I love this story!
Early last month, several secretaries in the Logan County (West Virginia) Prosecutor’s Office put up Halloween decorations, including a lot of big hanging fake spiders. When he saw them, Assistant Prosecutor Chris White freaked out, saying he had arachnophobia, that the decorations weren’t funny, and he couldn’t stand the eight legged things. Then he pulled out his gun, and threatened to shoot the spiders. The gun had no clip, but the staff wasn’t sure; after all, if you are crazy enough to try to shoot fake spiders with an empty gun, you are probably crazy enough to shoot fake spiders with a loaded gun. The three secretaries who witnessed the meltdown were terrified.
White was suspended for the incident. He’s been with the office for more than five years, according to his boss, John Bennett,who took it well, saying, “I never saw it coming, that’s for sure. Obviously, I wouldn’t have even hired him if I had seen it coming. And the fact that he’s been there five years and we haven’t had any incidents like this also, to me, is a pretty good indication it’s certainly out of the ordinary.”
Hmmm. How ordinary does drawing a firearm in an office because of Halloween decorations have to be before you decide, “You know, maybe this guy should be someplace else”?
Shortly after the incident, Bennett sent a memo around banning firearms from the office, but, significantly, not fake spiders. There is an open criminal investigation, but authorities do not expect that they will file charges. Bennett doubts that he will fire White, but will wait to see what the investigation turns up.
- My ethics scout Fred, who found this and who knows my mind too well, asks if someone with this violent a fear of spiders has an ethical obligation to alert the staff before he goes nuts. I don’t think so. Phobias are weaknesses, and nobody, especially a prosecutor, wants to broadcast weaknesses. He reasonably didn’t expect the issue to come up.
I’ve never understood why spiders are Halloween decorations.
- Did the secretaries have an ethical obligation to check and see if anyone in the office had Halloween-related phobias? Fear of witches, blood, ghosts or candy corn? I sure hope not. Where would this end? The rational response to such a duty would be, “Oh, the hell with it. Let’s skip to Thanksgiving.”
- I assume having a phobia qualifies as a disability under the ADA, but if the spiderphobe wants special consideration as the law requires, he does have to inform his supervisor.
- Pulling a gun in the office is not justifiable or responsible, phobia or no phobia. It would be responsible to fire White, and compassionate not to. This would be a tough ethics call for me. What would you do, in Bennett’s position?
- Assuming the determination is that no laws were broken, I doubt this incident would lead to bar discipline as long as there was no other misconduct. It wasn’t in court; he wasn’t practicing law. Does the conduct show him unfit to practice or to be untrustworthy as a prosecutor?
If I were White, however, I’d find another place to work.
Facts: WCHS TV