Gang-related homicides and assaults are frequently motivated by revenge for acts committed by rival gangs against members of a suspect’s crew. Through effective theme development, an interrogator uses sound reasoning to overtly discuss a suspect’s own underlying motives as a means of psychologically rationalizing the misconduct and thereby inducing voluntarily disclosure of the truth.
Vindication of the harm done to a “brother” is the cornerstone theme for use in retaliatory gang crimes.
Consider this scenario. A known gang member is a suspect in a rival’s murder. The interrogator should exhaust all fact-based direct questioning. If denials persist, or if the suspect adopts a defiant attitude, then the interrogator may use a “third-person theme” to describe a similar situation in which revenge was the decisive factor. In brief, the interrogator proceeds as follows.
“Shawn, an important thing to consider is the set of circumstances that caused this thing to happen. I know this from my own personal experiences. You see, you and I are not much different. When I was growing up, my neighborhood was pretty bad. But it wasn’t as bad as the neighborhood nearby. There were guys in there who hung together just looking for trouble, fights, and even worse.
“I warned my little brother Mike never to go through that neighborhood but to take the long way around instead. He always did; except one day he was in a hurry and thought he could get away with taking the shortcut. My brother got caught by that gang of guys who bloodied him up and put him in the hospital.
“Shawn, me and my older brother Zack were the first ones to see my brother when he came stumbling home. When Zack saw my brother the way he was, how hurt he was and how humiliated he was, he lost it. He just couldn’t allow those guys to get away with doing that to our brother. He had to vindicate our brother Mike and the rest of our family – for our honor, and to make sure those guys didn’t see me or my brothers as an easy mark in the future. It’s just basic street-cred, Shawn. You know that now, just as we knew it back then.
“So Zack went back into that neighborhood and found the three guys who did this to our brother Mike. The second guy ran away after Zach dropped the first guy. Then Zack really worked over that third guy – the leader. I think he damned near killed him – fractured his orbital, nose, teeth, arm, and gave him a concussion.
“When it was all over, Zack had to answer for what he had done. The fact is, Shawn, it made all the difference in the world in how people perceived our family after they found out the mitigating circumstances that caused Zack to do what he did. If Zack didn’t have the guts to tell the truth about what he did, then nobody would have understood the circumstances that caused it to happen – that it was just a matter of getting revenge for what that gang had done to our little brother. Otherwise, people were saying that we didn’t care, that Zack was just looking to take out someone in a rival neighborhood. In reality, Zack felt that he had to vindicate my brother, and everyone understood that after he told the truth.
“The same thing applies to you right now, Shawn. Just like with my family, the truth has to be told in order for the mitigating circumstances about your situation to be understood. If all that happened here was you were getting revenge for something that these other rivals did to your brother, then let’s get those mitigating circumstances out on the table and let them stand on their own merit. I think that’s what happened here. But you’ve got to have the guts to tell the truth, just like me, or others will think you don’t care and that you’re out there looking to hurt people for no good reason.
“Now it’s coming down to this, Shawn, are you the type of person who doesn’t care about other people’s lives; or did this happen just to vindicate what they did to one of your own? It was just like my situation, wasn’t it, Shawn? You were just looking out for your blood brothers who rely upon you to protect them?”
Certainly, there are other factors to be considered in gang-crime interrogations such as the prospect of collateral loss of innocent lives that are not the intended targets of revenge. For example, if a 7 year old child is on the street after midnight and is hit by errant gunfire that had been directed toward a rival gang member, then the interrogation of the suspected shooter should include an argument that blames the parents for allowing their child to be out late at night within a neighborhood where gang tensions and the risks of violence were known to be high. By doing so, the interrogator psychologically eases the burden of fault for the unintended consequences of the suspect’s otherwise “understandable” motive of vindication as described in the third-person theme above.
Gang criminals are often motivated by their own lack of self-esteem which is cured by the sense of accomplishment derived from exerting mastery and control over victims. For the interrogator, this presents an opportunity to open pathways of communication through a display of respect that feeds the suspect’s pride and ego, regardless of any personal feelings that the interrogator may harbor about the suspect’s heinous behavior.
Accurate assessment of a suspect’s underlying precipitators as well as rapport that is based upon mutual respect between suspect and interrogator are keys that will open the doors of truth with even the most hardened and street-sharp gang members.
* Philip A. Mullenix
Mr. Mullenix has been affiliated with John E. Reid & Associates, Inc., since 1978. He’s conducted thousands of interrogations and provided instruction in the Reid Technique of interviewing and interrogation to U.S. Counterintelligence agents, Military Intelligence agents, Special Forces, and HUMINT collectors as well as to federal, state, and local law enforcement officers. His publications include: “HUMINT Collection: A Look Through Non-coercive Field Questioning of Jihadist Combatants”, Marine Corps Gazette Magazine, June 2014; “Interrogation Theme Selection for Jihadist Combatants”, Special Warfare Magazine, April-June 2014; and “Efficacy of HUMINT Collection Protocols Under Army Field Manual 2-22.3 for Intelligence Interviewing and Interrogation of Terrorist Information Sources”, white paper research submission, United States High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, May, 2012. Mullenix practiced law for 34 years and is licensed by the State of Illinois, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.