Judge rules for defendants in John McDonogh school shooting liability suit

By Alejandro de los Rios | Feb 16, 2011

Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarusso issued a ruling for the defendants in a liability trial involving a shooting at John McDonogh 28 high school in 2003.

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

The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants did not take necessary precautions to protect the student body, including ignoring signs that the shooting victim, Jonathan Williams, was the target of a rival gang and failing to close a hole in a fence through which the shooters gained entrance to the school.

"The irony of this case is that John McDonogh Senior High School ... was probably the safest place available to Jonathan Williams to avoid the assassins pursuing him, but now the Orleans Parish School Board ... is being sued because it was allegedly not safe enough," Giarusso wrote in her 15-page judgment.

Giarusso called the attacks "unexpected, unprecedented and unforeseeable" and that "no place could have prevented [the] gangland-style assassination."

During the trial, NOPD Detective Danny McMullen testified that there was no doubt Williams was the target of the shooting, as the result of his investigation concluded that the shooters stood over the victims body before shooting him with an AK-47.

A ruling for the plaintiffs in this case could have had a major impact on school liability requirements in Orleans Parish.

A central issue in the trial is that the student murdered, John Williams, had a police record and was a target of local gang. The plaintiffs claim that the officials at the school did not do enough to recognize problem students and the threats they posed to their classmates.

Giarusso ruled that the OPSB was not liable for the shooting and that "the sole cause of this shooting was the intentional acts of the shooters and their conspirators."

New Orleans attorneys Clifford Cardone, Patricia Dean, Peter Derbes and Metairie attorney Clement Donelon represented 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 represented the OPSB.

The New Orleans City Attorney's office represented the NOPD.

Giarusso signed the order Feb. 9.

Orleans Parish Case 2003-06336

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