Oxford schools officials seek to pause $100M mass shooting lawsuit

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Oxford Community Schools officials late Monday asked a federal judge to suspend a $100 million lawsuit filed by victims of the Nov. 30 mass shooting until the end of criminal cases against the alleged shooter and his parents.

The lawsuit threatens to interfere with the prosecution of accused shooter Ethan Crumbley and his parents and it is likely several additional civil lawsuits will be filed stemming from the nation's deadliest school shooting since 2018, a district lawyer wrote in a court filing.

Workers prepare to enter Oxford High School, Wednesday, January 19, 2022.

The district's request to suspend the lawsuit was filed hours after Oxford High School students returned for the first time to a newly renovated building since the Nov. 30 school shooting left four students dead and injured six others and a teacher. 

District lawyer Timothy Mullins faulted attorney Geoffrey Fieger for rushing to file an inaccurate lawsuit on behalf of sisters Riley Franz, 17, an Oxford High School senior, and Bella Franz, 14, a freshman, and promising additional claims that would "effectively bankrupt Oxford Community Schools."

Fieger's law firm is trying to obtain evidence from the district and others despite a state court judge issuing a protective order preventing its disclosure, the district's lawyer wrote. Mullins said pausing the case will not prejudice Riley, who was shot in the neck while next to Bella as they exited a restroom during the attack.

School officials "want justice for the victims and for the Oxford Community," Mullins wrote. "Given the broad reach of civil discovery, permitting this case to go forward would force Defendants to disclose sensitive information that is crucial to the criminal investigations and the resulting criminal proceedings."

Fieger law partner James Harrington has said he will oppose pausing the lawsuit, arguing the criminal cases could linger for years

“All the while memories fade, evidence fades and records become tougher to find,” Harrington told U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith during a Jan. 20 court hearing.

The lawsuit accuses school officials of failing to stop an attack that inflicted physical and psychological injuries on students and spreads the blame among the highest-ranking Oxford school officials along with unidentified teachers and counselors.

Fieger has alleged Superintendent Timothy Throne and High School Principal Steven Wolf failed to take steps that could have prevented an attack despite reviewing ominous social media posts by Crumbley in the days and hours leading up to the attack. Those posts and warning signs included photographs of weapons, a countdown clock and the quote “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. See you tomorrow Oxford."

Instead of disciplining Crumbley, removing him from school or heeding warnings from parents who reported to school officials rumors of an imminent attack, the superintendent downplayed the threat and concluded there was not a credible threat, according to the lawsuit.

And in the minutes leading up to the shooting, despite a school policy banning backpacks in classrooms, school officials allowed Crumbley to keep his backpack and failed to search it. The backpack is believed to have contained the pistol and ammunition used in the attack, according to the lawsuit.


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