The Archangel Group, Ltd. is a private consulting group “providing training and consulting to U.S. military, law enforcement and government agencies, in addition to schools of all levels in the fields of terrorism, security and combat tactics.” Following the shootings at Virginia Tech, the group took the initiative to investigate the Blacksburg tragedy. No government agency requested or paid for the group’s research. Their findings were published on September 5, 2008, in a report entitled: “AFTER ACTION REVIEW: An Evaluation and Assessment of the Law Enforcement Tactical Response to the Virginia Tech University Shootings of Monday 16 April 2007.”
This is the third of several articles the author plans on doing related to the Archangel Group’s report on Virginia Tech. This article takes a critical look at the report itself. To sit by and say nothing when faced with Archangel’s biases, self-serving analysis, and intellectual dishonesty, would be unconscionable.
AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR ARCHANGEL GROUP—UNFORTUNATELY
The Archangel Group’s After Action Review of the Virginia Tech tragedy is, sadly, a blatant attempt to sell the services of that organization. Nowhere is this more evident than in the self-serving parameters of the analysis in order to vindicate the police forces’ actions and responsibilities to the tragedy.
I am not going to go into the individual members that make-up Archangel Group; I did that in Part II. But I would like to call the reader’s attention—again—to the fact that two of the seven-member Archangel Group are attorneys. And that at least one of those attorneys was a primary drafter of the report.
I have trained a large number of attorneys in problem analysis and analytical writing over the last twenty years; I have done so at the FBI and CIA. As a group of well-educated individuals, the characteristic that stands out most about them is the fact that their analysis is one dimensional—win at all costs. They are not being dishonest—it is just that their job is to win cases for their clients.
This characteristic of the legal profession—the desire and drive to win—may be good for courtroom argumentation, but it does not transfer over well to other types of analysis because contradictory evidence is frequently shunted aside in hopes of winning the argument and ultimately the case. This type of selectivity can and is a problem. In addition, of all the categories of students I have had in my twenty years of teaching, attorneys (as a group) are the most likely to manipulate words—even to the point of intentionally obscuring the facts. I saw these characteristics in the Archangel report.
The most alarming omission is the fact that the Archangel authors do not tell the reader that the Virginia State Police and the ATF declined to turn over to Governor Kaine’s special panel the reports and documents dealing with Seung Hue Cho’s application to buy weapons. In other words, they refused to cooperate. On page 8, the Archangel report says, “It was the belief of the Archangel Investigating Team … that no conclusion would be of value to U.S. law enforcement, first responders and schools if complete factual accuracy could not be assured.” I agree! Then why didn’t Archangel’s investigating team try to find out why pertinent documents were withheld by the police? This is incredible! How can either the Archangel Group or the Governor’s panel analyze the shooting without key documents?
Another example of disturbing omission is the fact that the Archangel report also never looks at or examines the concept of premises liability. To establish premise liability, the defendant—Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Police Department—must have first hand knowledge of the individual’s propensity for violence. I am not sure what more first-hand knowledge you need that the fact that an English professor was so concerned for her safety that she told the head of the English Department that unless Cho was removed from her class she would resign.
Examples of Archangel’s selecting facts and evidence can be found in section IX. FEDERAL LEGAL STANDARDS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT IN THE U.S. IN SIMILAR SITUATIONS. Nowhere does the report deal with premises liability and the concept of “foreseeable” threats. Nowhere does the report examine the responsibilities of those in positions to react to those “foreseeable” threats; to act and to take preventive measures.
In Virginia, the law is not written to protect public institutions and organizations (such as schools and universities) from legal action, but the law is consistently interpreted that way. First, the Virginia Supreme Court seems to adhere to a strict interpretation of “sovereign immunity.” Sovereign immunity has been borrowed from English common law and simply means the sovereign cannot be sued for any wrongdoing—no matter how egregious. This principle of immunity is extended to all state organizations no matter how incompetent and bungling the management of those organizations may be.
Second, the Virginia Supreme Court blindly adheres to the concept that no institution or person can be held responsible for someone else’s actions. Other state Supreme Courts, such as New York, do hold individuals and institutions responsible for another’s actions when there are unmistakable and foreseeable signs of violence.
The law in Virginia states that “before any duty can arise with regard to the conduct of third persons (Cho), there must be a special relationship between the defendant (Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Police Department) and either the plaintiff (the dead students and faculty members) or the third person (Cho).”
The fact is that Virginia Tech, by accepting the tuition money from the dead students, established a special—monetary—relationship. In many, many aspects of law, the exchange of money establishes the special bond. The fact that Virginia Tech accepted tuition money, established a fiduciary relationship—a relationship of trust.
The school and the Virginia Tech Police Department entered into a “special relationship” that included the safety of those students buying the school’s services. The Virginia Tech Police Department (an integral part of the university and therefore an adherent to this “special relationship”) violated that special arrangement in the period immediately after the first shooting by not recommending a campus-wide alert. The Blacksburg Police Department and the Virginia State Police, confronted with the initial crime scene, were accessories both before and after the fact in the deaths of the 30 students and faculty members in Norris Hall because of their failure to urge a campus-wide alert. The Archangel Report never bothers to thoroughly analyze and investigate the actions of the police departments in the critical time frame following the first two murders.
On page 77, the Archangel Report asserts that “The final point to consider is just what an earlier message (warning or campus-wide alert) would have said that could possibly have made a difference.” Then the authors summarily dismiss “non-tactical professionals, including those of political and academic orientations, parents and news media, who seem to believe that there exists one-size-fits-all tactic that can be employed that will serve as a panacea in any and all threatening situations in schools. This is not only unrealistic, but naïve. The remedy appears to garner the greatest support for harboring the illusion that if one particular step (a lockdown) had been taken (or is taken in the future) everyone will be safe …” Not only is the report out-and-out wrong in its assumption that “non-tactical” specialists are naïve, but it is arrogant. Rarely have I seen such a condescending attitude in dismissing opposing views in a so-called independent study. Incredible, truly incredible!
