Written by Sarah Bowcher, Will Gilling Water and Scott Savian, World Organization for Animal Health
On June 21, 2000, FSIS compliance officers Jean Hillary and Tom Quadros and California Chief Detective Bill Chalin were shot, shortly after arriving at a USDA-inspected sausage establishment in San Leandro, California. California food inspector Earl Willis was also shot, but survived the injury.
Operations at the establishment were suspended because the factory was not operating in accordance with food safety regulations. Instead of correcting the problems, plant owner Stuart Alexander continued to illegally produce and sell products without the required federal inspection. FSIS and the State of California have launched investigations to protect the public and seize the product already in commerce.
Hillery, Quadros, Shaline, and Willis went to the foundation to meet with the owner to gather evidence and file a notice of violations. The owner retrieved a gun from his office, entered the retail area where Hillary, Cuadros, and Shaleen were waiting, opened fire and killed the three detectives. Willis was outside waiting for the police, who were called to help meet with the owner. Willis was able to escape by taking cover in a local business.
FSIS worked closely with the US Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, the US Attorney’s Office, and the State of California to assist in the prosecution of the establishment’s owner. The events were captured on video cameras at the facility that the owner operated before confronting the public officials. On October 19, 2004, juries found him guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He was subsequently sentenced to death but died in prison of natural causes in December 2005.
After the shooting, FSIS took several steps to prevent tragic events like this one from happening again:
- FSIS has established a Workplace Violence Prevention Task Force, which has produced and implemented actions with the agency and industry to protect against similar attacks. The task force focused on awareness and prevention of violence in the workplace, as well as improving communication with the industry.
- FSIS identified and implemented measures to improve personal and workplace security by establishing a workplace violence prevention and response program and a free 24-hour helpline for reporting threats and incidents of workplace violence. The program focuses on awareness and prevention within the agency and with internal and external partners. It also provides guidance, training, reporting systems and incident management related to workplace violence prevention and response.
- The Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) is a multidisciplinary agency team whose goal is to review, monitor and track incidents of workplace violence of increasing severity and frequency to prevent further escalation.
- FSIS has partnered with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center to train compliance investigators in safety, awareness, prevention, and personal security protocols.
- FSIS has developed investigations and organizational guidance, including protocols for investigation plans that require advance analysis and action plans for FSIS personnel security and liaison, when needed, with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
- Additional training and other policies have been developed to include other frontline FSIS personnel, such as enforcement, investigations and analysis officials in the Office of Field Operations.
- A Memorandum of Agreement has been entered into with the US Federal Protection Service to help keep our employees safe from potential exposure while carrying out the FSIS Food Safety mission.
The agency never imagined a crime of this nature would occur at a USDA-inspected plant. Although 20 years have passed, Hilary, Quadros, Shaline, Willis and the events of June 21 are not forgotten. Preventing workplace violence remains a top priority within the agency, and FSIS is committed to the safety of all employees.
Workplace violence is any type of violence, threat, intimidation, assault, harassment, interference or other disruptive behavior in the workplace. FSIS does not tolerate this because it harms employees and prevents us from accomplishing our mission. No one can predict when violence will occur. The key to preventing workplace violence is to recognize the warning signs and engage the appropriate resources as soon as possible. Timely notification and documentation of potential issues is essential, and employees are encouraged to familiarize themselves with agency policy, directions, and contact information so that you can take any necessary steps to ensure a safe workplace.
We must remember that our mission to ensure food safety is a noble and important one. and that those who perform it – often without thanks or appreciation – are some of the most dedicated civil servants in our country. FSIS Director Paul Kicker says, “FSIS will never forget Jean, Tom, Bill and Earl, for their courage, professionalism and commitment to the safety of our country’s food supply.”
The memorial service has been postponed for 20 years due to the ongoing pandemic.
Jan Hillery, FSIS Compliance Officer
Tom Quadros, FSIS Compliance Officer
California Chief Detective Bill Chalin
California Food Inspector Earl Willis