Judge hears motions in school shooting suit

Alejandro de los Rios Sep. 8, 2010, 11:00am


Judge Robin Giarusso heard three motions in a suit involving a 2003 school shooting in Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Sept. 7.

Orleans residents Valerie Barracks, Angela Robair, Johnnie Brown, Keva Jackson, Michelle Brown and Gloria Williams are suing the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) on behalf of their children who were victims and witnesses to a 2003 school shooting at John McDonogh 28 high school, which resulted in one death and three injuries.

Giarusso denied a plaintiff's motion in limine seeking to exclude the testimony of Ronald D. Stephens, Ph.D., an expert witness for the OPSB, who stated that "an appropriate safe school plan was in place" at McDonogh 28.

The motion claimed Stephens came to his conclusion without reading critical documents that showed that the school principal had requested additional security personnel for the school and that a gang fight occurred on campus five months prior to the shooting.

Giarusso also heard two defense motions to sever the claims of Jackson and Michelle Brown and have their cases tried separately from the others. The defense argued that the case of Keva Jackson's daughter, Kevontae, should be tried separately because she has no counsel of record and the defense has not been able to locate her in the past five years for discovery.

Similarly, the defense requests that Brown's claims be tried separately because she has failed to appear for depositions and her counsel has been unable to reach her.

Giarusso ruled to continue both motions until trial, where Kevontae Jackson and Brown will be dismissed if they don't appear in court.

The suit claims that the OPSB and the NOPD are liable because a hole in the fence surrounding the school gave the shooters easy access to the school gymnasium, where they opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle during gym class.

The suit also cites close to 700 pages of police reports indicating violent gang activity surrounding McDonogh 28, claiming that the school and police did not take necessary security steps to protect its students. The plaintiffs claim that the school and the OPSB "were aware of, but failed to remedy, the very deficiencies in campus security that were exploited by the shooters."

A TIME magazine article in 2006 detailed the strained relationship between New Orleans residents and the NOPD. The article noted that, though there were 150 witnesses in the gym at the time of the shooting, police questions were regarded with "shrugs and stares." The NOPD is currently under federal investigation.

New Orleans attorneys Clifford Cardone, Patricia Dean, Peter Derbes and Metairie attorney Clement Donelon are representing the plaintiffs. Cardone filed Barracks' original petition for damages in April 2003. That case was consolidated with suits filed by Robair, Brown and Williams.

New Orleans attorneys Roy Rodney Jr., Norlisha Parker Burke and John Etter are representing the OPSB.

The New Orleans city attorney's office is representing the NOPD.

A trial date has been set in this case for October 11, 2010.

Orleans Parish Case 2003-06336

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