A woman gets off the 522 bus near SAP Center. File photo.
A woman gets off the 522 bus near SAP Center. File photo.

    Before Samuel Cassidy walked into work and murdered nine people, he frightened his coworkers, verbally attacked a female colleague and refused to follow company rules—yet his managers praised him and he kept his job for 20 years.

    At least one VTA employee described him as a loner and an outsider, who sometimes treated others “like a bother.” Old romantic partners of Cassidy, one of whom accused him of sexual assault, said he had mood swings that could turn violent.

    Police and other authorities said the 57-year-old gunman was “a highly disgruntled employee” but have yet to determine his motivation. VTA refuted claims that the shooter was facing discipline at work.

    But according to hundreds of pages of records analyzed by San José Spotlight, Cassidy was defended by managers, never faced serious discipline and kept his job for two decades.

    A VTA bus driver, who spoke to San José Spotlight on condition of anonymity, said she was frustrated by what seemed to be a lack of response to his behavior.

    “Apparently, several complaints were made about this guy to management, and nothing was done,” she said. “Management was told that they were afraid he was going to do harm to somebody, and the supervisor over there, whoever it was, ignored it.”

    VTA officials told San José Spotlight management’s hands were essentially tied on discipline because Cassidy was represented by the union.

    “Cassidy was a union-represented employee. There is a formal progressive disciplinary process that must be followed based on the union’s bargaining contract,” a VTA spokesperson told this organization. “His behavior would have been for both management and his union to address.”

    Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265, who represented Cassidy since 2001, declined to comment.

    A ‘great worker’

    Cassidy started working at VTA in January 2001 as an electro-mechanic, earning $22.50 an hour.

    Cassidy didn’t graduate high school, according to his records. Instead, he got a GED and attended De Anza College to study auto tech. He worked at several local car dealerships for a total of 16 years prior to his time at VTA, according to his work records.

    For the first few years, Cassidy appears to have kept a low profile at work. As a union member, his salary continued to increase according to payroll records, and he received no written complaints besides a warning about missing work in 2004.

    In 2005, records show he began experiencing health issues after he reported an injured knee while lifting and unloading equipment at work. Cassidy needed surgery for his knee and started receiving disability checks for it, doctor’s notes and insurance claims show.

    The gunman eventually had two more procedures, one listed as “general surgery” in 2016 and a foot surgery in 2020, documents show. According to Cassidy’s handwritten note, he visited the doctor nine times in 2020 before undergoing surgery.

    The VTA bus driver said she often saw Cassidy among coworkers at the light rail yard where the mass shooting happened last month. The driver said his behavior was noticeably different from his peers.

    “They’re all pretty friendly, like ‘Hey, hi,’ and you see him and he’s just quiet,” she said. “Sometimes he’d wave, just kind of like flip his hand up, like you’re a bother.”

    VTA promoted Cassidy to a substation maintainer position in 2014. According to a 2021 work schedule, Cassidy was slated to lead the morning shift. In 2020, he made around $160,000 a year.

    Last October, an unnamed supervisor lauded Cassidy as they communicated with another worker about Cassidy’s refusal to take a mandatory, job-specific training class.

    “He is a great worker,” the employee wrote about Cassidy. “For your information I already have (a) shortage of employees.”

    Nine months prior in January 2020, an unnamed worker told VTA management that Cassidy scared them after he berated a female coworker in front of other employees and a union rep.

    “If someone was to go postal, it’d be him,” the worker said.

    But still, it appeared that VTA had his back—he was never formally written up.

    Email from a VTA employee summarizing one of Cassidy's outburst.

    Management opted for verbal counseling, saying that Cassidy “does not have anything in his disciplinary history that would seem to be of any concern at this point to investigate further.”

    Despite fear from some coworkers, he was praised by managers at least twice last year and kept working there.

    An escalation of incidents

    Apparently unbeknownst to VTA and his coworkers, Cassidy harbored hatred toward them for at least a decade. He kept a notebook detailing his dissatisfaction with the VTA, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection who detained him in 2016 after a trip to the Philippines, the Wall Street Journal reported.

