employees were to be given booklets that included step-by-step instructions on how to report threats or violence, as well as phone numbers of persons to call if they believed that they or a fellow employee might need counseling. Lists of early warning signs were prepared. And workers were scheduled to sit through a 25-minute videotape that hammers home the importance of early intervention. The star of that tape, now required viewing for Public Works employees, is Oklahoma prison inmate William Cartwright, who is presently serving a life term for killing his boss and then slashing the throat of his boss's wife with a hunting knife the couple had given him for Christmas.

Mallett and her staff began training Public Works employees in the fall of 1996. By late December they'd worked their way to Wastewater Management.

"As I understand it," Mallett says, "we were just finishing up the training when it happened."

Richard Brady was 29 when he started working for the city. From the beginning, he was seen as devoted and hardworking. "Richard had to be pretty sick to miss work," DeFiore says. "Richard came to work every day. If he called in sick, you knew he was probably dying. And he was never late. Never."

Brady's dedication to his city post was particularly praiseworthy given that it wasn't his only job. "He worked three jobs to support his family," DeFiore says. "He was a janitor in the schools for a long time, I think maybe ten years. He'd get off at 3:30 p.m. and then go off to his other job.

"He wanted the nicer things in life for himself and his family," DeFiore continues. "He bought a house. A beautiful house."

Brady's job was to run a high-powered jet that cleaned out sanitary sewers. His specialty was working the lines that run through people's backyards. Each morning a supervisor produced a route for Brady to follow, and he and a utility worker would head out on a truck mounted with 1,000 feet of hose. Brady would run the hose down a manhole, attach to it a specialized jet (the largest, known as "the big bomb," sprays out water at a force greater than a firehose) and let rip.

Brady took a great deal of pride in his work, DeFiore says, but he was set in the way he did it, sometimes to the point of bullheadedness. "If you left Richard alone to do his job, he did it," DeFiore says. "I don't think he was truly hepped up on authority, because he felt he didn't need it. Maybe he didn't need it.

"He ran this equipment for a lot of years, and I'm not the type who'd try to tell him how to set the truck up. If I had an idea, Richard would listen, but maybe if I left, he'd do it his own way. He had a definite idea about the way the job should be done."

Brady, DeFiore and another Wastewater worker named Vic Padilla started their jobs at roughly the same time and remained friendly, if not always close. Padilla quickly got on the fast track, working his way up through the agency. He's now deputy manager for operations at Public Works, one of the department's top posts. DeFiore's rise was more modest, though he was made a supervisor nine years ago. Brady, however, never rose above the level of equipment operator specialist.

About five years ago, when an opening came up for an operations supervisor, Brady decided to go for it. "He didn't pass the test," DeFiore recalls. "And Richard, he's not dumb. But he said he had a problem with tests. And he studied."

When he learned he wasn't on the promotions list, Brady resigned himself to sticking with the same job he'd held for decades. "He got a good wage, and he didn't have many bills," DeFiore says. "I believe he was happy with that."

If Brady wasn't happy with his job, he was at least content to stay with it. He would have been eligible for retirement this year, and some of his co-workers thought he would take advantage of the opportunity. But DeFiore says Brady wanted to stay on until he turned 62 so he could get a bigger pension while also drawing Social Security. "I think he wanted to pay off his RV."

Brady's recreational vehicle was the key to his life outside work. He liked to fish and he liked to travel. "I know that one year he and his wife drove down to Branson, Missouri," DeFiore says. "One year they went to New Orleans, and one year to Vegas, though he wasn't much of a gambler."

He wasn't much for partying, either. "As far as going out and having a couple beers after work, Richard wasn't that type," DeFiore says. "I used to take the crew out to dinner or drinks one day a year, right around Christmas time, because they do me a good job. [Brady] would have a ball. That was one day of the year he really looked forward to."

