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Sen. Gutierrez files more Uvalde bills

Wish I could say any of these had a chance, but the work he’s doing is still vital and necessary regardless.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said Tuesday that he is leading legislation to make it easier for families of the Robb Elementary School shooting victims to sue the state and police officers over the botched law enforcement response.

The San Antonio Democrat and other Democratic senators are introducing four new pieces of legislation that seek to increase gun safety and law enforcement accountability. The news came during a press conference, where they were flanked by several of the victims’ families.

“We’re not asking for the moon and the stars. We’re asking for commonsense solutions,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez filed Senate Bill 575 to end qualified immunity for police officers, a judicial doctrine that shields government officials from liability for constitutional violations. The doctrine has been spotlighted nationally in recent years because it is routinely used to protect law enforcement officers from being sued in cases of excessive force. He said ending qualified immunity will make it easier for the families of the Uvalde shooting victims to seek damages after the flawed law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting, in which hundreds of officers descended on the school but did not confront the gunman for over an hour.

This bill is accompanied by Senate Concurrent Resolution 12, which he co-authored with other Democratic senators, that “empowers” families of the Uvalde shooting victims to sue the state and its agencies.

“I support law enforcement 100%, but under no circumstances should they have [allowed] what happened on that day,” Gutierrez said. “They failed these children for 77 minutes for a lack of leadership — under no circumstances should they be allowed to walk away and not compensate people. There’s no amount of money that’s going to bring back their children. But there should be justice, so today’s about justice.”

Gutierrez said he plans to file about 20 bills in total in response to the Uvalde shooting.

See here and here for the background. Like I said, I expect basically nothing from any of these bills. The Republicans have made their position clear, and they see no reason to budge. Their rabid voters wouldn’t let them anyway. The next best thing, which we need to do anyway, is make the case to the public. We know plenty of people support a lot of these ideas. Getting them to vote for politicians who support them, that’s the problem. Sen. Gutierrez almost certainly won’t get any of his bill passed this session, but he is – and should be – working for the next session, or the one after that. It’s good to start now.

Project Unloaded

I approve of this.

Jordan Phan spoke into the camera in a Tik Tok post with background music and several hash tags.

“I’ve spent the summer researching whether guns make us more or less safe, and the unfortunate truth is that guns make us all less safe,” the college sophomore said, listing several facts about women’s safety and domestic violence. “Guns are rarely used to protect, but often used to kill.”

The post was part of a wider campaign for a group called Project Unloaded. Instead of pushing for policy change or working with at-risk youth in neighborhoods, the organization aims to save lives and tackle gun violence by changing America’s gun culture — starting with young people on social media.

“I felt there was a missing piece in the larger movement to prevent gun violence, ” said Nina Vinik, the organization’s founder and executive director.

Most people think guns make them safer, she said, but research indicates the opposite is true.

“That myth is really at the core of America’s gun culture,” said Vinik, a Chicago lawyer. “We’re out to change the cultural narrative, to bust that myth and create a new narrative that guns make us less safe.”

The group launched a social media campaign called SNUG – Safer Not Using Guns – roughly a year ago in Houston and Milwaukee. It has since expanded into ten more cities, according to the organization, and the message has reached more than a million people on Tik Tok and Snapchat.

The campaign is meant for young people because their opinions and views are still changing. It includes partnerships with young Tik Tok influencers and Instagram posts loaded with statistics about the risks associated with firearms.

For example: Firearm-related injuries are the leading cause of death for American children and adolescents; suicide rates are four times higher for young people with guns at home; families in gun-owning homes are more than twice as likely to die by homicide.

[…]

Nearly a third of young people have had personal experience with gun violence, according to a report released in September by Project Unloaded. Black and Hispanic youth are more impacted than their peers.

The report found, too, that teens and young adults ranked gun violence as a bigger issue than abortion access or climate change. Half of the respondents in the survey said they think about school shootings every week.

The survey also discovered that young people changed their minds about gun ownership after reviewing facts about firearm risk.