    San José Spotlight has put in a public records request with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security for reports about Cassidy. The agencies have yet to respond.

    There are no records that detail when and how long Cassidy took off work for the Philippines trip. Federal agents detained him two days before his general surgery scheduled on Aug. 10, 2016.

    The trove of work documents reveal Cassidy had at least five incidents at work, where he was suspended without pay once and received counseling twice. All incidents happened between 2019 and 2021, documents show.

    In July 2019, Cassidy refused to sign a release form to use a portable radio that was “critical” safety equipment for his job, which baffled his union representative.

    “To be honest I am not sure why Sam refused to sign,” the union rep wrote to an unnamed person. “Some folks are just that way.”

    Cassidy was suspended without pay for insubordination but received no further discipline, according to the records.

    A memo summarizing an incident where Cassidy refused to sign a form to check out a portable radio.

    On Jan. 29, 2020, Cassidy started shouting and pointing fingers at a female coworker, saying she was “the most corrupt person at the VTA'' before a union rep intervened. After receiving a summary of the incident that included a comment from another employee saying they were scared of Cassidy, management directed Cassidy’s boss to go over VTA’s policies on conduct and retaliation. No other discipline was issued.

    A few months later, emails show that Cassidy snapped at human resources personnel after they requested additional information about his medical leave request.

    “I flat out refuse to do that... I am not making a trip down to see the doctor for this minor detail,” Cassidy wrote in July 2020. “I consider this harassment.”

    Managers look away

    Late last year, Cassidy repeatedly refused to take mandatory CPR training, despite his expired certification. He reportedly cited COVID-19 concerns. Roughly 100 other VTA employees took the training as offered.

    In an email dated Oct. 29, 2020, an unnamed VTA employee gave advice that if Cassidy, along with two other employees, “remain obstinate and refuse to comply,” division heads should issue “appropriate disciplines.” The disciplines never came. Cassidy didn’t complete his training until late January this year, according to emails.

    Cassidy also blew up two times on an open communication line with multiple listeners. On Nov. 28, 2020, he announced on a radio line that he was taking an unexcused absence because VTA’s sign-in terminal didn’t work.

    “I’m scheduled to work today, but I’m going to go home,” Cassidy said, according to the record of an unnamed employee. “If VTA can’t have a system for an employee to badge in, then I’m just going to go home. This is my normal work day. You can put me down as unexcused leave.”

    In an email to Cassidy's supervisor, an unnamed employee said, “This is considered unnecessary radio traffic and should not be transmitted on an open line for multiple employees to hear. Please remind Mr. Cassidy that a conversation such as this should be handled via telephone.”

    VTA pursued no further discipline.

    In a second incident which happened in February this year, Cassidy again blew up on his portable radio after failing to hear a response from radio traffic. Emails show he received a talk from his supervisor.

    "This behavior by Sam must not be repeated again. Any similar violation will lead to disciplinary action," the supervisor wrote in a follow-up email.

    VTA redacted all managers' names from the public records.

    In response, Cassidy wrote, “My actions did not arise from a vacuum… Abuse grows in the dark, my intent was to bring that abuse to light by being vocal about it so others are aware of it.”

    There’s no email or document showing Cassidy’s supervisor or management responded.

    Unresolved complaints

    The bus driver who had noticed Cassidy on the yard said anyone can report to the agency’s Office of Civil Rights if they see behavior from a VTA worker that is inappropriate, abusive or discriminatory.

    However, the bus driver added, investigations from the office are often determined “inconclusive,” resulting in no consequences or change.

    “If there’s an employee who needs help, and if others are going to management and saying, ‘This person, there’s something wrong,’ they need to figure out a way to address that,” she said. “I’ve not heard of one case that was not inconclusive, especially for the sexual harassment… There’s no closure for anything.”

    When asked how many complaints in 2020 were deemed inconclusive, VTA officials would not answer.

    "This requires further inquiry," a spokesperson said in an email.

    To learn how you can help the victims of the shooting, click here.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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