Victim Provoked Police Shooting — ‘‘Suicide by Cop’’
SECTION A: — Background
Mr. Frederick Lanceley, formerly of the FBI stated in evidence that he coined the term ‘‘suicide by cop’’, in response to a situation he witnessed where he believed that individuals who were clearly suicidal were demanding that the police kill them and were manipulating situations to the point where the police had no choice but to use deadly force. He explained to the Tribunal ‘‘the instrumentality of their deaths was not drugs, a gun, a rope or jumping from a bridge but the police. The incident was not a suicide by gun or suicide by jumping it was a suicide by cop.’’ In his view, suicide by cop refers to a suicide where the person wants to die but prefers to have the police kill him or her as opposed to killing himself or herself.
2. Definitions and terminology
Dr. Ian McKenzie found that the various definitions described in the literature on this phenomenon to be, in his view inadequate. He instanced definitions such as ‘‘victim precipitated homicide’’, ‘‘police officer assisted suicide’’, ‘‘law enforcement forced assisted suicide’’ as being unsatisfactory in that these definitions did not take into account non-lethal events. The term suicide by cop, he thought, should be avoided in that in its ‘‘crude vernacular form, it carries strong emotional overtones.’’
Dr. McKenzie preferred the term ‘‘police involved victim provoked shooting’’. Whereas in some cases the term ‘‘suicide’’ may be appropriate, in that there is a degree of intentionality on the part of the victim, the term becomes more problematic when the victim’s actions derive from emotional confusion.
During the course of evidence to the Tribunal the phenomenon was most frequently referred to by experts and others by its colloquial term, ‘‘suicide by cop’’ and is accordingly referred to as such in this chapter.
3. Incidence of suicide by cop
Studies in the United States suggest that suicides by cop account for at least 10% of police involved homicides. Dr. McKenzie, in his analysis of current available literature, suggested that the true figure may be as high as 46%.
Prior to 1998 suicide by cop in the United Kingdom was sporadic, with only one or two suspected cases per year. Dr. Douglas Turkington, consultant psychiatrist, gave
evidence that currently the United Kingdom experiences some 10-12 incidents of victim precipitated shooting per annum.
4. Suicide by cop and behaviour
In 2003 the then Police Complaints Authority of England and Wales conducted a review of 24 police shootings there between 1998 – 2001, and stated the following:
‘‘in as many as 11 of the 24 cases included in the review, there are behavioural indicators that some element of deliberate self-harm may have been involved. For several, this was linked to significant mental health problems, while the factors that led to this suicidal objective may also have included some combination of domestic disputes, alcohol or illicit drug consumption, and an interest in or obsession with firearms. In other words their behaviour may have been rendered irrational by life stress factors that exacerbated pre-existing and underlying mental health problems such as depression or psychosis’’.
Dr. McKenzie in evidence to the Tribunal, concluded that the presence of mental illness, a history of substance abuse and contemporaneous intoxication, were key factors in circumstances where individuals become the subject of a police involved victim-provoked homicide. Dr. Turkington agreed that factors co- relating with suicide by cop include domestic violence; relationship breakdown; the prospect of lengthy imprisonment; alcohol and drug misuse, and history of psychiatric illness and suicidal attempts.
5. Suicidal intent
Presence of intent
Dr. Turkington stated that, in his view, it is important to bear in mind that although suicidal intent is a necessary ingredient in cases of suicide by cop, high suicidal intent is present in only a small percentage of cases. He stated that most suicides by cop, and indeed cases of suicide generally, are not planned in advance. In contrast, Dr. John Sheehan, consultant psychiatrist, was of the view that whereas occasionally suicide can be a spontaneous event, most genuine attempts are planned events.
Communication of intent
In the past a suicide attempt was usually accompanied by a written note which served to communicate the victim’s suicidal intent. According to Dr. Turkington suicide notes are becoming less frequent and are now present in only about 30% of cases. Other forms of communication are now more common such as text messaging and verbal communications. This change adds to difficulty in recognising the presence of suicidal intent, or gauging the level of that intent, so as to understand the motives driving a victim’s behaviour.
The evidence adduced at the Tribunal indicates that in a significant number of suspected suicides by cop, victims exhibit either low levels of suicidal intent, which
may be as a result of illness or other motivating factors, or that the subjects are ambivalent or indifferent to the outcome of their contact with the police.
Mental illness and suicidal intent
As already noted, suicidal intent is a necessary ingredient in cases of suicide by cop. Dr. Turkington confirmed that people with mental illness have the capacity to form a suicidal intent. The difficulty arises in interpreting the nature of the intent in the context of the particular form of mental illness. Dr. Turkington gave as an example a person with a persecutory delusion involving the police who is involved in an apparent suicide by cop incident and suggested that it may be ‘‘difficult to know whether they are actually trying to get themselves killed or trying to fight back against the people who they believe are persecuting them’’.
In suspected cases of suicide by cop one must also consider whether the actions of the victim are motivated by a desire to bring about his or her own death or simply the result of indifference to the outcome of the event. For example in four out of the five unsuccessful suspected suicide by cop cases encountered by Dr. Turkington the victim was indifferent. In his words it was ‘‘Russian Roulette, if they were shot, so be it.’’
7. Categories of suicide by cop
Evidence to the Tribunal indicates that the circumstances surrounding most cases of suspected suicide by cop differ greatly. There is, as yet, no standard or uniform categorisation of suicide by cop. Dr. Turkington and Professor Tom Fahy, categorised such incidents as follows:
Dr. Turkington stated that suicide by cop is categorised, according to the level of suicidal intent present, into three sub-groups:
i. Suicide by cop with direct confrontation (the highest level of suicidal intent).
In this sub-group, as the label implies, the victim orchestrates a situation to bring himself or herself into direct confrontation with the police. Prior warning has usually been given to others.
ii. Suicide by cop with disturbed confrontation (a medium level of suicidal intent).
