In March 2012, Vester Lee Flanagan II achieved what he had been
seeking: a return to television news after a long hiatus. But
documents filed in a civil court case showed that soon after Mr.
Flanagan’s arrival at WDBJ, a television station in Roanoke,
Va., station executives and rank-and-file employees were deeply
concerned about his conduct.
The documents were exhibits in a lawsuit that Mr. Flanagan
pursued against WDBJ after he was fired by the station, which
was grieving on Wednesday after the authorities said Mr.
Flanagan killed two of its employees, Alison Parker and Adam
There was “a heated confrontation” with another reporter on
April 28, 2012. Less than a month later, Mr. Flanagan, who used
the name Bryce Williams while on the air, clashed with a
photographer. And six days after that, there was another dispute
between Mr. Flanagan and a photographer. The conduct, a station
executive told Mr. Flanagan in a memorandum, “resulted in one or
more of your co-workers feeling threatened or uncomfortable,”
the documents showed.
“We want you to work on the tone of your interpersonal
relationships and exercise great care in dealing with stressful
situations or disagreements and your response to them,” the
executive, Dan Dennison, wrote. “You need to always work as a
member of a collaborative team and allow your teammates to do
their jobs and not assume that you alone are concerned with high
At the time, Mr. Dennison, who declined an interview request on
Wednesday, cautioned Mr. Flanagan that further trouble could
lead to dismissal. But station records showed that Mr.
Flanagan’s tenure became no less turbulent.
About two months after his initial missive to Mr. Flanagan, Mr.
Dennison wrote that Mr. Flanagan’s “behaviors continue to cause
a great deal of friction” and that the new multimedia
journalist’s job was in jeopardy. Mr. Dennison ordered Mr.
Flanagan to contact the company’s employee assistance program.
“We will continue assisting you with your professional growth
and development,” Mr. Dennison wrote, “but we can no longer
afford to have you engage in behaviors that constitute creation
of a hostile work environment.”
Mr. Flanagan, however, continued to draw criticism. In November
2012, Mr. Dennison said Mr. Flanagan had breached the company’s
journalism standards when he wore a sticker supporting President
And that December, Mr. Dennison wrote a memorandum that detailed
what he described as “recent examples of lack of thorough
reporting, poor on-air performance or time management issues.”
As the winter wore on, station officials decided to fire Mr.
Flanagan. When they told him, an internal memorandum recounted,
he responded, “You better call police because I’m going to make
a big stink. This is not right.”
Station officials chose to contact the police, and officers
physically removed Mr. Flanagan. In one instance, one document
said, Mr. Flanagan tossed a baseball cap at one executive.
Another memo said Mr. Flanagan handed over a wooden cross to an
executive, saying, “You’ll need this.”
As Mr. Flanagan left, the records showed, he complained to an
“You know what they did?” one memorandum quoted Mr. Flanagan as
saying, “They had a watermelon back there for a week and
basically” used a racial epithet to refer to him.
Mr. Ward, a cameraman with WDBJ who was killed on Wednesday,
recorded the dismissal, and records showed that Mr. Flanagan
briefly turned his attention toward Mr. Ward on the day of his
firing and told him to “lose your big gut.”
Mr. Flanagan later sued the station for, among other complaints,
retaliation, wrongful termination and racial discrimination.
In May 2014, Mr. Flanagan wrote to a judge in Roanoke and said
that his experiences at the station were “nothing short of vile,
disgusting and inexcusable,” and he demanded that a jury of
African-American women hear a civil lawsuit against the station.
The case was dismissed in 2014 after a judge found that the
matters had been “fully and completely resolved and compromised.”