“Gun violence is having a devastating impact on this generation of young people, and Gen Z is at the forefront of culture change,” Vinik said. “We’re talking directly to teens and really empowering this generation to be the ones to kind of propel that cultural change.”

While gun-related policies stall in the legislature, Hoyt said he hopes to help drive a cultural change by equipping people with information.

“We want to make sure we’re providing people all the facts we have, but we also don’t want to tell them exactly what to do,” he said. “Each person on their own has to decide.”

You can learn more about Project Unloaded here, and I presume on TikTok; as an Old Person, I don’t use that particular app, but I’m sure their target audience does. Founder Vinik talks a bit later about finding ways to make change that doesn’t rely on elected officials. Changing, or at least affecting, the culture is a great way to do that, but at some point the legislative and judicial processes need to be addressed as well. Putting out an effective message that can later help drive electoral behavior is a great way to start. I wish them all the best.

Pushing the panic button

This feels like security theater to me, but it’s what passes for progress these days.

All school districts in Montgomery County will soon be using panic alert technology during emergencies, including an active shooter situation, a security measure Texas education officials have proposed to in the wake of the deadly Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde.

Conroe, Willis, Magnolia, New Caney, Montgomery and Splendora school districts will roll out the Rave Panic Button that will allow users to summon police, medical or fire personnel with the touch of one button on their cell phone.

The Montgomery County Emergency Communication District is partnering with the school districts to fund part of the $170,000 cost for three years.

Andrea Shepard, associate director at the emergency district, said the technology allows a faculty or staff member to push a button for help in an emergency and immediately be connected with 911 dispatchers. The app alerts other faculty and staff on the campus of the threat as well.

“The safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is and will always be our No. 1 priority,” Shepard said. “Our school community should be focused on learning, not worrying about their safety.

[…]

The partnership comes after the Texas Education Agency released more details in November regarding panic button technology to beef up school safety after the shooting deaths of 19 children and two adults in May at Robb Elementary.

Currently, districts in 46 states are using the panic button technology, including several in Texas.

I can understand why schools and school districts find this kind of solution appealing. It feels like you’re doing something, which in an environment where not much is in your control has to provide some comfort. It’s not clear to me what the practical advantage of using this app is over just calling 911, especially if you still have to describe the reason for pushing the button. I’m sure some academic is currently collecting data to try to find the effect of one of these apps – there are several options, apparently, with Montgomery schools choosing a product called Rave – so we’ll eventually see a study or two to tell us. The bigger issue – well, one of them, since the root cause problem is only mentioned at the end of this story – is what happens once the button is pushed.

Uvalde had a similar panic system in place when the gunfire erupted in May. State Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) told KHOU that panic buttons work to a degree but won’t solve the gun violence in schools.

“It did work to a certain degree. It warned people and law enforcement there was an intruder,” said Gutierrez, whose districts represents the Uvalde area.

He said the technologies are just a band-aid to the real problem.

“There are remedies on both sides of the aisle but they are not really addressing the real core of the problem, which is we are putting assault rifles in the hands of 18-year-olds,” said Gutierrez.

Calling law enforcement in a more efficient manner is only an advantage if law enforcement’s response is up to the challenge. The example from Uvalde is not promising. Maybe Montgomery County is up to the task. I’m sure Uvalde would have said they were up to it as well, and we haven’t even mentioned DPS and their manifest failures. I mean, I dunno, maybe putting in some effort on the prevention part of the equation might be worthwhile? Just a thought.

Uvalde parents will take their fight to the Lege

They’re not going to get what they want and they know it, but they’re still going to fight. I have so much respect for them.

More than seven months after a teenage gunman killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School, the speaker of the Texas House was in Uvalde for a private meeting with relatives of the victims.

Dade Phelan had never met them. After the introductions in a room at the local community college, a family member started with the group’s main question: Will the Legislature raise the minimum age to purchase an assault-style weapon from 18 to 21?

Phelan was up front with them: No.

The House doesn’t have the votes, he said. And no, he doesn’t personally support it, either.

