VTA couldn’t stop San Jose mass shooting, report claims
VTA Chief of External Affairs Jim Lawson speaks on Dec. 12, 2022 about the results of a 17-month investigation into whether the public transit agency could've done more to prevent the May 2021 shooting that killed nine VTA employees. Photo courtesy of VTA.

    An independent investigation into whether VTA could have done more to prevent the 2021 mass shooting in San Jose has found the organization did not have enough information to prevent the attack.

    At a last-minute Monday news conference at VTA headquarters, VTA Chief of External Affairs Jim Lawson said a 17-month investigation conducted by San Francisco law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore determined there were no actionable warning signs that could have helped the agency prevent the May 26, 2021 shooting, which left nine VTA workers dead at the hands of a fellow employee, who then turned the gun on himself.

    “The VTA had no indication or warning that this event would occur,” Lawson said at the news conference.

    The public transit agency announced in November it would pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit filed by families of eight of nine victims killed in the shooting. The families claimed VTA ignored numerous red flags about the shooter, Samuel Cassidy, a 57-year-old maintenance worker.

    A San José Spotlight review of hundreds of pages of records last year revealed Cassidy frightened his coworkers, verbally attacked a colleague and refused to follow company rules. Yet he was praised by managers, never faced serious discipline and kept his job for two decades.

    There were at least five concerning incidents involving Cassidy, one of which resulted in a VTA employee writing in an email they worried he would “go postal.” In another incident in 2016, federal customs agents detained Cassidy at San Francisco International Airport after inspectors found a book full of notes about his hatred for VTA. Agency officials have said this incident was not reported to them by the Department of Homeland Security.

    Lawson contended those incidents were not enough for VTA to take more action than it did.

    “None of the five incidents, individually or all taken together, were sufficient to terminate the perpetrator or warrant serious discipline in any of those cases,” he said. “We cannot act on what someone thinks somebody might do.”

    Cassidy was offered counseling at the time of the incidents, Lawson said, though VTA has added more mental health resources for employees since the shooting.

    John Courtney, president and business agent of ATU Local 285, VTA’s largest union, said the report is not enough.

    “This report does not lay this matter to bed. Some way, somehow, some place there was a disconnect,” Courtney told San José Spotlight. “This is what this kind of disconnect can cause. We need to keep digging because we have children without fathers at this point, and that’s unacceptable to me.”

    The shooting also prompted accusations from workers about the agency’s toxic work culture, which included threats and verbal abuse from management.

    VTA Board Chair Chappie Jones said the investigation results are self explanatory.

    “No one can truly understand the pain and suffering of the family members and the people who’ve lost loved ones,” Jones told San José Spotlight. “At the end of the day, it was Mr. Cassidy that was ultimately responsible for his actions. That’s where any kind of blame or focus should be, on the person who committed the act.”

    The nine victims were Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, Adrian Balleza, Alex Ward Fritch, Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, Paul Delacruz Megia, Lars Kepler Lane, Timothy Michael Romo, Michael Joseph Rudometkin and Taptejdeep Singh. A 10th VTA worker, who struggled with PTSD after the attack, died by suicide months later.

    The shooting at VTA’s rail yard in downtown San Jose is the deadliest in the Bay Area since the 101 California Street shooting in San Francisco in 1993, when a gunman killed eight people in a law firm.

    Contact Brian Howey at [email protected] or @SteelandBallast on Twitter.

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