By Al Almanza, Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service
Today marks a difficult time in the hearts of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service employees.
Ten years ago, FSIS compliance officers Jean Hillery and Tom Quadros; California special investigator Bill Shaline; and California inspector Earl Willis were shot as they worked together investigating a San Leandro, Calif., sausage plant. Jean, Tom and Bill would die from their injuries, while Earl would barely escape with his life.
Earl recently passed away.
Our fallen comrades are representative of the many outstanding public servants driving our government’s work for all Americans, everyday. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, FSIS Assistant Administrator William Smith, coworkers, family and I are honoring them in ceremonies today and tomorrow.
Though the plant’s owner was tried and convicted, 10 years later, we haven’t forgotten this tragedy and our commitment to make sure it never happens again.
Workplace violence prevention is a priority for us — and should be everywhere. We emphasize outreach to improve relationships with plant staff, so they know we’re not there to harm them, but to protect the public and assist the plant in producing safe food. Other steps include a 24-hour hotline to report threats and appointing workplace violence liaison/intervention officers nationwide.
As we recall the lives and service of these four, we remember our mission to ensure safe food is a noble, important one. Those performing it — often without thanks and under the radar — are some of America’s most dedicated civil servants.