The tense discussion on Jan. 4 lasted just shy of an hour and a half, and Phelan spent most of it discussing potential mental health legislation, participants said. The families left discouraged, unsure of their next steps in a state where Republicans, most of whom oppose any firearm restrictions, control the Legislature.

It marked an awkward transition for the Uvalde activists, who have spent months advocating for gun control laws. They felt welcomed and heard on lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., and several of them campaigned heartily for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who lost his challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott on Nov. 8.

Phelan was one of the few lawmakers to address the Uvalde shooting when the legislative session began Tuesday, promising “sensible, meaningful change.” Republican leaders have focused on bolstering mental health resources and improving the physical defenses of schools — both of which have bipartisan support as the session starts.

But the prospects for any gun regulations in Texas are dim, leaving the Uvalde families convinced that the next mass shooting is only a question of time.

“I just feel like we’re in new territory,” said Kim Rubio, who lost her 10-year-old daughter, Lexi, at Robb Elementary School. “When this happened, there was a lot of talk at the federal level about making changes, so we really hit the ground running toward that. Now, we’re back at square one.”

It’s kind of painful, but you can read the rest. The best the Uvalde parents can hope for is a state ban on straw-person sales, which is already a federal crime. Beyond that, it’s the usual bunkum about guns not being the problem and there being nothing we could do to stop the next school shooter even if guns were the problem, some promises to increase security at schools, and some vague and meaningless words about mental health. The school security measures have some value, and I’d be all right with them for the most part if they were part of a larger deal that included real gun reform, but they’re not. As these parents know all too well, it’s just a matter of time before some other group of parents are in the same unfathomable position they’re in now. They’re trying to do something about that, but they really can’t, not right now. This isn’t a lobbying or legislating matter, it’s a political and electoral one. That’s a bigger and more long-term problem. I wish them all the best anyway.

More guns found at domestic violence incidents

Not great.

The 2021 State of the State report from the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV) outlines key domestic violence statistics from the past two years. The report shows the number of domestic violence calls law enforcement responded to that involved a gun increased by 92.4%.

Texas law prohibits someone subject to a protective order for abuse from possessing a firearm except for law enforcement officers. But Breall Baccus from TCFV said that people with protective orders don’t always have their firearms taken away.

“A lot of counties don’t have a process in place to remove those firearms,” Baccus said.

Kathryn Jacob is the president and CEO at SafeHaven, the state-designated family violence center in Tarrant County. She said guns play a major role in domestic violence homicides.

“As far as intimate partners are concerned, year after year, the vast majority die by guns,” Jacob said.

The presence of a firearm increases a woman’s risk of being killed as much as 500%, according to the report. It also shows that women are almost four times more likely to be killed when attempting to leave their abuser than at any other point in the relationship.

The report in question is here; it’s a nine-page PDF with charts and easy to read so take a minute and give it a look. You know who else would very much like for there to be fewer guns present at domestic violence incidents? Every member of your local law enforcement office. The Lege is not inclined to do anything about that, and even they felt some pressure to do so they would point to the recent deranged court ruling from Texas that claims it would be unconstitutional. So here we are, and you can expect that number to continue to rise.

Will we finally close the “dead suspect” loophole?

The short answer is no we won’t, but it will be worth the effort anyway.

Rep. Joe Moody

In November, state Representative Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat who served on a committee that investigated the Uvalde killings, filed House Bill 30, a multifaceted measure that would close what’s called the “dead suspect loophole.” Under current law, Texas cops and prosecutors may withhold from the public many records stemming from investigations that did not result in a conviction. This statute arguably protects the reputations of innocent Texans, but it also casts a veil of secrecy over cases where there’s no conviction because the suspect is deceased—including when cops kill someone during an arrest, or a person dies in jail, or a school shooter’s rampage ends, as happened at Robb Elementary, with his own demise. Moody’s bill would specifically open up many cases where the lack of a conviction resulted from a suspect’s death.

