Judge refuses Oxford schools' request to halt civil suit until criminal charges settled in mass shooting

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

A federal judge on Thursday refused to freeze a $100 million civil lawsuit alleging Oxford school officials were negligent in failing to prevent the shooting rampage at Oxford High School that left four dead and wounded seven others. 

Ethan Crumbley appears via remote video conference Thursday.

The judge's decision came the same day that an Oakland County Circuit Court judge ordered that 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, the alleged shooter, remain in the Oakland County Jail for at least another month, rather than moving to the juvenile jail as his defense team has requested.

School officials had asked U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith to halt the civil lawsuit pending the outcome of the criminal cases against Ethan Crumbley and his parents, who prosecutors say are responsible for buying their son a handgun and ignoring warning signs that the teenager was troubled.

Goldsmith rejected the request, saying he was not aware of any risk that the civil lawsuit would interfere with the criminal cases.

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger filed the original lawsuit Dec. 9 on behalf of sisters Riley and Bella Franz, students at Oxford High who survived the shooting. Riley, a 17-year-old senior, was shot in the neck while next to Bella, 14, a freshman, as they exited a restroom during the attack, according to Fieger.

“Additionally, it is in the public interest for plaintiffs’ alleged injuries to be ‘remedied in a timely manner’ if plaintiffs can make out their case,” Goldsmith wrote.

The amended lawsuit, among other allegations, accuses Oxford Superintendent Tim Throne of knowing about threats against students, failing to prevent the attack and putting students in greater danger.

Explaining his decision to keep Ethan Crumbley at the adult jail, Oakland County Circuit Judge Kwame Rowe on Thursday said, "The court has not been presented with any new information to disturb its March 1 order,” which is that Crumbley remain jailed at the Oakland County Jail.

Ethan Crumbley has been jailed since Nov. 30, the day of the mass shooting at the school. 

The next monthly placement hearing, along with a pre-trial hearing, will be held on April 21,  Rowe said.

Also at Thursday's circuit court hearing, Paulette Loftin, one of the teen's defense attorneys, said his mental evaluation is due back in about 45 days. In January, Loftin and co-counsel Amy Hopp filed intent to mount an insanity defense. No ruling has been made on Crumbley's competency to stand trial, but the evaluation is a step toward that.

Crumbley is charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of terrorism causing death, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of felony firearm in the shooting.  He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Judge Kwame Rowe appears appears via remote video conference during defendant Ethan Crumbley’s monthly placement hearing on Thursday.  He decided that Crumbley will stay in the Oakland County Jail for now.

Deborah McKelvy, who serves as guardian-ad-litem for Ethan Crumbley, took issue Thursday with a prosecution brief that argued it’s the parental role to secure schooling for their son.

James and Jennifer Crumbley are jailed in the same facility as their son as they face four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. The three have little to no contact with each other, after the parents were ordered by a district court judge to stop communicating with one another in court. 

“It’s no longer the parent’s responsibility,” McKelvy argued, saying that their son's education has not been their responsibility since he has been jailed.

McKelvy said she heard on Tuesday from the Oakland County corporation counsel, offering two educational options: online schooling or a high school equivalency program.

Ethan Crumbley’s guardian-ad-litem Deborah McKelvy appears via remote video conference during defendant Ethan Crumbley’s monthly placement hearing on Thursday. It was decided that he will stay in the Oakland County Jail for now.

He could not start cyber school until September at the earliest.

The second option, when Crumbley turns 16 late next month, is a high school equivalency or GED program, with a path to community college classes, McKelvy said. There have been talks with the jail about allowing him daily access to a laptop so he could do schoolwork.

“There has been a lot of movement in that,” McKelvy said of Crumbley's access to educational options, which has been at issue for months. McKelvy met with Crumbley on Wednesday, and said he’s deciding his next move.

Authorities allege that after fatally shooting four classmates, and wounding seven others, Ethan Crumbley surrendered himself to a school resource officer. Killed in the shooting were Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17. 

Police originally took Crumbley to Oakland County Children's Village, the juvenile jail in Waterford Township.

More:Should Ethan Crumbley, accused Oxford school shooter, be held in jail?

But after his Dec. 1 arraignment, during which the teen was ordered jailed without bond, he's been in a medical clinic at Oakland County Jail. There he has no contact with other inmates, and little with staff, except for deputies who patrol the area every 15 minutes.

In the five months of his incarceration, Crumbley has had several visits from his attorneys and guardian-ad-litem Deborah McKelvy, and has received "fan mail," according to prior testimony.

As Jason Smith, executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice, wrote January in The Detroit News: "A court that decides to detain a youth in an adult jail must also hold a review hearing once every 30 days, with a 180-day limit unless there is a 'good cause' extension."

The monthly review hearings and 180-day limit are federal requirements, by way of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Crumbley was last in court Feb. 22 for a placement hearing. At that hearing, Oakland County prosecutors said Crumbley was "calculated" and "enjoyed his dark side," while defense lawyers countered that the teen cried out for help but received none. 

More:Accused Oxford High shooter 'enjoyed his dark side,' Oakland prosecutors say


Staff writer Robert Snell contributed.