August 24th, 2012

When shootings have workplace connections


Here we go again America – another gun killing. This time, the shooter, Jeffrey Johnson, targeted a specific individual, Steve Ercolino. He gunned him down outside the Empire State Building. Johnson was let go one year ago from Hazan Imports, a small firm that designs handbags, where Ercolino was VP of sales.

After Johnson shot Ercolino twice, he left the scene and was followed by construction workers. When the police reached Johnson, he pulled his gun and the police killed him.

This might be an incident in which the shooter was a former bullied target. In a 2012 WBI survey, 41% of bullied targets reported that they “understand how a person could be driven to hurting or killing those who had bullied them.” Most shootings don’t involve bullying or bullied targets. Here’s the basis for my speculation.

My speculation is based on two reported facts. CNN reported that two men had a long-standing dispute at work. Each had filed harassment claims against the other. Since they were both men, and unless there were racial differences between the two, the harassment would not have met the criteria for illegal discriminatory harassment. That would have made the claims about bullying, the form of harassment that is legal when both parties are the same gender or same race. So, there might have been bullying of one by the other at the root of their “dispute.”

The second important fact is that Ercolino was walking to work with Irne Timan. She saw Johnson emerge from hiding behind a white van when the two neared. Timan told the NY Times reporters:

“I saw him pull a gun out from his jacket, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to shoot him’ — and I wanted to turn and push Steve out of the way,” Ms. Timan said, in a telephone interview from the precinct house where she was being interviewed. “I knew it, I just knew it was going to happen. But it was too late. Steve screamed, Jeff shot him, and I just turned and ran.”

Her report confirms the animosity Johnson felt toward Ercolino. In the aftermath, there will much soul searching about what could have been done differently at Hazan. Human resources should be asked to provide evidence they had tried to resolve the Johnson-Ercolino “dispute.”

Clearly, Johnson blamed Ercolino for his job loss. After a year with no work to fuel the resentment, Johnson made a decision he thought was the only option available to him. From the outside looking in, we know he had other options. But we were not in Johnson’s shoes. CNN’s lead sentence condemned the man as a “disgruntled former worker.”

Employers have the right to terminate based on economic necessity. But the methods of separation are worth considering prior to severing people. Layoffs can lead to destitution, lost homes, lost access to health care, strained family relationships. A little advance planning sprinkled with a dose of compassion could preclude standard resentments. Decisions have consequences.

Was Johnson given a severance? Was his unemployment denied? Was there no extension of benefits? Was he given bad references, making the next job impossible to get? We simply don’t know right now.

In the end, only Jeffrey Johnson was responsible for the tragedy he brought to the Ercolino and the families of all the people wounded in the process.


UPDATE Aug. 27

Globe and Mail reporters interviewed John Koch, office building manager, who reported old security camera footage from the building elevator showing Escolino and Johnson pushing and shoving. Then,

The tussle ended when Mr. Ercolino, a much larger man, pinned Mr. Johnson against the wall of the elevator by the throat, Mr. Koch said. Mr. Ercolino let him go after a few moments, and the two men went their separate ways.

The two hated each other. Ercolino may have dominated the relationship over Johnson, described as “an eccentric T-shirt designer and avid bird-watcher who wore a suit every day, even when photographing hawks in Central Park.”


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This entry was posted on Friday, August 24th, 2012 at 12:33 pm and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Media About Bullying, Print: News, Blogs, Magazines, WBI Surveys & Studies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. kachina2 says:

    From the Globe and Mail-
    “John Koch, the property manager at the office building where the men worked, said security camera footage showed the two pushing and shoving. The tussle ended when Mr. Ercolino, a much larger man, pinned Mr. Johnson against the wall of the elevator by the throat, Mr. Koch said. Mr. Ercolino let him go after a few moments, and the two men went their separate ways.”

    So it’s sounding now like this horrific incident was a murder/suicide-by-cop. Tragic.

  2. Katblack50 says:

    This is the best article I have read about this tragedy. I am an accessory designer who worked for a company for 10 years. I was fired in December. I did nothing wrong. The company lost a big Target account and heads had to roll so they could meet payroll. I suppose I was making the bigger salary so I was out. It is depressing. You do the very best you can for a company and the can change your life in an instant. Believe me, I thought of some kind of revenge after I got over the shock, but I wouldn’t do that. Some people would. Enter Mr Johnson. We can’t do much about guns in our lives, but maybe unemployment could offer anger management classes. That might help. I would go.

  3. bullyinginstitute says:

     The speculation in the article was backed by two sets of facts. It’s much stronger than “might be bullying.” I wasn’t as glib as your “so-what” attitude. Someday, when you’re in a similar situation and the world closes in, let’s see how others say “tough luck” to you — alive or posthumously.

  4. kachina2 says:

    Here’s another article that provides more fleshed-out perspectives on both men.
    Not as simple, straight forward, and foregone-conclusionish as some of the mainstream reporting.

  5. kachina2 says:

    I also wonder about Mr. Johnson’s family history. His father was American, his mother Japanese…was his father a WWII veteran? How might that have affected the family during the Vietnam War years when Johnson was a young aspiring artist growing up in Florida?. I know that it was a difficult time for many young men of that generation who questioned authority.

  6. Mr Mel82 says:

    Unfortunatlely we are going to see more and more things like this happen as wealthy executives take advantage of the fact that employees have little rights and the employer can abuse and bully people as often and as hard as they want to, just because they can. I am against violence of kind, but having been severely bullied and discriminated against and fired illegally and put through hell, i can understand how one could turn to violence and revenge, because it does turn into a desperate situation and people are put into a position that makes us feel like we are at the lowest point of our life. It effects us financially, morally, emotionally,physically, and it hurts our families as well. Lawmakers need to wake up and realize that Bullying is real. Lawmakers see it in school and they have certainly seen the consequences of that. It is worse when you have had your livelyhood stripped away and you are beaten down to a point where you feel you cannot get back up. I would personally reccommend that lawmakers get some education on what bullying in the workplace does to a person psychologically and then perhaps they will begin to understand what it feels like to be a slave and a hostage and how that could cause a person to walk in and blow someones head clean off. It is not rocket science, in many ways it is like self defense, a target of bullying in the workplace feels much like a hostage and the bully knows it, the bully gets a thrill from that and it escalates further and further. Usually the target loses their job as the situation becomes intolerable for the target and the sometimes the bully. Then the Bully fires the target and goes onto the next target. When the bully is released from the hostage situation they in self defense probably seek revenge and turn to violence. That is one of my theories. It is like i said not rocket science. The sooner lawmakers wake up the better for all of us, otherwise we will continue to see Homocide in the workplace, it is human nature to protect ourselves, especially when no one else will!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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