Since May, state police have withheld records such as video and audio recordings from the Uvalde scene on the premise that the local district attorney is still investigating—a standard reason that agencies hold back much detailed information. Under the dead suspect loophole, however, those records can plausibly be kept secret forever. HB 30 would head this off.

“I certainly respect the investigatory process, but at some point you turn the corner and the public deserves to scrutinize the records, and that is at the heart of the Public Information Act,” Moody told the Observer. “The government doesn’t get to decide what is good for us to know and what is bad for us to know.”

In June, GOP Speaker of the House Dade Phelan tweeted support for closing the dead suspect loophole in Uvalde’s wake, and a spokesperson confirmed in early December that the speaker continues to support such a policy though he is “not yet familiar with the specifics of legislation that has been filed.”

In its present form, HB 30 would also expand public access to information about police misconduct in general and to videos of jail deaths or shootings by police, along with creating a public database of reports related to such shootings, among other provisions.

Next year’s legislative session, to begin in January, will mark the fourth time that Moody has tried to close the dead suspect loophole. In past sessions, discussion of his bills centered on prominent cases in which Texans were shot on their porches, tased in the back of squad cars, or left to perish in jails. Moody nearly succeeded in closing the loophole in 2019—with help from a contingent of small-government Republicans open to criminal justice reform—but he was derailed by a last-minute, scorched-earth campaign from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), the state’s largest police union, in a fight that left the El Paso lawmaker and the lobbying powerhouse as bitter adversaries.

Transparency advocates hope that Uvalde will make the difference this time around, but they won’t be getting any help from CLEAT. “Just like it has been in the past, this is a George Soros-funded fishing expedition that seeks to tear down our profession by false innuendo,” said CLEAT spokesperson Jennifer Szimanski, homing in on parts of the bill dealing with police personnel files. “We’ll definitely be fighting this piece of legislation.”

Szimanski—who also said of the bill: “This is ‘defund the police’”—added that there was likely no path for her group and Moody to discuss any compromise because “the author of this bill has not contacted us since 2019.”

Moody countered that his bill is “properly tailored” to only target information in police personnel files necessary to shed light on misconduct and specific incidents including ones involving dead suspects. “This is a serious policy. It’s not political grandstanding, but the people of that organization are completely disingenuous,” he said of CLEAT, adding that he has not received backing from George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire—often used as a bogeyman by the political right—who’s funded criminal justice reform efforts in recent years.

In addition to overcoming CLEAT, Moody would also need acquiescence from archconservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who controls the state Senate, and freshly reelected Governor Greg Abbott, who wields the veto pen and may harbor presidential ambitions. Neither responded to requests for comment for this article.

See here and here for some background. As I’ve said before on things like marijuana reform and expanded gambling, nothing will happen unless Dan Patrick changes his mind. We had our chance to do something about that, but we failed. Rep. Moody may be able to get a bill through the House again, but it will never make it through the Senate. It’s still worth the effort because of the stakes involved, but this is a long-term project. There’s no other way.

The rest of the story is about the history of this loophole, which has only existed since the late 90s – things were actually much better before then. Worth your time to read, I had no idea about it. For what it’s worth, Rep. Moody will surely have at least one cranky and pissed off ally in the Senate, and maybe that will have some effect.

Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, lambasted the emergency response to the Robb Elementary School shooting as “the worst response to a mass shooting in our nation’s history” during a congressional hearing Thursday.

“It was system failure, it was cowardice,” Gutierrez said. He joined family members and supporters of the victims in calling for stronger federal action to prevent gun violence.

Gutierrez, a Democrat, made the remarks during a hearing of the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security that was focused on bipartisan legislative solutions to gun violence. But bipartisanship was hardly present as Democrats continued to point out what they called common-sense gun policy and Republicans accused them of trying to take away constitutional gun rights.

[…]

Congress passed a bipartisan law spearheaded by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting — the first major gun safety law in decades. The law increased funding for mental health resources, barred convicted violent domestic partners from buying guns, created grants for states implementing red flag laws and set money for state crisis intervention programs.

