Keeping Victims and Survivors In The Loop

Across the nation, law enforcement officers at the local, state, and federal levels share the common goal of fighting crime, solving cases, and catching criminals. Their education and training is geared towards providing them the necessary tools and skills to do so. However, in many instances, they are not adequately equipped with the understanding and sensitivity vitally necessary for interacting with crime victims and survivors.

Brad Garrett, a retired special agent with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation who served in the federal law enforcement capacity for twenty-two years and who now is a private investigator, recognizes the critical linkage between law enforcement officers, victims, and survivors. Throughout his career as an FBI agent, Garrett explains he always considered victims an integral and important part of the investigation. Victims, he acknowledges, continue to suffer in the aftermath of a crime. He stresses it is important to keep them a part of the case as much as possible, though he recognizes an investigator cannot reveal everything during the investigation and boundaries must be delineated. Garrett admits that keeping victims sufficiently informed aids them in feeling better overall and, at the same time, allows investigators to do their jobs better. "It's our responsibility and it's the right thing to do," says Garrett. Though he acknowledges this is not part of the investigator's job description and victim/witness programs exist to work with the victims, he says, "It's been my experience over 30+ years that victims and their families want to talk to investigators."

There are many reasons why victims and survivors want cases solved, and their rationale can encompass anger, revenge, or closure. "I've always made a point to keep victims informed. Can it be time consuming? Yes, it can. It's part of the job, and I would do it regularly" says Garrett. He admits that if investigators communicate with victims, they require less information because they feel they are part of the case.

Garrett served as the lead agent in the double homicide of two Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employees, Frank Darling and Lansing Bennett, at the agency's headquarters in McLean, Virginia in 1993. The incident involved an international manhunt resulting in the arrest of Mir Aimal Kasi. A total of five individuals were shot during this incident and three survived, though one was critically injured. Darling's wife, Judy Becker Darling, was in the car when her husband was shot; the perpetrator did not shoot at her, but, instead, he shot over the top of her head to kill her husband. When this horrible crime occurred, the Darlings had been married only three months.

Mrs. Darling was so impacted by the effect of this tragic incident that she was unable to continue living in the house where she and her husband resided, nor could she return to her job at the CIA where she had worked for thirteen years. Consequently, she moved to the Pittsburgh area. At the time, Garrett was overseas frequently, and he lost touch with Mrs. Darling. Not receiving the answers she wanted regarding the case, believing the case was not getting enough attention, and the reward offered was not high enough, Mrs. Darling complained to congressmen and former President Clinton. She lobbied Congress for more money and resources regarding the case. Consequently, the agency handed the case back to the investigators, and Garrett had to write a formal response, more than once, addressing the concerns. Subsequently, Garrett reconnected with Mrs. Darling, and he had quarterly meetings with her and her family that lasted several hours, at which time he updated them on information concerning the case. Garrett also told Mrs. Darling to contact him directly and informed her he would provide answers to her questions. The line of communication, therefore, remained constant.

Mrs. Darling was unable to function normally for two years after witnessing the cold-blooded killing of her husband, but she returned to Virginia for the trial. Kasi was convicted in the fall of 1997, was sentenced in January 1998, and executed in November 2002. Garrett acknowledges that dealing with family in this case was a challenge. "I had to talk around classified information, and it required sensitivity," he says. He continues, "The family was allowed to participate from a knowledge standpoint."

Garrett also investigated the high profile case of a triple homicide of three employees at a Starbucks coffee shop in Washington, D.C. in July 1997. The case began with no clue concerning who committed this crime. Garrett developed a relationship with the corporation that was also victimized by this horrific crime, and he brought them into the case. He discovered that individuals within the organization were a wealth of information, and he also kept the security staff up to date with information. The store remained closed for three months so that Garrett could conduct reenactment scenarios. "They bent over backwards to help," says Garrett. An arrest and conviction resulted in the case.

Garrett also worked as the lead FBI investigator in the case of Chandra Levy, an intern who worked in Washington, D.C. for former Congressman Gary Condit (D- Calif.). She was reported missing in 2001, and her partial remains were later discovered in Rock Creek Park. "As much as we could with the family, we would keep them up to speed," says Garrett who also worked the case closely with the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. Mrs. Levy would call for general updates regarding the case. "If the family wants to be involved, it's your responsibility to keep them in the loop and talk to them regularly. The key is that you communicate with them. It's an important component of the case."

Garrett emphasizes it is vital that law enforcement officers treat victims and survivors humanely and professionally. "How you treat people--no matter in what capacity--is critical. It comes back to you in a positive or negative way. If you don't treat people humanely, what do you expect to get back? The footprints we leave as a result of the case directly reflect on us as individuals and our departments and agencies," says Garrett. The importance of understanding the impact of crime victimization is essential for law enforcement officers to effectively fulfill their role in the system, and to make a difference in the lives of those whose lives have been disrupted by tragedy.