In the aftermath of the tragic Navy Yard mass shooting in Washington, news sources have begun to speculate: How did multiple government and third-party agencies miss the red flags that pointed to Aaron Alexis’ mental illness and violent tendencies? According to The Washington Post, the gunman’s mass shooting was preceded by a pattern of psychological deterioration that began in 2004.
Over the past nine years, multiple agencies failed to identify the man’s behavior as a threat.
Nine years ago, Alexis fired multiple shots into the tires of another vehicle. He was arrested and told police that he suffered a “blackout” caused by rage. Law enforcement failed to file charges against him though, because the paperwork for the case was lost.
Had Alexis been convicted of an offense, future background checks (for job applications, firearms purchases, etc.) may have connected him with the crime and potentially prevented him from buying a gun two days before the Washington Navy Yard murders.
Several years later, USIS, a government contractor, ran a background check on Alexis after he applied for secret-level security clearance. According to the report, Alexis committed an act of “malicious mischief” in 2004 (the first shooting). However, the report was not enough to keep him from obtaining high-level security clearance. After his application was accepted, the Department of Defense was not obligated to revisit his qualifications for another ten years.
In the same year, police reports indicated that Alexis was arrested for destroying some furnishings in a nightclub. He paid a $300 fine and was released from jail three days later.
Two years later (2010), law enforcement arrested Alexis after they suspected that he fired a gunshot through the roof of his apartment. Alexis claimed that the incident was an accident and that it occurred when he was cleaning his gun – however, Alexis had complained about noise from the other apartment before the incident.
In 2011, Alexis punched a man in the face during an altercation. Law enforcement gave the other man a citation and, even though his commander a pattern of erratic behavior, Alexis was honorably discharged from the Navy. In the same year, he applied for disability benefits, but did not undergo an extensive psychological evaluation.
One year later, an outside firm called the Experts hired Alexis and conducted a background check. Once again, the fact that he had not had actual criminal convictions kept the investigation from revealing anything dangerous, such as his two prior gun-related run-ins with the law.
After a short hiatus, Alexis began working for the Experts again in 2013. At this time, the company conducted another background check. Two months later, Alexis called the police and claimed that he heard voices in “microwave machines.” At this time, law enforcement performed another background check that, like all of the previous checks, failed to yield helpful information. Police filed a report and notified the Newport Navy Station.
When Alexis called the Experts and told them about the “microwave machines”, he was sent home for only three days before returning to work. At the end of August, 2013, Alexis asked his doctor for medication to treat insomnia. In order to refill the prescription, the doctor asked if Alexis had any thoughts of self-harm or violence but was not subjected to an extensive psychological evaluation.
On September 14th, Alexis purchased a firearm. Because he was never convicted of a crime, the background check once again came back clean. The Washington Navy Yard shooting took place only two days later.
At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, & Siegel, P.C., we believe that people should be held responsible for their actions. The gunman may not be the only person liable for the deaths and injuries he caused on September 16th; the numerous agencies, companies and officials who had responsible for investigating and hiring Alexis’ could be responsible as well.
For example, the company that Alexis worked with failed to identify his prior and recent unpredictable behavior, and remove him from the workforce. No one at the Washington Navy Yard noticed when Alexis entered the premises with a bag that was filled with an unassembled gun. The Department of Defense allowed Alexis to maintain secret-level security clearance, despite his a long history of instability. These are just some of the examples of those who might be held responsible.
For more information about potential lawsuits related to this story, visit our Navy Yard Shooting page.
If you suffered the loss of a loved one or a severe injury in the Washington Navy Yard shooting, please contact our firm right away. We have extensive experience handling inadequate and negligent security cases, and cases involving negligent hiring, supervision and retention, and may be able to help you pursue financial compensation for your damages.