This accounts for up to 50% of cases and comprises situations where persons behave in an irrational and emotionally disturbed manner. They unintentionally attract the attention of the police, and a stand-off ensues. Dr. Turkington indicated that there are present within the sub-group three further sub-types:
(a) Suicide intervention
This relates to a bona fide suicide attempt, which has been hesitant or ambivalent. An example given is where an individual is unsure whether or not they want to end their life. The individual may have a weapon in the house. They take an overdose and the police attend at the scene. The individual reacts to the rescue by training a weapon on the police who are attempting to assist. This is a suicide bid, which has failed and ends up as a potential suicide by cop.
(b) Disturbed domestic
In this sub-type the police are called out in response to a domestic disturbance and the aggressor turns on the police when they arrive.
(c) Disturbed person type
Dr. Turkington told the Tribunal that the ‘‘disturbed person type accounts for 20.3% of all cases and in such a situation there is a high irrational and desperate quality to the behaviour of the armed individual.’’
Suicide by cop with criminal intervention (the lowest level of suicidal intent).
This sub-group typically arises following a failed crime. The victim is surrounded by the police and knows that he has no realistic chance of escape but is not willing to face the prospect of a long prison sentence and makes an escape attempt, knowing that it will probably result in his death.
Professor Fahy in his evidence referred to a paper by Mohandie and Meloy which was published in the Journal of Forensic Science in 2000 in which two categories of suicide by cop are classified:
i. The victim has an instrumental goal, in that he or she attempts to escape or avoid the consequences of criminal or shameful actions or solve another type of problem (e.g. avoiding exclusion clause of suicide in a life assurance policy, rationalising that it might be morally wrong to commit suicide, but maybe more acceptable to be killed; or use a confrontation with the police in an effort to reconcile a failed relationship). In other cases the individual may seek what they believe to be a highly effective means of accomplishing death.
ii. The victim has an expressive goal, and may be communicating hopelessness, depression and despair; a statement about his or her ultimate identification as ‘‘victim’’; his or her need to save face by dying or being forcibly overwhelmed rather than surrendering; their intense power needs; rage and revenge; or their need to draw attention to an important personal issue.
8. The identification of a suicide by cop incident
The intending suicide by cop victim, in addition to having the necessary suicidal intent, must in the view of the various witnesses also be in possession of a ‘‘weapon’’ in order to achieve the goal of being shot by the police.
In cases where suicide by cop is suspected, its identification can only be confirmed where there has been a prior communication of the suicidal intent, such as a suicide note. In other cases the best that can be achieved is a probable diagnosis from an examination of the circumstantial facts surrounding the case. Dr. Turkington spoke of conducting a ‘‘psychological autopsy’’. Dr. McKenzie spoke of examining a ‘‘chain of behaviour’’ and other experts referred to carrying out an ‘‘equivocal death analysis’’. Broadly speaking such an autopsy or analysis involves examining a suicide victim’s behaviour prior to his or her death. In 1993 an American psychologist, Clint Van Zandt, proposed a list of behavioural indicators to assist in the identification of suicide by cop cases and against which experts carry out an initial examination of the available evidence. This list describes types of behaviour which have the potential to lead to a police involved victim provoked shooting:
i The individual is a subject of a self-initiated hostage or barricade situation and refuses to negotiate with the authorities.
i The subject has just killed a significant other person in his/her life (particularly important if the victim was a child or the subject’s mother).
i The subject demands that the police kill her/him.
i The subject sets a deadline for the authorities to kill him/her.
i The subject has recently learned that he/she is suffering from a life-threatening illness or disease.
i The subject indicates an elaborate plan for his/her own death; one that has taken both prior thought and preparation.
i The subject indicates that he/she will only ‘‘surrender’’ (in person) to the officer in charge.
i The subject indicates that he/she intends to ‘‘go out in a big way’’.
i The subject makes no demands that include those allowing his/her escape or subsequent freedom.
i The subject comes from a low socio-economic background.
i The subject provides the authorities with a verbal ‘‘last will and testament’’.
i The subject uses language which tends to indicate that he/she may be looking for a manly or macho way to die.
i The subject has recently given away money or personal possessions.
i The subject has a criminal record, which includes evidence of assaults upon other people.
i The subject has recently experienced one or more traumatic events that affected him/her, or subject’s family or career.
i The subject expresses feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Cautious approach to application of criteria
Mr. Lanceley and Professor Fahy, in their respective reports, provided lists of behaviour indicators which are variations of the Van Zandt list. The experts at the Tribunal agree that the presence or absence of behavioural indicators may assist in the formation of a judgement as to the victim’s motivation in a police shooting. However, they are of the view that their use should be treated with caution. According to Dr. McKenzie, their use is based on subjective qualitative analysis of cases rather than quantitative scientific analysis. Dr. Turkington expressed a warning as follows:
‘‘every suicide is absolutely unique in relation to a person’s own biological vulnerability, their life events, their relationships, they are all completely different. So you find these small statistical weighting factors, it doesn’t help you very much with the suicide that you were trying to understand.’’
Professor Fahy also cautioned that none of the Van Zandt features are diagnostic of suicide by cop and that that diagnosis would be a matter of opinion or consensus.
SECTION B: — Experts’ Opinions
1. Dr. Sheehan
The Tribunal posed the following written question to Dr. Sheehan:
‘‘Having regard to all the facts relating to John Carthy and his irrational behaviour on the 1 9th and 20th April, 2000, is there anything that might establish or suggest that his motivation for leaving home with his gun and heading towards Abbe ylara was to have himself shot and killed by the police, a phenomenon which has occurred in the United Stated of America, where it is known as ‘suicide by cop’?’’
John Carthy’s mental state
Dr. Sheehan believed that it was unlikely that the subject was suicidal at the time of the siege because, in his opinion, it appeared that he was elated during this period. He noted that in past psychiatric history the only documented incidence of suicidal ideation was associated with a depressive episode.