Aside from those details, Brady's personal life was a mystery to his co-workers. They describe him as a family man, but some can't remember if he has three grown daughters or four. He pretty much kept to himself and to his rituals, sitting in a certain seat in a corner of the first-floor work bay every morning, drinking tea and waiting for 7 a.m.

According to San Francisco clinical psychologist Chris Hatcher, who helped make the Cartwright videotape used in Denver's violence-in-the-workplace training, many people believe a violent employee is someone who simply snaps. But the idea that a person is a regular guy one day and a killer the next is a myth, says Hatcher. "That's rarely the case."

Experts say perpetrators often give out warning signals, perhaps by making veiled threats. They may have a preoccupation with weaponry and a history of violence or substance abuse. And contrary to popular belief, the employees are rarely new to a company. They may also be articulate and bright. In addition, Denver's training manual notes, "individuals who commit workplace violence almost always have had some degree of success, both in the workplace and in their personal lives...However, these individuals do believe that something very important (a job promotion, raise or transfer, for example), has been unfairly taken from them...If the organization does not give this to them, they are willing to risk everything to strike back at the organization, even where there is the possibility of injury to co-workers or themselves."

Barker says that despite the fact that experts use profiles to identify high-risk individuals, "no one can predict with any kind of accuracy if they will commit violence. There are plenty of people who rate high on the scale but still don't do violence."

The incidents themselves, though, follow two basic scenarios. "First," says Barker, "there's the personal. A guy follows his estranged wife to work and shoots her after finding out she's going with another guy. On the other side, you've got someone who's experiencing trouble at work. They're being disciplined, terminated, fired."

The common denominator, Barker says, is that the perpetrators believe an injustice has been done to them. All the incidents, he says, "have a flavor of people having gone over the edge, because what sets them off are things we have to deal with all the time---being fired, falsely accused, going through a divorce. People just don't go home and lock and load.

"My own belief," the therapist continues, "is that most people have other avenues to help them deal with situations. Some people have religion, some have family, some have an internal belief that they're going to be okay no matter how badly the world is treating them.

"Other people feel helpless. They don't believe that anything is going to change. They don't believe they can start over and continue on. They just don't have peace--or if they had it, they lost it."

The Wastewater Management building sits along the Platte River near land that has become home to the homeless. The tents and shanties of transients are set up by the water, behind a barnlike structure that city employees call "The Butler Building." Vagrants have been known to wander onto the Wastewater grounds, steal city property and break into cars. For that reason, the city hired a security company to watch over the building and grounds after moving into the new headquarters building in 1993. A lone, uniformed officer made the rounds. Because Wastewater was not considered a dangerous post, the guards were unarmed.

John Adamo had been working for Wells Fargo and patrolling the Wastewater building for nearly a year when C&D Bonded Security Service won the city contract in November 1996. Adamo could have stayed with Wells Fargo and taken a post elsewhere, but he liked what he was doing, says C&D general manager Troy Thames. So Adamo accepted a job with C&D and stayed on the graveyard shift at Wastewater.

He patrolled the building from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. for the grand salary of $8 an hour plus benefits. Adamo was allowed to sign up for the life-insurance program, but he turned it down, opting instead for the equivalent amount in pay. "He was a young guy, not married," Thames says. "They don't think about dying."

Adamo didn't have much contact with Wastewater employees; though cleaning crews were in and out of the building at night, he was usually getting off work as the city's morning shift started.

Adamo didn't plan on being a security guard forever. He wanted to go to college "and buy a house some day," says Thames. But while Adamo was at Wastewater, he was determined to be as good a guard as he could. Some employees appreciated his diligence. Some didn't.

"This man carried the job too far," Wastewater construction crew supervisor Anthony Aragon says of Adamo. "He took his job too seriously. If you pull up to the [entry] gate and the other guards recognize you or your car, they'll open it. But this guy, you had to get on the intercom. He thought he was a policeman, not a guard."

Over the years, longtime employees at Wastewater had become accustomed to taking little liberties with city property. Aragon, for example, pulled his car into the garage on a couple of occasions and used the air hose to fill his tires. Others washed their vehicles in the truck bays, where water jets made the job quick and easy.

