Local authorities in the San Jose area weren’t notified in 2016 after federal officers detained the man accused of killing nine of his co-workers this week and found him with books about terrorism and writings detailing his hatred of the rail yard where he worked, the Santa Clara County District Attorney told USA TODAY.
The information could have helped local law enforcement and the suspect’s employer potentially mitigate the attack Wednesday that took the lives of nine employees of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail hub in San Jose, District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in an interview.
“The DA’s office was not notified,” Rosen said, adding he wasn’t aware of a single agency in the area that was told this information. “I would like to have known this in 2016.”
Rosen, whose office also helped in the aftermath of the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting two years ago, described the gut-wrenching feeling seeing his community once again suffer through another mass shooting. He detailed a number of potential avenues that local law enforcement and the VTA could have done years ago had federal authorities passed along the information after Samuel Cassidy was detained.
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In 2016 — five years before the mass attack — Cassidy was stopped on a trip back from the Philippines by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
A Department of Homeland Security memo from the stop, which was obtained by The Wall Street Journal, includes that an officer found Cassidy had “books about terrorism and fear and manifestos … as well as a black memo book filled with lots of notes about how he hates the VTA.”
The memo doesn’t include why Cassidy was stopped.
Multiple inquiries to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and the VTA about their knowledge about Cassidy’s 2016 detainment by federal authorities were not returned. A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman said in a statement the agency was working to improve information being shared with other law enforcement.
“Under the leadership of Secretary Mayorkas, in February, DHS commenced a department-wide review which included efforts to ensure law enforcement personnel have the tools and training to identify behavioral indicators associated with targeted violence and policy to improve information sharing with our partners,” DHS spokeswoman Sarah Peck said in a statement.
Information sharing between agencies has been an issue that has long plagued the law enforcement community but has expanded and increased in recent years, with the federal government implementing a number of programs aimed at increasing communication across jurisdictions. But still, problems persist, including with high-profile incidents from the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this year and a tip the FBI got before the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla. that was never investigated or passed along to authorities in South Florida.
“There may have been interventions that could have put this individual on a different path,” Rosen said. “And when I say interventions, I mean that quite broadly. I mean, mental health interventions, counseling interventions, and as well as law enforcement interventions, in terms of whether the individual had firearms, and so forth.”
He detailed California’s red-flag laws and his office’s work to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who were believed to be a danger to themselves or others, but noted it was unclear when Cassidy obtained his firearms and whether he owned a gun in 2016. Rosen said his office has filed more than 200 of these types of restraining orders over recent years and said it’s helped stop “dozens of these kinds of instances from happening in our county and saved countless lives.”
“If we had had that information, or local law enforcement had had that information, we would have looked into it,” Rosen said of potentially using the red flag laws on Cassidy. “And that’s just the truth.”
But, Rosen said, his office and the law enforcement community in general is far from perfect and even with the early signals, there’s no way to know whether this could have been avoided.
“We’re not perfect,” he said. “I feel like the standard we have to reach is perfection to stop these, and we’re human beings doing the very best we can. And you know, there’s not a news story written about the dozens of mass shootings that we have averted.”
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Rosen’s office took the lead on setting up a family assistance center to help those impacted by the shooting, offering help to the victims, families and those who knew those killed with everything from financial help to counseling. His office is also helping run forensics on the guns and bullets at a crime lab that Rosen jokingly compared to the television show CSI, detailing that his office uploads information about the bullets and firearms into a national database to help find links to other unsolved crimes.
Rosen said his office is still processing Cassidy’s firearms and the shell casings found at the shooting. He added his office does not know when Cassidy purchased his firearms or where they were obtained.
Photos released by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office Friday showed the assortment of weapons and the thousands of rounds Cassidy had in his home. Authorities also found multiple cans of gasoline, suspected Molotov Cocktails, 12 firearms and about 22,000 rounds.
Rosen said the back-to-back shootings has been like reliving a nightmare for him, his employees and the community at large.
“It’s like you’re reliving another nightmare but you’re like, ‘oh, this isn’t the previous nightmare, it’s a new nightmare.’ And it’s layered on top of what happened two years ago,” he said. “It’s sad and wearying but yet everyone knows we can’t give up. Quite the contrary, it’s now like, ‘Alright, what can we do better and differently to prevent this from happening again.'”
Contributing: Will Carless and Grace Hauck