Michigan judge dismisses all suits against Oxford school district over deadly 2021 mass shooting

ByNadine El-Bawab ABCNews logo
Sunday, March 5, 2023
Parents of high school mass shooter seek lower bail
James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, who committed the Oxford High School mass shooting, are seeking lower bail.

OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. -- A Michigan Circuit Court judge dismissed all lawsuits filed against the Oxford Community School District in connection with a 2021 school shooting at Oxford High, claiming that the district and its employees have governmental immunity and cannot be sued as the shooter is the most direct cause of the attack, ABC News reported.

Nearly a dozen lawsuits were filed by filed by victims and families of victims of the shooting, accusing the school district and several school employees of negligence, gross negligence and violation of the Child Protection Law, among other claims.

Several lawsuits have alleged that accused school shooter Ethan Crumbley had exhibited "concerning behavior that indicated psychiatric distress, suicidal or homicidal tendencies and the possibility of child abuse and neglect," but the school did not act appropriately. The suits argue that school officials failed to act appropriately to prevent violence when the teenage shooter exhibited several warning signs leading up to the shooting.

Crumbley, 15, a student at the school, allegedly shot and killed four of his classmates and injured seven others in November 2021. Crumbley was charged with 24 counts.

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Crumbley pleaded guilty to all charges against him last October. He also admitted that his parents bought him the gun used in the shooting with his own money and that it was kept in an unlocked safe.

The school district has claimed that civil lawsuits filed against it, alleging Fourth Amendment violations, are barred because the district has governmental immunity. Governmental immunity shields government agencies from legal liability if the agency is "engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function," according to court documents.

In her decision, Oakland County Circuit Judge Mary Ellen Brennan said the conduct of the school district and its employees who were named in the suit were not the "proximate cause" of the victims' injuries.

The suit accuses several school employees of failing to properly respond to Ethan Crumbley's conduct in the day and a half prior to the shooting, according to court documents.

Brennan ruled that Crumbley's act of firing the gun was the most "immediate, efficient and direct cause of the injury or damage," not the actions of the district and school employees, arguing that their conduct did not cause immediate harm to the plaintiffs.

Ethan Crumbley's parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, are also charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after allegedly failing to recognize warning signs about their son in the months leading up to the shooting. They have pleaded not guilty.

Attorney Ven Johnson, who represents the families of students who were killed in the shooting, criticized the ruling and the law behind it, saying his clients feel victimized all over again.

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"On behalf of our Oxford clients, we are deeply saddened and disappointed by Judge Brennan's dismissal today of all the Oxford Community Schools defendants. We maintain that governmental immunity is wrong and unconstitutional, and the law should be changed immediately," Johnson told ABC News in a statement.

He added, "Under the law, everyone should be treated the same. No one should have more rights than others just because they work for the government. If this shooting happened at a private school, this case would be sent to trial and none of these defenses would exist."

Johnson also called on the Michigan legislature to change the governmental immunity law. He said he plans to appeal the judge's decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

In a statement to district families released to ABC News, the school board said, "we recognize that the decision will affect each of our school community families differently. Oxford is still grieving. Oxford is still healing. As we continue this journey, Oxford Community Schools remains committed to providing a world-class education to our students, a workplace of choice for our staff, recovery supports for our community and a safe and healthy learning environment for all lives in which we are privileged to be a part."

The video in the player above is from a previous report.