But Gutierrez criticized the bipartisan gun law as lacking basic provisions that would have stopped the massacre. He was angered that the Senate stripped a provision raising the minimum age to buy assault weapons to 21.

“The fact is in Texas you got to be 21 to buy a handgun, 21 to buy a beer, 21 to buy a pack of cigarettes, but you can be 18 and buy an AR-15, and that’s what happened here because this governor allowed it,” Gutierrez told reporters during a recess in the hearing. “It’s time for change, not just in Texas but throughout this country.”

As we know, Sen. Gutierrez plans to be a pain in the Senate’s ass about Uvalde and gun control. I’m sure he’d be persuaded to add this item to his list.

Senate committee makes small Uvalde recommendations

Par for the course.

A special Texas Senate committee that convened in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting made a series of policy recommendations Wednesday regarding school and gun safety, mental health, social media and police training.

In an 88-page report, the Special Committee to Protect All Texans acknowledged “more must be done to ensure the safety of Texas school children” in the wake of the May massacre, which killed 19 students and two teachers. The report was based in part on two days of testimony from police, mental health and education professionals, and gun safety advocates in June.

The committee made a single recommendation related to guns: Make purchasing a gun for someone who is barred from owning one a state-level felony. Straw purchases of firearms — when a person stands in to buy a gun for someone who is prohibited from having one — are illegal under federal law, though the committee expressed concern that U.S. attorneys too seldom prosecute offenders.

Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019 recommended banning straw purchases under state law in a report his office produced after the El Paso Walmart mass shooting. But the Legislature failed to pass it.

Such a law would not have prevented the Uvalde shooter from purchasing guns. He legally purchased two semiautomatic rifles in the days before the shooting.

On school safety, the committee proposed the creation of review teams to conduct on-site vulnerability assessments of school campuses and share the results with school leaders. It also suggested additional funding for grants to improve security at individual campuses based on needs.

It called for adding training centers for the school marshal program, through which teachers and staff can become certified to carry guns on campus. Since the program debuted in 2013, just 84 of the state’s more than 1,200 districts have joined.

On mental health care, the committee recommended expanding access to the state’s telemedicine system for mental health to all school districts within a “reasonable time frame.” It also implored lawmakers to look for ways to increase the number of mental health professionals to support this expansion, such as allowing practitioners to volunteer; offering loan repayment benefits for professionals, especially in rural areas; offering paid fellowship and internships; and streamlining licensure requirements.

There are more recommendations, but none that will make you say “yeah, that will definitely help”. Certainly, there’s nothing to try to keep high-risk people from getting guns, and nothing to prevent people under the age of 21 from buying them. Most of these recommendations are reactive in nature; one of the few that are proactive is the vulnerability assessment plan, which will expose problems that may or may not be able to be remediated. Why would we expect anything different? Oh, and as a reminder, the single biggest and most effective thing the state of Texas could do to improve access mental health care is to expand Medicaid. Yeah, yeah, I know. Reform Austin has more.

Texas drops appeal of ruling that forbade banning the sale of handguns to people under 21

Least surprising headline of the week. And month, and year, and pretty much any other arbitrary timeline you choose.

Texas will no longer fight to ban 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying handguns in public. A judge ruled earlier this year that a state law banning the practice was unconstitutional, and Texas initially filed a notice that it would appeal. But Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw withdrew the appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman’s ruling was the first major decision about Texas gun laws since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Second Amendment protected individuals who carry weapons for self-defense.

In September, the state filed a notice of appeal, which angered gun rights activists.

“Once again, government officials in the state of Texas are proven to be anti-gun stooges,” Dudley Brown, the president of the National Association for Gun Rights, said in a news release at the time.

Neither the notice of appeal nor the withdrawal listed legal arguments or reasons for doing so; DPS and the Texas attorney general’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

See here and here for the background. I’m quite certain that the legal reasoning behind this is “we never wanted to appeal this in the first place but there was an election coming up and we wanted to tread carefully, and now that everyone has been safely re-elected we can drop the pretense”. This was predictable enough to be visible from orbit. My question for the lawyers is, could some other group pick up the appeal in place of the state, the way the then-Republican Congress took up the defense of DOMA after the Obama administration dropped out? I don’t know what the conditions are for that.

