Guns and Mediation, Again

It happened again last week: a shooting after a mediation. As a divorcing couple was leaving the attorney-mediator’s office in Manchester, Tennessee, last Wednesday, the wife pulled out a handgun and shot her estranged husband. The husband, Dr. Henry Bartee, is recovering in hospital, and the wife, Brenda Bartee, has been charged with attempted murder.

According to one account, the wife left the law office before the husband, retrieved a gun, and came back and shot him. This version sounds eerily similar to the post-mediation homicides in Phoenix in January, where the plaintiff left the mediation, went to his car to retrieve his gun, and returned to the lobby just as the defendant and his attorney were exiting the building. The plaintiff shot both of them dead, then killed himself.

Could this have been prevented? It’s recommended protocol in domestic cases to screen for domestic violence, and screening might have elicited cause for concern: apparently Mrs. Bartee shot at her husband last year, while they were sitting in his car. She was charged with aggravated domestic violence for that incident. Did the mediator know this history? If so, did the mediator take any precautions?

Mediator Paula Marie Young recommends mediators take these steps:
1. Keep people in separate waiting rooms.
2. Make sure adequate staff is present to handle a situation.
3. Ask people to leave guns with the mediator’s secretary.
4. Get skill in dealing with threats.
5. Get skill in dealing with overt acts of violence.
6. Escort people to their cars after sessions.
7. Create staggered departures.
8. Adequately train yourself and your staff to spot and properly intervene in potentially violent situations.
9. Hold telephone/Skype mediations instead.
(posted at http://www.abajournal.com/mobile/comments/woman_charged)

I might add: consider holding the mediation in a facility with a metal detector, such as a courthouse. That will at least prevent the shooting from occurring within the building, as happened in Boca Raton in 2002, where a brother shot and killed his sister during a probate mediation.

Unfortunately, as more people are permitted to carry concealed weapons, there are likely to be more shootings in connection with mediations. Mediators cannot prevent this, but we can sure try.

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