Suicidal ideation or intent, Dr. Sheehan said, is closely associated with depression and is rare in the context of mania/hypomania. In concluding that the subject lacked suicidal intent over the course of 1 9th/20th April, 2000 he referred to the conversation between Kevin Ireland and John Carthy. In response to a request from Mr. Ireland that he should not do anything foolish, he (John Carthy) replied, ‘‘I haven’t a notion’’.
Dr. Sheehan made the point that these were not words expressed by a person wishing to kill himself.
Dr. Sheehan stated that John Carthy’s behaviour during the siege was more consistent with mania. The taunting behaviour by the subject was consistent with mania and was an example of bravado rather than an expression of suicidal ideation.
He was, he stated, elated and paranoid at the time of the siege:
‘‘Suicide, by and large is associated with depression and hopelessness, so the exact opposite to what we were seeing. When you look at assessing risk, the patient who is depressed, hopeless, sees no way out, no future for themselves, in the context of depressive illness, that is the risk factor. Whereas Mr. Carthy’s mental state was that he was elated and paranoid.’’
Dr. Sheehan placed significance on the fact that although John Carthy possessed many of the risk factors for suicide, i.e., gender, age group, loss of a job, relationship problems and history of alcohol abuse, he had never attempted to kill or harm himself. In other words there was an absence of a history of attempted suicide. He also pointed out that John Carthy was in possession of a shotgun for many years, and thus had a means of killing himself. Most attempts at suicide, he said, were planned events, accompanied by what he termed ‘‘final acts’’ e.g., the preparation of a will in advance of the suicide attempt and also the writing of suicide notes. Frequently, the person takes measures to ensure that they will not be discovered or interrupted during the act. Dr. Sheehan felt that there was an absence of planning in the events of 1 9th/20th April, 2000 and that John Carthy’s behaviour was erratic and irrational.
The exit from the house
In considering the subject’s exit from the house and his subsequent actions, Dr. Sheehan returned to the issue of John Carthy’s mental state. In his view his behaviour was consistent with his elated and paranoid state. John Carthy had displayed unpredictability, impulsiveness and invincibility after he left the house.
In walking out past the armed gardaı´ the subject was again acting in a manner consistent with his elated mental state. Dr. Sheehan felt that he would have been aware of the presence of the members of the ERU and that it was significant that he walked past them. The opening of the gun and the removal of the cartridge was a clear signal that he (John Carthy) was armed and able to protect himself; to defend himself.
Dr. Sheehan stated that it was his belief that the subject was delivering a loud and clear message when he opened the gun and removed one cartridge, the message being ‘‘I am armed, I am dangerous’’. He did not see John Carthy as having reduced his firepower but rather demonstrating to those observing, that the gun was loaded, closed and could be used. Had John Carthy wished to be killed he would have precipitated a confrontation with the first ERU officer he encountered, but that what
he was doing was protecting an area around him. In those circumstances remaining armed and potentially dangerous was consistent with paranoid ideas.
Lack of suicidal intent and/or indifference
Dr. Sheehan disagreed with the opinion of Dr. McKenzie that John Carthy’s actions in walking past the armed members of the ERU were as a result of his failure to perceive them; and his view of the fact that he didn’t fire on those members was something of a ‘‘red herring’’. On the contrary, Dr. Sheehan placed considerable weight on the fact that he had walked past the armed officers. He was also asked to comment on Dr. McKenzie’s view that the subject’s behaviour had to be viewed as a chain of significant behaviours over the proceeding 22 hours. While not disagreeing, he emphasised that the subject’s behaviour had to be viewed in the context of his mental state; that he was manic and grandiose, and oblivious to danger. Dr. Sheehan reiterated that, in general, suicide is a planned event, which relates to severe depression and that there is a prior communication of suicidal intent. These factors were absent in John Carthy’s case, he stated. What he observed was in a sense disorganised and chaotic behaviour associated with a very disturbed agitated mental state and not a planned, organised goal directed scenario which would provoke a situation whereby he would be shot.
Dr. McKenzie expressed the view that only about 30% of people who kill themselves leave a suicide note and that generally speaking the figures range from somewhere in the range of 15% to 35%. Dr. Sheehan said that he believed that between 10% and 45% of suicide victims left suicide notes.
In his evidence to the Tribunal, Mr. Lanceley agreed with Dr. Sheehan that suicide was generally a premeditated event. He said that people who commit suicide generally have a plan and usually that plan is a very fixed plan. However, he went on to say that if the plan was interrupted that they would want to improvise. Mr. Lanceley was of the view that John Carthy had a plan, and that that plan was to be shot by the Garda in his ancestral home. However, he believed that over the course of the incident Detective Sergeant Jackson disrupted this plan and John Carthy therefore had to improvise, leading him to exit the house. Dr. Sheehan, invited to comment on this evidence, stated that, in his view, Mr. Lanceley had not considered John Carthy’s mental state and in particular the fact that he was paranoid at the time of the incident. Dr. Sheehan stressed that without considering the subject’s mental state you could not make sense of his behaviour.
Dr. Sheehan’s conclusion
In summary, Dr. Sheehan concluded:
‘‘I do not think that Mr. Carthy’s behaviour on leaving the house is consistent with a suicide attempt. It appears that he walked past three or more armed ERU men. Had he wanted to commit suicide, it is likely that he could have precipitated a confrontation immediately on leaving the house. Rather, he behaved in a reckless fashion, exiting the house unexpectedly and clearly
underestimating the perilous situation he was in. His behaviour is consistent with an elated mood, demonstrating impaired judgement and false self-con fidence.’’
2. Dr. Turkington
Dr. Turkington examined evidence of the subject’s medical history. He noted that his manic depression was initially predominately depressive, with repeated depressive episodes interspersed with a lesser number of manic episodes. He noted that at times he experienced mixed affective states (i.e., episodes with mania and depression present at the same time). He also opined that, in addition to the likelihood that John Carthy suffered from psychosis during his illness, he had a paranoid trait to his personality, which led him to have paranoid ideas and ideas of reference as part of his personality. Dr. Turkington’s elaboration on this is contained in section I of Chapter 4.