The medical response also failed at Uvalde

This is a very hard story to read, with graphic descriptions of injuries suffered by the shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Click over very carefully, but whether you read or not know that the failures at the site of this shooting were not limited to law enforcement’s response.

The chaotic scene exemplified the flawed medical response — captured in video footage, investigative documents, interviews and radio traffic — that experts said undermined the chances of survival for some victims of the May 24 massacre. Two teachers and 19 students died.

Law enforcement’s well-documented failure to confront the shooter who terrorized the school for 77 minutes was the most serious problem in getting victims timely care, experts said. But previously unreleased records obtained by ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and The Washington Post for the first time show that communication lapses and muddled lines of authority among medical responders further hampered treatment.

Three victims who emerged from the school with a pulse later died. In the case of two of those victims, critical resources were not available when medics expected they would be, delaying hospital treatment for [teacher Eva] Mireles, 44, and student Xavier Lopez, 10, records show.

Another student, Jacklyn “Jackie” Cazares, 9, likely survived for more than an hour after being shot and was promptly placed in an ambulance after medics finally gained access to her classroom. She died in transport.

The disjointed medical response frustrated medics while delaying efforts to get ambulances, air transport and other emergency services to victims. Medical helicopters with critical supplies of blood tried to land at the school, but an unidentified fire department official told them to wait at an airport 3 miles away. Dozens of parked police vehicles blocked the paths of ambulances trying to reach victims.

Multiple cameras worn by officers and one on the dashboard of a police car showed just two ambulances positioned outside the school when the shooter was killed. That was not nearly enough for the 10 or more gunshot victims then still alive, though additional ambulances began arriving 10 minutes later. Six students, including one who was seriously wounded, were taken to a hospital in a school bus with no trained medics on board, according to Texas EMS records.

[…]

Although helicopters were available, none were used to carry victims directly from the school. At least four patients who survived were flown by helicopter to a more fully equipped trauma center in San Antonio after first being driven by ambulance to a nearby hospital or airport.

In public statements made since May, law enforcement officials have defended their officers’ actions as reasonable under difficult circumstances. Federal, state and local agencies that responded to the shooting have not directly addressed the medical response, nor did they answer detailed questions from the news organizations that worked jointly on this investigation.

Eric Epley, executive director of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, a nonprofit that helps coordinate trauma care in Southwest Texas during mass-casualty events, said medics encountered challenges, including a faulty radio system.

“These scenes are inherently confusing, challenging, and chaotic,” Epley said in an email. He later added, “We remain steadfast that the decisions by the on-scene medical leadership were sound and appropriate.”

The Texas Rangers, an arm of the state Department of Public Safety, are investigating what went wrong in Uvalde, including whether any victims might have survived if they had received prompt medical care. The local district attorney has said she will use that investigation to determine whether to charge anyone with a crime, including law enforcement officers.

[…]

It’s difficult to know whether Mireles or anyone else who died that day might have survived their wounds, in part because local officials have refused to release autopsy reports. But footage shows that Mireles was conscious and responsive when she was pulled from the classroom, an indicator that she probably had survivable wounds, according to medical experts.

“Had medics gotten to her quickly, there’s a good chance she would’ve survived,” said Babak Sarani, director of critical care at George Washington University Hospital.

The flawed coordination among police and medical crews echoes missteps during other mass shootings, despite the development of recommended practices after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. In several of those cases, the communication problems resulted in delays in getting medical care for victims.

Medics on helicopters and in ambulances who responded to the Uvalde shooting told investigators they were confused about who was in charge, where they should be stationed and how many victims to expect. Some of them pleaded to be allowed closer to the scene. In the absence of clear guidance, experts said medics did the best they could while trying to save lives.