On or about January 9, Richard Brady pulled his own pickup truck into the bay to rinse off the road salt. He babied that old truck so much, says Aragon, that "you'd think it was new. That's how good he took care of it." Officially, employees weren't allowed to use the bays to wash off their personal vehicles, and when Adamo spotted Brady in the bay, he told him to stop. Brady, however, reportedly continued washing his truck until it was clean.

Adamo noted the incident in his report the following morning. It was a minor infraction, but Brady's immediate supervisor did speak with him about it. "They just told him not to do it again," DeFiore says. That would have closed the book on the incident. But Brady wouldn't, or couldn't, let the matter drop.

On Friday, January 10, according to an incident report Adamo wrote and filed with the building supervisor, Brady stormed into the guards' office and pointed a finger at Adamo. "You're a little rat motherfucker," Brady reportedly said. "You and I are going to war."

The confrontation unnerved Adamo so much that he told his father of his concerns. "That weekend," John Adamo Sr. later wrote in a statement to detectives, "he said he had been threatened again, but this time he was very shaken by the way this man went about the threat. Many rough, verbal and physical gestures. My son was scared. I asked him to just quit, or to ask for a transfer to another location, but he said he couldn't do that."

Supervisors warned Brady to keep his distance from the guard. Kazemian says he spoke to Brady for half an hour. "I heard that management was going to let this go if Richard would just leave the gentleman alone and let him go by the wayside," DeFiore says. "They knew what caliber of man [Brady] is."

Brady apparently did leave Adamo alone for a couple of days. "The last time my son talked to me about this man that threatened him," John Adamo Sr. wrote in his statement to police, "he told me that this man did not even acknowledge his presence; it was as if my son was not there. My son told me that he felt very relieved and that he could live with this. He told me not to worry because, 'this looks like the end of it.'"

But on January 14 Adamo filed another report, accusing Brady of threatening him yet again. "He told me, 'If you're going to write something...you need to get it right,'" Adamo wrote. Brady then left, only to return to the guards' office a short time later to tell Adamo to remove his motorcycle from the garage, where the guard had been parking it.

By the following day, DeFiore had heard about Brady's troubles with Adamo and decided to speak to him about it. "I told him, 'I can't believe you're taking this thing to heart; just let it go,'" DeFiore recalls. "He just told me, he said, 'This guy has no right doing what he's doing.' He said, 'I wasn't hurting anybody, Donnie.' I said, 'You don't want to jeopardize what you have here.' And he said, 'I don't know if I want to let it go.'"

Wastewater maintains records of disciplinary actions against employees for five years, says Kazemian. Brady's record from 1991 through 1996 was clear. Still, Kazemian decided he couldn't allow the situation to escalate further. "I personally told him that I wanted to separate them so he could cool off," Kazemian says. "I said, 'You are not going to lose your job over this.'"

Nonetheless, Kazemian decided he had to place Brady on investigative leave. The paid suspension was to last four days, from Thursday, January 16, to Tuesday, January 21, at which time Kazemian would conduct a fact-finding hearing.

By Tuesday, the issue of a hearing was moot.

Denver homicide detectives summoned to the Wastewater building by DeFiore's 911 call found a particularly brutal crime scene. Adamo had been shot six times, in the head, face, leg and hands.

Less than four hours later Denver officers showed up at Brady's Northglenn home and asked him to come downtown for questioning. Brady went willingly.

Initially, Brady asserted his innocence, according to police reports. Shortly before noon, he signed a consent form allowing detectives to search his house and car. He also submitted to a gunshot-residue test, which is used to determine if a person has recently fired a weapon. When officers told Brady they'd found a box of .32-caliber shells behind the seat of his truck--the same caliber used to kill Adamo--Brady tried to explain it away by claiming that he collects ammunition to sell at flea markets. The questioning dragged on. At 4 p.m. Brady agreed to submit to a polygraph test.