John Carthy’s mental state
According to Dr. Turkington, the subject was suffering at the time of the siege from a mixture of hypomania, irritability, intermingled lowering of mood, and anger with some suicidal ideation. He was further disinhibited, overactive and with pressure of speech. He also appears to have intermingled paranoid ideas concerning the gardaı´. Further he believed that the subject’s suicidal intent was evidenced by his request to the gardai to ‘‘shoot me, shoot me.’’
Dr. Turkington stated that John Carthy’s suicidal intent was personality driven and did not arise solely from his depression. He was of the opinion that had it arisen solely out of his depression he would, more than likely, have just shot himself as soon as he possibly could. He stated:
‘‘on balance I think the lead up to this; I would take it as seventy per cent personality and only thirty per cent the emergence of this mixed affective picture. So I think a lot of what happened here was driven by his personality, life events, the slagging, all the various things that were accumulating at that point in time.’’
The subject, he said, was exhibiting signs of suicide by cop of a disturbed type and that his request to the gardaı´ to shoot him was a typical development of this type. In the ‘‘disturbed type’’ a moderate level of suicidal intent is present together with a degree of ambivalence. The outcome, he said, depended on how the situation was handled, i.e., whether steps were taken to diffuse the situation or whether matters were allowed to escalate.
Dr. Turkington believes that John Carthy did have a plan at the back of his mind that his life would be ended in the siege. His view is that his suicidal intent increased
throughout the incident and changed from moderate suicide intent to high suicidal intent with direct confrontation.
Dr. Turkington believes that the death of John Carthy is an example of suicide by cop predominantly by direct confrontation of a manipulated type, i.e., he orchestrated the situation which resulted in the attendance of the police. He believed that the subject’s interaction with the gardaı´ over the course of the siege failed to escalate the situation. John Carthy’s request to be shot and his watch looking were statements indicating that his suicidal intent was increasing. Dr. Turkington interpreted the looking at the watch as being a clear communication that ‘‘something is about to happen’’.
The exit from the house
Dr. Turkington’s view is that by the time John Carthy exited the house, his level of suicidal intent had risen; he knew that in coming out of the house he was creating a dangerous situation. He was asked if the actions of the subject on leaving the house were those of a rational person doing what an experienced gunman would do, or those of somebody trying to get himself killed:
‘‘I think it could well be the act of somebody who is trying to get themselves killed but not the actions of somebody with severe psychotic mania. These acts are purposeful, they are organised. He communicates a very clear message; he looks at the gardaı´ quite clearly as he goes out there. He either thinks that he can just walk out of there and have no problem, but then again he is cradling the gun and his finger is on the trigger mechanism, so he knows that he is giving out all the information that he is going to be a danger to other people. The only conclusion I can make is that he is doing this to be shot.’’
He expressed the opinion that the removal of the cartridge by John Carthy was a communication to police marksmen that he was going to fire one deadly shot. It was a very meaningful and clear thing to do which was highly compatible with the escalation observed in suicide by cop situations. John Carthy walked past the ERU men because his desire was not to shoot the police but to be shot by them.
Dr. Turkington was asked to comment on Professor Malone’s view, that in circumstances where there had been no clinical cases of suicide by cop to date in Ireland, in the absence of a precedent, it reduced the likelihood that John Carthy thought the police would actually fatally shoot him. Dr. Turkington responded that because something had not happened before, it did not follow that it will not now happen.
Dr. Turkington was also asked to comment on the view expressed in other evidence to the Tribunal that in cases of suicide, one is dealing with something that is planned, and premeditated, something that usually relates to severe depression, and further that a person would have communicated what they were going to do in advance. He responded as follows:
‘‘well, this, I think, is an older idea, that most suicides are planned and their current assessment is severe depression. In actual fact most of the suicides we see don’t have severe depression, people can commit suicide when they are very angry; they can commit suicide when they are psychotic. They can commit suicide in all manner of mental states. So I would take issue with this fact that people are usually severely depressed and they would normally have told somebody about it and planned it. The epidemiology in suicide just doesn’t support that.’’
Dr. Turkington concluded by stating that when John Carthy left the house, he was in a disinhibited, angry and moderately depressed state, and that he was intent on completing suicide through the mechanism of police shooting.
This conclusion was based on the balance of probabilities but he accepted that the mental state as described could also lead to other possible conclusions in relation to the siege. Thus although Dr. Turkington was of the opinion that John Carthy’s actions were motivated by a desire to have himself shot at the hands of the police, he conceded the possibility, that, those actions were a product of his mental state which rendered him indifferent to the outcome.
3. Dr. McKenzie
Dr. McKenzie observed that while it was not possible for him to carry out a ‘‘psychological autopsy’’, or ‘‘equivalent death analysis’’, the statements and testimony of the parties involved in the life and death of John Carthy provided an evidential basis for the making of an assessment in relation to suicide by cop. He analysed what he described as the ‘‘chain of behaviour’’ which could be used to indicate intention on the part of the subject.
John Carthy’s mental state
Dr. McKenzie noted that the subject’s life circumstances were:
‘‘in some disarray in the period immediately before the incident leading to his death ... He was concerned, possibly distressed, about the slagging he had been receiving about the goat incident and its reporting in a Sunday newspaper. He was concerned about the impending move to new property and had some financial difficulties following the loss of a job, was concerned about providing financial support to his mother, to furnish the new house, and had experienced some difficulty in personal relationships’’.
Dr. McKenzie considered that John Carthy was likely to have been experiencing extreme subjective stress (from his life circumstances) and a contemporaneous failure of his medication to deal with the resulting anxiety and/or a shift in the presentation of his illness to rapid cycling or mixed bipolar disorder. Dr. McKenzie was of the view that this combination might explain why John Carthy was ‘‘on a high’’ in April, 2000.
Suicidal intent or indifference?