“They were told, essentially, to go to the airport and wait,” according to an interview the Texas Rangers conducted with Julie Lewis, the regional manager for AirLIFE, an air medical transport service that sent three helicopters from the greater San Antonio area. “They couldn’t figure out who was in command.”

There’s a lot more. The bottom line is, as we have learned before, that there was no clear command structure, so those who were trying to help didn’t know who to talk or listen to and didn’t know what they needed to know to proceed. It remains the case that a lot of official information about what happened is still closely guarded and not available to reporters or the public. More infuriating is that we have learned what the best practices are to respond to one of these tragedies, as there have been so many to learn from, and yet the same type of failures keep happening. Given the regularity with which they occur in Texas and the certainty that the next one is a matter of when and not if, that failure is owned not just by local officials but also by our state “leaders”. We know that failure will continue, because they have no interest in doing anything about it. Go read the rest of the story if you can stand it.

More on the limits of social media monitoring for school violence prevention

Some good stuff from the DMN.

When Social Sentinel representatives pitched their service to Florida’s Gulf Coast State College in 2018, they billed it as an innovative way to find threats of suicides and shootings posted online. But for the next two years, the service found nothing dangerous.

One tweet notified the school about a nearby fishing tournament: “Check out the picture of some of the prizes you can win – like the spear fishing gun.”

Another quoted the lyrics from a hit pop song from 2010: “Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars? I could really use a wish right now.”

As police and administrators fielded a flood of alerts about posts that seemed to pose no threat, the company told the school in emails that it had eliminated more than half of all irrelevant alerts. Months later, they said the number had decreased by 80%. By January 2019, the company told schools its service flagged 90% fewer irrelevant posts.

But at Gulf Coast, the problem continued.

One alert from March 2019 read, “Hamburger Helper only works if the hamburger is ready to accept that it needs help.”

“Nothing ever came up there that was actionable on our end,” David Thomasee, the executive director of operations at Gulf Coast, said in an interview earlier this year. The college stopped using the service in April 2021.

Gulf Coast was not the only college inundated with irrelevant alerts. Officials from 12 other colleges raised concerns about the performance of Social Sentinel in interviews and emails obtained by The Dallas Morning News and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Only two of the 13, North Central Texas College and the University of W Connecticut, still use the service.

As schools and universities confront a worsening mental health crisis and an epidemic of mass shootings, Social Sentinel offers an attractive and low-cost way to keep students safe. But experts say the service also raises questions about whether the potential benefits are worth the tradeoffs on privacy.

Records show Social Sentinel has been used by at least 38 colleges in the past seven years, including four in North Texas. The total number is likely far higher — The company’s co-founder wrote in an email that hundreds of colleges in 36 states used Social Sentinel.

The News also analyzed more than 4,200 posts flagged by the service to four colleges from November 2015 to March 2019. None seem to contain any imminent, serious threat of violence or self-harm, according to a News
analysis, which included all of the posts obtained through public records requests.

Some schools contacted by The News said the service alerted them to students struggling with mental health issues. Those potential success stories were outweighed by complaints that the service flagged too many irrelevant tweets, interviews and emails between officials show. None of the schools could point to a student whose life was saved because of the service.

[…]

For one former Social Sentinel employee, it only took three days before they had serious doubts about the effectiveness of the service.

The worker estimated that 99.9% of the flagged posts sent to clients were not threatening. The service often crashed because it flagged too many posts. At least 40% of clients dropped the service every year, the employee said.

Over the course of several months, the employee repeatedly raised concerns with supervisors and fellow employees about flaws in the system, but those complaints were often ignored, the worker said.

The employee, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said problems with the service were an open secret at the company, and described it as “snake oil” and “smoke and mirrors.”

The News also contacted more than two dozen other former company employees, who either did not respond or said they had signed nondisclosure agreements preventing them from speaking publicly about their time at the company.

At the University of Texas at Dallas, which started using the service in 2018, campus police officers in charge of the service also grew increasingly skeptical of its performance, emails obtained through a records request show.

