Thursday, February 08, 2001

Gunman's letter to Enquirer
described his despair

Pickett's firing from job here
started dispute with IRS

By Dan Klepal and Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

(1971 photo)
        The man who was shot Wednesday outside the White House addressed a copy of a letter last week to President Bush complaining that a corrupt U.S. government destroyed his life.

        The Feb. 2 letter from Robert W. Pickett was written to the Internal Revenue Service commissioner and copied to the president, the U.S. attorney general and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

        The letter describes Mr. Pickett's despair over a long dispute with his former employers at the Cincinnati IRS office.

Photo imageText only
        The Enquirer received a copy of the letter this week, along with several legal documents. The signed letter carried an Evansville, Ind., mailing address matching Mr. Pickett's and contained details about his legal dispute with the IRS. He lived in Fort Thomas in the late 1980s when he worked at the IRS.

        Mr. Pickett's letter describes his decades-long battle with mental illness, which includes suicide attempts and stints in psychiatric wards.

        The letter makes no specific threat against any government official and does not mention the White House.

        It does, however, accuse politicians and bureaucrats of betraying the American people.

[photo] Washington police and uniformed Secret Service agents search the area outside the White House fence where shots were fired Wednesday at the executive mansion.
(Rick Bowmer photo)
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        “Although the crimes committed against me by these bureaucrats were not violent, they are more heinous than police brutality,” he wrote. “They have betrayed their fellow citizens; their illegal actions are treason.”

        A White House spokesman would not confirm whether the president received the letter.

        Mr. Pickett, 47, was outside the White House fence Wednesday morning when police say he pulled out a handgun, fired shots and began waving the gun in the air.

        The incident led to a standoff, during which Mr. Pickett put the gun in his mouth. The standoff ended when police shot Mr. Pickett in the leg.

        The letter and court records suggest the incident at the White House may have been the culmination of Mr. Pickett's 16-year legal battle with the IRS.

        “This is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship,” the letter states. “I was stupid to believe that the truth is a shield which can protect the innocent from those who mistreat the weak.”

        The dispute began in 1985 when Mr. Pickett, a tax auditor, complained to his supervisors about auditing practices he believed were improper.

        Mr. Pickett subsequently filed at least two federal lawsuits claiming his supervisors harassed him after he complained about IRS practices.

        He said the harassment aggravated his mental illness and led to a demotion.

        A psychiatric evaluation filed as part of the lawsuits suggests that Mr. Pickett struggled with “recurrent depression” for most of his adult life.

        “He often finds it difficult to get out of bed, go to work, and maintain adequate hygiene, such as not bathing,” psychologist Cal Robinson wrote in a 1999 letter to a federal judge.

        One of Mr. Pickett's more serious bouts of depression came after he washed out of college at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The failure to earn a college degree left Mr. Pickett “determined to harm himself,” wrote Mr. Robinson.

        A similar depression followed his dismissal from the IRS.

        The psychologist also said Mr. Pickett suffered “extreme impairment” in social situations.

        His neighbors on Tyler Avenue in Evansville said Mr. Pickett rarely left the house. “I don't think anyone knew him,” said Chris Brandenburg, who lives six houses down from Mr. Pickett's well-kept, two-story house.

        After leaving the IRS, Mr. Pickett returned to Evansville to work for his father's accounting firm. He also lived in his parents' home, and took over the family business when his father died in 1995.

        Tom Carter, co-owner of Cottage Florist, hired Mr. Pickett to take care of the store's books. Mr. Carter, also a neighbor, said Mr. Pickett never mentioned working for the IRS and rarely spoke about his life.

        “We never really talked about anything other than how hot it is or how he had to mow the yard,” Mr. Carter said. “That's mainly the only time you'd see him, mowing the yard or washing the car.”

        But Mr. Pickett had plenty to say to government officials. In his lawsuits, he called IRS attorneys “liars” and suggested government officials conspired against him.

        The letter he wrote last week to the IRS repeated those accusations.

        “My life has been destroyed because I believed the truth would prevail,” the letter states. “I wish I had the strength to continue to fight this evil with honor. The hypocrites who refused to perform their duty will eventually have to answer to their own conscience, if they have any.”

        Mr. Pickett filed his most recent lawsuit in 1999 hoping to get his job back at the IRS so he could then retire on a medical disability. The case was assigned to Magistrate Timothy Hogan in Cincinnati.

        Although he never met Mr. Pickett in person, Mr. Hogan said he seemed to be intelligent but unstable.

        “I knew from reading the case, here's a guy who needs help,” Mr. Hogan said Wednesday. “He had problems and he said so.”

        The magistrate said Mr. Pickett, who did not have an attorney, did not seem to understand the legal process. But Mr. Hogan said his paperwork was always neat and clearly written.

        Throughout the court record, Mr. Pickett repeatedly complains that he was mistreated because of his mental illness. And that his illness was exacerbated by his mistreatment.

        In a 1997 lawsuit, Mr. Pickett said his mistreatment at the IRS constituted “attempted manslaughter.”

        He echoed those sentiments last week in the letter to the IRS. “You are guilty of murder. Your predecessors made decisions which killed an innocent man,” he wrote, apparently referring to himself.

        Mr. Pickett admitted to at least two suicide attempts, and court records state he was hospitalized five times since 1985.

        Mr. Pickett said in his letter that he could have overcome those problems if the IRS and other government officials had treated him properly.

        “I cannot describe the emotional pain I live with constantly,” he wrote. “The constant betrayals by those obligated to uphold the law have destroyed me.”

        The letter is signed: “With great contempt, Robert W. Pickett.”


- Gunman's letter to Enquirer described his despair
Read the letter: Photo image Text only
Evidence taken from gunman's home
Continuing coverage from Associated Press