Dr. McKenzie expressed the opinion that the subject had the intention, from the outset, to bring about a situation that would result in his own death. However he was of the view that the specific plan was only formulated during the course of the afternoon of 20th April. John Carthy, he stated, had made a number of attempts to provoke the police into shooting him, such as, standing at the window and calling on the police to ‘‘shoot me, shoot me’’. These attempts proved unsuccessful and there was, he believed, a need for him to do ‘‘something else’’. This resulted in his decision to exit the building. When he did so it was with a view to bringing about his own demise, Dr. McKenzie believed.
By 5:30 p.m. on 20th April, the subject was deeply disturbed and probably heavily confused. This state of affairs might, Dr. McKenzie observed, give rise to questions whether he was so emotionally aroused as to be in a state of indifference to his fate when he exited the house. However, he believed that his behaviour in opening the gun and throwing aside one of the cartridges, was highly significant. This action, coupled with the switching off of the safety catch on the shotgun, represented what Dr. McKenzie described as ‘‘linked behaviours’’. These linked behaviours indicated that John Carthy intended to open fire upon the command post, or possibly on the garda members close by. Dr. McKenzie thought that this behaviour deliberately demonstrated to the gardaı´ that the shotgun was loaded and it moved his behaviour:
‘‘well beyond the phase of indifference and firmly into the area of intentionality. This can, in my view, only mean that it was John Carthy’s goal to behave in such a way that he would be shot’’.
Dr. McKenzie was asked for his opinion on the subject’s failure to confront the members of the ERU on his exit from the house. He believed that his senses and perceptions were impaired and his concentration was focused on the grouping of police at the command post, and that although he may have seen the members of the ERU, he was not aware of them:
‘‘bearing in mind... the highly anxietous state which John Carthy found himself in at that moment. I think even if he turned his head, there is no guarantee that he saw at all the men who were in the road because his concentration was elsewhere.’’
Dr. McKenzie was asked to comment on Dr. Sheehan’s view, that John Carthy’s behaviour in leaving the house was inconsistent with a suicide attempt, in particular in the way he ignored the ERU men. Dr. McKenzie stated that he did not believe that it was John Carthy’s intention to kill, maybe even not to hurt anybody, but what he wished to demonstrate to the gardai was that he had a clear intention of shooting at somebody. Dr. McKenzie’s conclusions that Mr. Carthy intended to demonstrate to the gardaı´ an apparent intention to open fire on the command post or on police who were in the vicinity of that vehicle is difficult to accept. It ignores a reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the evidence that he did not threaten or shoot at the armed ERU men who were close to him as he walked towards his gateway, and others who were nearby on the road. More importantly, it ignores what he said to
his friend, Kevin Ireland, a few hours earlier, namely, that he had no intention of shooting anyone. It is also credible that a reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the discarding of one cartridge was that the subject was retaining only the minimum fire power to keep the police at bay as he walked towards his destination. If he had discarded both, he would have been immediately overpowered as in all probability he would have appreciated. Dr. McKenzie has not addressed that alternative explanation.
The psychologist has postulated that there is ‘‘no guarantee’’ that Mr. Carthy ‘‘saw at all’’ the ERU men who were on the road near the gateway ‘‘because his concentration was elsewhere.’’ That conclusion ignores vital supporting evidence, i.e., that six or seven ERU officers who were close to him on his route to the road and while discarding a cartridge having got there, were all shouting at him to drop his gun (i.e., to surrender). Would it not be unreal to conclude that the loud shouting probably did not direct his mind towards the ERU men. He looked at them but ignored them. If he had been intent on ‘‘suicide by cop’’ he could have achieved that instantly by turning his gun towards anyone of them — but he did not do so.
The identification of suicide by cop
Dr. McKenzie identified eight of the 16 Van Zandt criteria as being present in the subject’s situation. These criteria related to matters which took place at the scene and also matters arising in John Carthy’s life prior to the siege. While an equivocal death analysis could not be conducted (as this required the investigating psychologist to interview all of the key figures involved in order to come to a conclusion), he was satisfied that the evidence presented to the Tribunal, and from other sources, enabled him to put together a picture which could be examined against the Van Zandt criteria. He further believed that there existed a chain of significant behaviour which told ‘‘something about John Carthy’s state of mind’’. Dr McKenzie said:
‘‘Although the Van Zandt criteria are useful, they are I think only indicators. They are what are sometimes referred to in the research domain as necessary, but not sufficient conditions. In other words, there has to be something to be added to it, that is my view. For that reason, I have chosen to create this chain of intent which. . . goes beyond the events which are the core of this incident, in fact, includes aspects of John Carthy’s life which are outside the period of time that the Tribunal is specifically considering.’’
The eight Van Zandt criteria present, according to Dr. McKenzie, were as follows:
i. ‘‘The individual is a subject of a self-initiated hostage or barricade situation and refuses to negotiate with the authorities.
ii. The subject demands that the police kill her or him.
iii. The subject indicates that he or she intends to ‘go out in a big way’.
iv. The subject makes no demands that include those allowing his or her escape or subsequent freedom.
v. The subject comes from a low socio-economic background.’’ [Which I assume includes education.]
vi. ‘‘The subject uses language which tends to indicate that he or she may be looking for a manly or macho way to die.
vii. The subject has recently experienced one or more traumatic events that affect him or her, or subject’s family or career.
viii. The subject expresses feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.’’
There is no evidence to support the criteria at 3 and 5. Regarding the latter point: Mr. Carthy’s correspondence with Ms X makes clear that he had an exceptional capacity to express his thoughts clearly in articulate, fluent language. He had the benefit of a full course in secondary education. His socio-economic background was not ‘‘low’’.
Dr. McKenzie told the Tribunal that:
‘‘While the match of 8/15 (>50%) of the circumstances of the Abbeylara case with the Van Zandt criteria might be seen as conclusive, it is my view that, as is the case in some criminal prosecutions, a chain of behaviour, not limited to the event itself may be identified, thus demonstrating a degree of mens rea beyond that of most reports of similar events [i.e. suicide by cop incidents].’’