Denver detective Don Vecchi testified at Brady's February 18 preliminary hearing that the polygraph indicated Brady's answers were deceptive. The gunshot-residue test came back positive. When detectives confronted Brady with that information, Vecchi testifed, their suspect began to talk.

"He said he went to the Wastewater building and that he saw Adamo get on the elevator," Vecchi testified. "He got on, too, but he said he didn't say anything, because he knew he wasn't supposed to. He said Adamo said to him, 'I don't care what you say, I'm still going to park my motorcycle in the garage.' And Brady said, 'The hell you are.' And then Adamo hit him or shoved him with his [hand-held] radio."

Vecchi said Brady told officers that in the ensuing struggle, "he heard his gun go off but did not remember pulling the trigger."

According to a police report, Brady added that he "kept thinking to himself that he could not believe what he had just done and the number of lives he had ruined."

After the alleged confession, officers placed Brady under arrest. The day after the murder, according to a police report, Brady told another detective in a jailhouse interview that he'd tossed his gun into the Platte River. Although Brady reportedly provided detailed directions to the site, police officers and the fire department's dive team were unable to find a weapon.

Brady, whose lawyer has instructed him not to talk about the incident, has since pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. Defense attorney Phil Cherner is now trying to get Brady's statements to police thrown out, claiming that officers didn't read Brady his rights until several hours after they began questioning him and allegedly ignored a faxed request from Cherner that they not talk to his client. Brady's trial is set for July 22.

At Wastewater, news of Adamo's death and Brady's arrest was met with astonishment. "I could not believe it," DeFiore says. "I didn't believe it. I didn't believe that a man I knew could do that."

Many employees were given the day off, Kazemian says. When they returned to work the following Tuesday (Monday had marked the observance of Martin Luther King Day), they were met by a crisis team from Denver Health Medical Center and, later, by a counseling group set up by John Nicoletti and the city's employee-assistance program.

"When the psych team came in," says a Public Works employee, "Denver Health warned us that the natural process of dealing with this would be as diverse as how people deal with the grieving process. But they did tell us some things to look for. It turned out to be so accurate that it was frightening.

"They said there would be a lot of frustration, and that some [workers] wouldn't want to blame the suspect and that they'd have to blame someone else," adds the employee.

People are bound to develop allegiances after years of working alongside each other, says Chris Weimer, director of the city's Office of Employee Assistance. "I know it was uncomfortable for many people, because they didn't know who to be angry at," notes Weimer. "And often, their anger is misdirected. As people try to make sense out of things that are senseless, they sometimes do that by pointing fingers. They go for the biggest target. And the city is the biggest target."

At the counseling session, says the Public Works employee who was present, "some of the guys were reacting violently, stirring up the group. The psychological team said they were using the situation to further their own agenda. They were saying stuff like, 'I knew this was going to happen.' You could tell their comments were not meant to be constructive. They were meant to be destructive."

Some employees "absolutely" blamed management for what happened, says DeFiore. "Some people felt Richard was getting a bum rap. They'd say, 'He'd been down here 26 years. Why was he placed on investigative leave?' You know, 'Why'd they do this? Why'd they do that?'

"Some people still harbor a grudge," concedes DeFiore. "But they might carry a grudge against management no matter what."

The city declared a moratorium on violence-in-the-workplace training for a month after Adamo's death. When the program started up again, some employees were quick to point out what they saw as similarities between Richard Brady and the prototypical perpetrator described in the training materials.

"Hindsight is twenty-twenty," Kazemian says. "There were people who'd say things like, 'He always sat in one chair, like it was his own little domain.' I don't claim to be a trained professional psychologist--I'm a professional engineer and manager--but I never saw a problem. He was the hardest worker I had here."

Tempers have cooled since the homicide, but the violence that shook the agency has left its mark. Today there are not one, but two security guards on the graveyard shift at Wastewater Management. Both of them are armed.

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