In fact, the only ones I know saying that “one size fits all” in campus security are the people at Archangel. Every security specialist I have talked to characterizes a lockdown as an important part of a broader security policy—not a single solution. The fact is that the State University system in New York is implementing an impressive lockdown system on all campuses as an integral part of an impressive security program, dramatically flies in the face of the Archangel assertion. Where on earth did you get your information Archangel Group?
On page 78, the report speculates that, “If locked down inside any building, it would have made it all the easier for Cho to trap his quarry.” In fact the exact opposite is true, if a lockdown had been instituted after the first two shootings, Cho would not have been able to get into Norris Hall. If Virginia Tech had instituted a lockdown immediately after the first two shootings, thirty innocent people might be alive today!
The report, on page 81, states that “In the real world the officers have to follow established procedures, rely on experience, follow their instincts, and use common sense.” Virginia Tech had an established procedure for a campus-wide alert in the event of an emergency and violated that procedure. Look at the facts: on April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed two people at West Ambler-Johnston Hall on campus. Nearly two and one-half hours later he entered Norris Hall on campus and shot and killed 30 students and professors.
Virginia Tech University officials, the Virginia Tech Police Department, the Blacksburg Police Department, and the Virginia State Police:
--Did not rely on established procedures. The Virginia Tech Police (and the
university’s senior administrators—acting as the emergency Policy Group)
erred in not issuing an alert that two people had been killed on campus.
Neither the Virginia Tech Police nor senior school officials followed their own
security procedures. For example, on August 21, 2006, Virginia Tech did close
the school and send all students home because of a manhunt for William
Morva, accused of killing a police officer and security guard.
--Did not rely on their experience from the year before, much less the
experience of law enforcement investigations from other serious crime scenes.
The Archangel report, on page 61, says that the Virginia Tech police requested
twenty-eight officers to help in the investigation of the first shootings. In
other words the campus police thought the first shooting was serious enough
to request the help of more than half of the Blacksburg Police Department,
but not serious enough to issue a campus-wide alert.
--Did not follow the instincts that all officers should have in erring on the side of
caution when a murderer is on the loose—you don’t automatically assume you
have the killer based on suspicion and no real evidence. For example, the
police made a serious error in focusing solely on Karl Thornhill, Miss
Hilscher’s boyfriend as the prime suspect based on such statements as,
“Thornhill frequented a shooting range, and had taken both (Miss Hilscher)
and her roommate to the range with him.” If going to a firing range is cause
for making one person the sole suspect, half the men in Virginia would be
prime suspects every time a crime is committed in their neighborhoods. To
single in on one person as the suspect with such flimsy evidence is just
plain poor investigative procedure.
--Did not Use common sense!
The report goes on for twenty-one pages (pages 84-104) citing court rulings that support the report’s thesis that the police forces should not be held accountable for their actions. On page 93, the reader is told: “Although the deliberate indifference standard is very difficult for a plaintiff to meet, there have been instances where municipalities have been liable for failing to train or for inadequately training its officers. BUT, it is up to the reader to go to the footnote and look up the ruling for himself or herself!! How many reading this article have access to a law library and can look up those instances?
Parts of the Archangel Report’s conclusions are both incredible and distasteful. The second paragraph of the conclusion (page 121) is nothing but pure sensationalism—bordering on scare tactics. All of a sudden the reader is confronted with the specter of al Qaeda. The al Qaeda reference would make some sense if the Archangel Report had, in stating the purpose of the report on page 7, said that it would draw some sort of conclusions about how terrorist groups studying and learning from the Virginia Tech tragedy.
The Archangel Group states: “The goal of the Report is to offer relevant facts, findings and conclusions, concerning the tactical response of law enforcement and first responders to the shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech on 16 April 2007, and to offer recommendations for future preparedness and tactical response capability to all relevant agencies. Archangel Group, and the Archangel Team that conducted this investigation and assessment, hopes that this report can aid in planning for, and responding to future incidents like the tragedy at Virginia Tech.”
The stated goals of Archangel Group are highly commendable. Unfortunately, the report does not deliver on those goals. I would remind the reader that Archangel Group also states on page 7: “This Report has been prepared for distribution to U.S. law enforcement, security and first responder agencies, and is being made available at no cost to any such agency.” Again a very noble purpose, but clearly the unsaid, underlying purpose of the report is to drum-up business for Archangel. Archangel Group wants to sell its services, if their purpose was purely altruistic then they would offer all of their expertise and service to police forces at no cost.
Virginia Tech’s decision to reach a legal and financial settlement with the dead students’ families is a tacit acknowledgement of guilt. The cash-strapped state of Virginia did not agree to an $11 million dollar settlement because it had the cash lying around and decided out of goodness to give the families some sort of compensation. The state decided to settle because the overwhelming evidence and the magnitude of inept handling of the shooting, was too great to ignore.
The dollar amount that Virginia decided to pay is approximately $100,000.00 per student. The amount of the compensation that each family will receive is both an insult and a disgrace. How many of those reading this article would value their son’s or daughter’s life at $100,000.00?
Having to deal with the loss of a child school shootings or any senseless crime is horrific. What the families need more than anything else is honesty, truth, and integrity as they attempt to heal. Unfortunately, those two qualities are rarely found. Adding insult to injury is the fact that there are people an organization that will use the sufferings of others to enrich themselves.