This led Dr. McKenzie to look at a ‘‘chain of intent’’, which involved looking at statements made by John Carthy and exchanges between him and others (including Detective Sergeant Jackson) commencing at approximately 8:30 p.m. on 1 8th April when he commented to Ms Farrell, ‘‘the party’s over; no more laughing. The Guards won’t be here any more’’ ending with his exit on to the roadway. Dr. McKenzie categorised these under four headings, date/time, the stimulus, the response and the source.
Dr. McKenzie concluded that John Carthy placed himself deliberately in the line of fire of armed members of the Garda Sı´ocha´na, with the intent that in so doing he would bring about his own death. Having failed to entice the police to shoot him inside the house, he chose this deliberate and conscious act, to advance upon police positions with the loaded and operational shotgun. He observed, ‘‘In my opinion there is ample evidence that John Carthy was the provocateur in a victim provoked, police involved death.’’
4. Professor Fahy
John Carthy’s mental state
Professor Fahy thought that at the time of the incident John Carthy was in a predominantly hypomanic state with some depressive themes interwoven, consistent with a mixed affective disorder, exhibiting a mixture of elation, anger, irritability with
some depressive features. His hypomanic state deteriorated over the course of the incident.
Suicidal intent or indifference?
Professor Fahy was of the view that John Carthy was indifferent as to his welfare. He differentiated this from the subject being reckless as to his welfare. With indifference, he said ‘‘the person may have an appraisal of the risk, they may have an understanding, they may be competent, mentally competent and have capacity to appraise the risk, but they may not care about it’’. Professor Fahy said that such a person would be indifferent to the possible consequences of his actions and also about his own welfare and life.
Professor Fahy observed that John Carthy’s request to the police to shoot him was not a straightforward indicator of suicidal ideation or intention. It had significance, however, as he believed that John Carthy was somehow willing to consider his own death and willing to consider he was going to be shot.
Professor Fahy opined that John Carthy was in a manic phase at the time he exited the house. He felt that his mental state had deteriorated so much that at the time he exited he had perhaps only a limited awareness of what he was doing and was no longer capable of being reasoned with in a rational manner. Not alone was he manic at the time of exit but he was also angry and irritable.
Professor Fahy’s view is that the removal of the cartridge was an ambiguous gesture, which pointed to a lack of clarity and a lack of clear purpose or strategy on John Carthy’s part. The signal was ambivalent, confusing and open to a wide variety of interpretation. He also expressed the view that by the removal of one cartridge from the gun, he had communicated a very mixed message which had not been reinforced ‘‘with any verbal reassurance or any other gesture that might be viewed as conciliatory or that might allow an observer to come to a better judgement about the purpose of that behaviour’’.
Dealing with the subject’s mental state at the time of his death, Professor Fahy expressed the following view:
‘‘Mr. Carthy’s behaviour immediately prior to his death is difficult to understand. His last comments to the police constituted an explicit invitation to shoot him, but it is not clear that this was a coherent expression of suicide intent. He walked out of the house without warning, carrying a shotgun. . . . Mr. Carthy ignored instructions to put down his weapon. ... Without explanation, he removed one cartridge from the chamber, and left one cartridge intact. This act was both reassuring (reducing the number of cartridges) and provocative (retaining one cartridge). Possible explanations for keeping one cartridge in the gun include an effort to raise the guards’ concern about his dangerousness, or an intention to use this cartridge to shoot at the guards or to kill himself. Alternatively the action may not have been the result
of logical thought processes, and in this case could be viewed as ambivalent and confused behaviour, resulting from a psychotic mental state. ... Mr. Carthy’s actions were extremely reckless. He paid scant attention to his own safety. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that such behaviour was motivated by conscious or unconscious self-destructive impulses.’’
As already noted, Professor Fahy referred to two categories of suicide by cop. In the first category the victim is defined as having an instrumental goal, while in the second the victim is defined as having an expressive goal. The witness viewed John Carthy’s behaviour as more compatible with the second category, in that, for example he may have been communicating hopelessness, depression and despair; or some or all of the other examples of expressive goals referred to by Professor Fahy.
From the literature he had studied the witness noted that verbal and behavioural clues to suicide by cop risk include:
i Demands or sets a deadline for authorities to kill him.
i Threatening to kill or harm others, or indicating that he will not be taken alive. i Gives a verbal will.
i Tells hostages and others that he wants to die.
i Offers to surrender to person in charge.
i Indicates elaborate plans for his own death.
i Expresses feelings of hopelessness.
i Emphatic that jail is not an option.
i Makes biblical references, e.g. to resurrection.
i Demonstrative with weapon, points weapon or apparent weapon at police. i Shoots at the police.
i Reaches for a weapon or apparent weapon with police present. i Attaches weapon to body.
i Countdown to kill hostages.
i Assaults or harms hostages or others with police present.
i Forces confrontation with police.
i Advances on police when told to stop.
i Suspect calls the police to report crime in progress.
i Continues hopeless acts of aggression even after incapacitated. i Points weapon at self or self-mutilates when police present.
i Refuses to negotiate, no escape demands, no demands. i Gets intoxicated with ‘‘chemical courage’’.
Professor Fahy expressed the view that John Carthy exhibited some of the features noted in suicide by cop cases. He pointed out that none of the above features are diagnostic of suicide by cop and that diagnosis would be a matter of opinion or consensus.
Professor Fahy thought that suicide by cop was a possible motivation and explanation for John Carthy’s behaviour when he left the house. However, he agreed with the solicitor for the Carthy family that unless one could see into the mind of the subject one would not know what his actual intention was. He further expressed the view that in the absence of documentation, a suicide note, or a verbal communication, one’s ability to interpret John Carthy’s precise motivation was limited. While he was of the view that suicide by cop was a possible motivation for John Carthy leaving the house, he stated that this explanation was only one of a number of possible explanations and that he was unable to state what the correct explanation was.
