Federal lawsuit accuses Oxford schools of violating its own policies, state law

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Detroit — The family of an Oxford High senior who died in the mass shooting last fall has filed a lawsuit against Oxford Community Schools and alleges the district violated its own policies and state law in handling concerns about the former student accused of killing four classmates

The family of 17-year-old Justin Shilling and their attorney, Ven Johnson, gathered at a Detroit hotel Monday to discuss a federal lawsuit filed Sunday against the Oakland County school district.

Craig Schilling gets emotional talking about the life of his late son, Justin Shilling, during a press conference to announce a new federal lawsuit against Oxford Community Schools at the Book Cadillac Westin hotel in Detroit on Monday, May 23, 2022.

Johnson said he will also be adding the family to state court actions.

The 40-page complaint alleges the school district "failed to establish, implement adequate policies, procedures, rules and regulations" at the school concerning a 15-year-old student Ethan Crumbley, now charged with four deaths and with wounding seven other victims, including a teacher. The lawsuit alleges the school district and its officials "failed to properly identify a student with suicidal and homicidal tendencies and acted in a way that created a risk of harm to OHS students and or increased a risk of harm to OHS students."

“If they had followed step one — this would have been prevented,” said Johnson, referring to Oxford's policy that any student believed to be suicidal to be evaluated by a health professional.

Such matters are also to be immediately referred to authorities, including a 911 call if needed, and the student is to be searched to determine if they have weapons they could use to harm themselves or others, Johnson said.

“He (Crumbley) should have been removed to a secure room,” said Johnson. “What did they do? They sent him back to class.”

An Oxford Community Schools spokesperson said the district's attorneys were reviewing the filing and the district had no comment. The district has previously said it followed proper policy in dealing with Crumbley, including calling his parents in for a conference.

The district has been criticized for releasing Crumbley, an Oxford High School sophomore, back into school after he was pulled from class when a teacher saw a disturbing drawing on his desk that depicted a gun, a bullet and a bleeding shooting victim. 

Crumbley allegedly told counselors once he was taken to the office that his drawing was part of a video game he was designing and that he planned to pursue video game design as a career, former Superintendent Timothy Throne has said in a statement. Crumbley remained in the office for about 90 minutes and worked on school assignments while the school tried to reach his parents.

Jill Soave speaks about her late son, Justin Shilling, during a press conference to announce a new federal lawsuit against Oxford Community Schools at the Book Cadillac Westin hotel in Detroit on Monday, May 23, 2022.

After speaking to parents James and Jennifer Crumbley in the school office and again to their son, Oxford school counselors concluded he did not intend on committing either self-harm or harm to others, Throne said. His parents were informed they had 48 hours to seek counseling for their child or the school would contact Child Protective Services. They were asked to take their son home for the day, but they "flatly" refused and left without their son, Throne said.

Crumbley was allowed to keep his backpack, which was not searched, and police believe it contained a handgun, 48 rounds of ammunition and a notebook detailing his plans.

District officials said previously they felt sending Crumbley back to a classroom was better than sending him to an empty home.

Under the state Child Protection laws, school officials are also to determine if the student’s distress was due to suspected abuse or neglect at home, Johnson said.

“Regardless of whether it is reported to the principal of a school, mandatory reporters — teachers, counselors others — are required by law to file a report with Child Protection Services. This was not done.”

Johnson said he planned to be in Oakland Circuit Court on Wednesday to ask a judge to order the Oakland County Sheriff's Office and Oxford schools to turn over materials, including videotapes from the school, he said he needs to protect his clients’ rights.

Shilling’s parents — Craig Shilling and Jill Soave — attended the news conference and discussed their ongoing grief and frustration over trying to get answers about what led to the mass shooting.

“(Justin) was a dynamic child and had an extremely bright future in store for him,” Soave said. “We are beyond heartbroken, we’re traumatized and devastated.

His father said, “We deserve to know what the hell went wrong. That’s why we’re here. To get answers. To get some closure and begin healing…

“It’s been 174 days since he was murdered and it feels like it was just last week,” she said. “Everything is so hard right now it's like pushing through mud.”

Justin — a scholar and athlete at the school — would have celebrated his high school graduation this past week with fellow students, they said. Their son was a university scholarship awardee who held down three jobs while pursuing his studies and sports, including being co-captain of the school bowling team.

His mother said Monday that Justin's organs have helped save five recipients.

In addition to the school district, the lawsuit names Throne, current uperintendent Ken Weaver, Principal Steven Wolf, Dean of Students Nicholas Ejak, counselor Shawn Hopkins and teachers Pam Parker, Jacqueline Kubina, Becky Morgan and Allison Karpinski.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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