When it comes to gun violence in schools, questions over how to best protect our students are becoming more and more critical to answer. Last year was a record year for gun violence in schools, and students are at risk of not only mass tragedies on the scale of Parkland and Sandy Hook, but also of individual targeting.
A case Rodriguez & Associates took to trial this year underscores this issue, and raises even more questions, specifically around how much schools themselves should or can do when it comes to preventing gun violence on premises.
Bowe Cleveland, a former student at Taft Union High School in Kern County, California, was shot in the chest with a shotgun by fellow student Bryan Oliver on January 10, 2013.
Oliver pleaded no contest to two accounts of attempted murder without premeditation and was sentenced to 27 years to life. But Cleveland argued that school administrators ignored red flags about Oliver and could have prevented the attack in the first place. After suing the school district, Cleveland was awarded $3.8 million in damages this past July. The case was the second school shooting in the U.S. to ever go to civil trial. The first such trial was sometime in the 1990’s.
Cleveland accused the school district of ignoring numerous threats made by the shooter in the ten months leading up to the shooting. Those red flags included threats by the shooter of bringing a gun to school and shooting 50 students and blowing up the school auditorium during a pep rally. The school administrators received reports not only from students but even from teachers and staff that they were scared of what the shooter might do.
Cleveland also accused the school district of violating their own written safety protocol. This written safety protocol called for a threat assessment plan on how to deal with students making such threats. The school district came up with a weak plan and then failed to modify it in the face of continuing threats made by the shooter. Finally, Cleveland accused the school district of violating their own written safety protocol because they were more concerned with their school image than the safety of their kids.
Cleveland suffered severe injuries after the shooting that required 30 surgeries over the past six and a half years. During his opening statement in the second phase of the trial, attorney Daniel Rodriguez said Cleveland faced lifelong continuing medical problems due to the shooting, and that he still deals with lead pellets embedded in his body.
This case, however, highlights the need for schools to not simply pay lip service to student safety but take the necessary actions to help prevent gun violence on school property.
While it is impossible to predict every single situation that might occur, raising awareness and taking steps in the face of suspicious activity could prevent cases like Bowe’s from repeating themselves in the future.
At Rodriguez & Associates, we stand behind the communities we serve, including schools and the students that attend them day after day. We hope this verdict can serve as a wake-up call across the nation, and stand willing to assist and play our role in making a change.