5. Dr. Kennedy
Dr. Kennedy considered John Carthy calling on the gardaı´ to ‘‘shoot me’’ to be angry defiant behaviour on his part and not supportive of a suicide by cop attempt. He further told the Tribunal that he did not believe that suicide by cop itself could account for John Carthy’s actions at any stage during the time when he was in the house.
Dr. Kennedy was of the view, that at the time of his death John Carthy was in an abnormal state characterized by arousal, anger and escalating threatening behaviour:
‘‘His capacity to perceive and correctly interpret his social interactions, his capacity to reason and to make rational decisions would all have been profoundly impaired. It is more likely than not that he was deluded and he may have been suffering hallucinations.’’
From a psychiatric point of view Dr. Kennedy did not believe it possible to infer any causal explanation or meaningful understanding of John Carthy’s acts at the time he left the house. ‘‘On the contrary’’, he explained, ‘‘such attempts at interpretation only indicate how many different interpretations might be offered with equal validity.’’ By way of example, he listed a number of such interpretations in no particular order:
i John Carthy may have intended to shoot a specific person;
i He may have intended to shoot a particular category of persons; i He may have intended to shoot himself in a public place; i He may have intended to provoke others to shoot him; and,
i He may have been acting in an impulsive, unpremeditated way which lacked any premeditated plan or purpose, other than the expression of some strong emotion.
Dr. Kennedy thought that ‘‘in a highly aroused state perception is narrowed and focused in an arbitrary way.’’ Consequently, he thought that it would never be known whether John Carthy was aware of the ERU members who were close to him on the roadway. He said that ‘‘he may have been aware of them, he may not have been, he may have been, as they say, looking through them and preoccupied with some other matter. It is highly likely under those circumstances, but we will never know.’’
Under these circumstances Dr. Kennedy felt that the act of stopping, withdrawing the cartridge from the right barrel, throwing it away, closing the gun and removing the safety catch, might (a) have no significance at all or (b) have been heavily laden with delusional, symbolical significance, unique to himself at that time, which could never be capable of being understood by anyone but himself.
6. Dr. Shanley
Dr. Shanley did not become familiar with the term suicide by cop until after the incident. He stated that his knowledge of suicide by cop was informed by literature that had been sent by a colleague and also some that he had received from the Tribunal. Nevertheless he stated that John Carthy was never suicidal in his dealings with him:
‘‘There is no reason to think that he emerged with the expectation that he would be shot by the gardaı´, in my view.’’
In relation to John Carthy’s request to ‘‘shoot me, shoot me’’, he observed:
‘‘I think we are in the realms here of a high degree of speculation, because you certainly would want to know exactly what John Carthy was thinking of the incident at the precise time that he emerged from the house, andI think it is unfair to John and his memory to imply that he had every deliberate intention of getting himself killed, particularly when there were numerous opportunities in the past for him perhaps to kill himself by other means.’’
7. Professor Malone
Professor Malone, while aware of the phenomenon of suicide by cop or ‘‘victim perpetrated shooting’’, had never from a clinical or research viewpoint encountered such a case. He observed that the absence of a precedent of suicide by cop in Ireland reduced the likelihood that John Carthy believed the police would actually fatally shoot him. Professor Malone noted the evidence of Dr. Sheehan and Dr. Shanley that John Carthy had not previously been actively suicidal or homicidal. He thought that on the information he had seen and his own research of predictive models of broad suicidal behaviour in major psychiatric disorders that the likelihood of suicide by cop in John Carthy’s case was low.
8. Mr. Frederick Lanceley
In his evidence Mr. Lanceley listed a number of indicators of suicide by cop which he felt were present in John Carthy’s case:
i. Demand — the subject may demand or challenge the officer or agency to kill him.
ii. Deadline — John Carthy may have had a deadline for his own death but the Garda did not know it. According to Garda personnel John Carthy kept looking at his watch towards the end of the incident.
Precipitating event or events — often, some traumatic, precipitating event has happened in the recent past. Mr. Lanceley identified ‘‘multiple stressors . . . that would cause even a more stable individual a great deal of distress.’’
iv. Clues as to suicidal intent — any time the negotiator hears talk of suicide, he or she should assume that the subject means what he says. Mr. Lanceley was of the view that ‘‘with one possible exception, when asked about suicide, Mr. Carthy never denied his suicidal intent... He challenged the Garda to shoot him.’’
v. An elaborate suicide plan — detail in a suicide threat, plan or fantasy is always a factor about which to be concerned. Mr. Lanceley was of the view that John Carthy had a plan which was to be shot in his own home by the Garda.
vi. Hopelessness and helplessness — any time a negotiator hears expressions of hopelessness and helplessness, he or she should be thinking about the possibility of suicide. Mr. Lanceley directed the Tribunal’s attention to John Carthy’s concern, as expressed to Detective Sergeant Jackson, that he would ‘‘get ten years [imprisonment].’’
vii. Going out big — if the subject indicates that he wants to ‘‘go out’’ big, killing an officer is ‘‘going out big’’. US negotiators are taught to never allow a situation to develop to the point where the subject has an opportunity to kill an officer in an effort to provoke other officers into killing him. Mr. Lanceley pointed to John Carthy’s comments to Ms Alice Farrell on the evening of 18th April.
viii. The ‘‘double whammy’’ — Mr. Lanceley described this as follows — when a man loses his job, he has the support of his family to fall back on. When a man loses his family through death, desertion or divorce he has the support of the men he works with to fall back on. When a man loses both his job and family over a short period, he has lost his two primary sources of support that many men count upon and he does not have much left. Some experienced negotiators refer to this situation as the ‘‘double whammy’’ and often find that they are talking to individuals who see no point in living because of this experience. Mr. Lanceley pointed to the fact that John Carthy had lost his job and his girlfriend in the recent past.
ix. Refusal to talk — an individual contemplating suicide by cop may refuse to talk to the negotiator. He may refuse to talk to the negotiator because his
mind is made up and there is nothing left about which to talk. Mr. Lanceley pointed to the fact that John Carthy ‘‘re fused to talk in any meaningful way. He rebuffed numerous offers of assistance and reassurance by Garda personnel and TPIs.’’
x. Arranging an incident — the suicidal individual may arrange a dangerous situation for the police and/or innocent persons. He may orchestrate circumstances so the police will have little option but to kill him. In Mr. Lanceley’s view, John Carthy arranged for the Garda to come to the scene by firing his weapon.
xi. Escalation — the suicidal individual may also escalate the situation until the police must take tactical action to stop him. The escalation may be in the form of homicidal threats, shots being fired, and movement toward the police with his weapon pointed at them or other dangerous actions. This escalation in the incident will be in clear-cut, well-defined steps of which in Mr. Lanceley’s view there were many examples.
xii. Prior suicidal behaviour — persons committing suicide by cop often will have demonstrated prior suicidal behaviour.
Mr. Lanceley set out in his report a detailed questionnaire which the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department provide to their communications operators. The communicators are required to consider the questionnaire ‘‘when taking a report of a disturbance, an emotionally disturbed person, threatened suicide, or other situation that may result in a direct police/subject confrontation’’. These are:
i Has the subject been drinking today?
i Has he/she taken any drugs today or yesterday? What drugs? i Has he/she been violent today or in the recent past?
i Has he/she ever been in a psychiatric hospital or treated for a mental disorder?
i Has he/she ever attempted suicide?
i Does he/she have guns or knives now? What kind?
i Has he/she pointed a weapon at anyone today?
i Has he/she made a threat to kill the police or be killed by the police? i Are there personal or family problems that he/she is feeling sad about?
i Has he/she been screaming or yelling with extreme rage during this situation?
i Has he/she ever been in prison?
Having applied this questionnaire to John Carthy’s behaviour Mr. Lanceley’s conclusion was:
‘‘In this writer’s opinion, Mr. Carthy’s actions and demeanour during the siege were fully consistent with a classic suicide-by-cop scenario.’’
SECTION C: — Conclusions
I do not favour the pro ‘‘suicide by cop’’ arguments led by Dr. McKenzie. I prefer the contra opinions expressed by Dr. Sheehan, Dr. Shanley, Professor Fahy and Professor Malone. I note that Dr. Turkington, who also supports the ‘‘suicide by cop’’ theory, considers that his view does not extend beyond the balance of probabilities and that there is room for an alternative explanation of Mr. Carthy’s conduct.
The following points occur to me:
1. All of the contra opinions, with the exception of Dr. Turkington, are from leading psychiatrists. Dr. McKenzie does not have their expertise in the area of mental illness. He is a psychologist, not a psychiatrist. He is, of course, an expert of high standing in his own subject, but he is at a disadvantage in his assessment of problems emanating from mental illness by comparison with his psychiatric colleagues. It is important that the contra opinions include Dr. Shanley who is the only psychiatrist who had the actual experience of knowing and treating John Carthy over a protracted period. He knew him well. Dr. Turkington conceded that the mental state described could lead to other possibilities. I must also take into account that, although an experienced negotiator and a major expert in negotiation techniques, Mr. Lanceley is not a qualified medical professional.
2. If John Carthy intended to bring about a situation that the police would shoot him dead, it is probable that he would have provoked the first ERU man he encountered on leaving his house. In fact he walked past that officer with his gun open. He also had a choice of three ERU officers to provoke who were close to him when he emerged on to the road. He did not provoke them; he walked by them. He also did not engage with Detective Sergeant Russell, standing close by on the Carthy boundary wall as he commenced walking towards Abbeylara.
3. His conflict with the gardaı´ at Abbeylara had been solely with the ERU contingent from the time of their arrival at the scene. He knew that they were present nearby and were armed. On leaving his home he did not seek to provoke any of them. It is also consistent with his attitude towards the ERU men that he would ignore other gardaı´ on the road near the command vehicle. There is no evidence that he intended to provoke one of them to shoot him dead. Why not take the obvious easy option of provoking an ERU officer to shoot him if ‘‘suicide by cop’’ was his intention?
4. John Carthy’s phone conversation with Kevin Ireland a few hours before he left the house included a positive statement that he had no intention of shooting himself or anyone else and he explained his violent conduct to his friend. In Dr. Sheehan’s opinion, these were not words expressed by a person wishing to kill himself and I would accept his opinion in that regard.
5. There are credible explanations for John Carthy’s conduct in removing a cartridge from his gun; one of them being to show the ERU that he still had a capacity to shoot and that they should keep their distance from him. If he had discarded both cartridges he would have become defenceless and thwarted from achieving whatever he had set out to do. There also were credible reasons for proceeding in the Abbeylara direction, e.g., to locate his sister and Dr. Shanley who he knew were in the vicinity and perhaps surrender his gun to them. One thing is certain he would never have surrendered it to the police. He would have known that time was running out for him. Another credible explanation is that he was going to the village for cigarettes — his nicotine craving would have been very acute at that time.
As many of the experts have frankly conceded, it is impossible to assess with conviction why John Carthy left his house and what motivated him to walk towards Abbeylara. Having regard to the foregoing opinions expressed by Dr. Shanley, who had long experience of treating the subject, Dr. Sheehan and Professor Malone in particular, and other reservations expressed herein, I am satisfied that ‘‘suicide by cop’’ was probably not in Mr. Carthy’s mind at any time during the siege and was not a motivating factor in causing him to leave the house.
6. It is pertinent to bear in mind that in the context of the Tribunal’s assessment of Mr. Carthy’s conduct in leaving home armed with his shotgun and subsequent events, it is not his motivation for doing so, whatever it may have been, but the crisis situation which was presented to him on and about the Abbeylara road at that time and how the gardaı´ contended with it, is the kernel of that issue.
7. Awareness of the concept of ‘‘suicide by cop’’ has been heightened by the evidence at the Tribunal. It is a concept which I recommend should be taken into account in garda training courses.