“Does the company have any data (not anecdotal) to show its success rate in mitigating harm or disaster through its alert system?” UT Dallas Police Lieutenant Adam Perry asked his chief in an email obtained by The News. The chief forwarded the email to a company employee who didn’t answer the question.

Perry said that while the school used the service, the technology never alerted police to legitimate threats of suicide or shootings.

“I think in concept, it’s not a bad program,” Perry said. “I just think they need to work on distinguishing what a real threat is.” UT Dallas ended its use of the service last year.

Ed Reynolds, police chief at the University of North Texas, defended the system, but also estimated that “99.9 percent (of the alerts) were messages we didn’t need to do anything with.” After using the service for about three years, UNT ended its contract with the company in November 2018.

As noted before, the Uvalde school district was among the ISDs in Texas that have used Social Sentinel. Putting my cybersecurity hat on for a minute, there are similar services in that space that do provide good value, but they have been around longer, there’s far more data on cyber threats, and it’s much easier to configure alerts for these services to very specific things, which greatly reduces the noise factor. I do think a service like this could be useful, but what we have now is not mature enough. More data and more analysis to help eliminate likely false positives before they show up in a customer’s alert feed are needed. Even with that, it’s still likely to be noisy and to require fulltime human analysis to get value out of it. For now, the best use of this is probably for academics. After they’ve had some time with it, then school districts and colleges might make use of it.

Uvalde class action lawsuit over mass shooting officially filed

We’ve been waiting for this.

Survivors of the fatal mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, have filed a $27 billion class action lawsuit against multiple law enforcement agencies in Texas, according to court documents.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Austin, names the city, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, the school district’s police department, the Uvalde Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety and a number of persons who are members or former members of the agencies listed as defendants.

The plaintiffs include parents and teachers and school staff members who were at the school May 24 when 19 students and two teachers were gunned down in adjoining classrooms just a few days before school was to let out for the summer. At least 17 others were wounded.

A total of 376 law enforcement officers from multiple agencies responded to the massacre, the second deadliest shooting on a K-12 school in the United States.

Officers waited 77 minutes after the shooter entered two adjoining classrooms before storming in and killing the gunman, an 18-year-old Uvalde resident.

The lawsuit alleges the victims and survivors “sustained emotional and psychological damages as a result of Defendants’ conduct and omissions” as a result of the shooting.

According to the lawsuit, despite active shooter training, law enforcement “fundamentally strayed from conducting themselves in conformity with what they knew to be the well-established protocols and standards for responding to an active shooter.”

The lawsuit went on to reference the dysfunction and extended time period law enforcement took to respond to the shooting.

“Instead of swiftly implementing an organized and concerted response to an active school shooter who had breached the otherwise ‘secured’ school buildings at Robb Elementary school, the conduct of the three hundred and seventy-six (376) law enforcement officials who were on hand for the exhaustively torturous seventy-seven minutes of law enforcement indecision, dysfunction, and harm, fell exceedingly short of their duty bound standards,” the suit claims.

[…]

The civil complaint is one of several around the massacre that seeks damages from a number of parties. One federal lawsuit filed earlier this week alleges nearly two dozen people and entities, including the gun manufacturer and store that provided the rifle used in the attack, were negligent and failed to protect a student who was killed. Other families filed a similar lawsuit in September.

See here and here for the background on this class action lawsuit, which we first heard about in August. As the story notes, there are separate lawsuits filed in September and earlier this week by different plaintiffs, mostly against the same defendants. As I’ve said before, I don’t know what the odds of success are – I’m more pessimistic than optimistic, but will be delighted to be proven wrong. I’ll be rooting for them regardless. NPR, Reuters, and KENS5 have more.

Another lawsuit filed by Uvalde parents

Another one to watch.

The mother of a 10-year-old killed in the Uvalde school shooting has filed a federal lawsuit against the gun-maker and seller, the city of Uvalde, its school district and several law enforcement officers.

Sandra Torres’ daughter Eliahna was one of 19 students and 2 teachers killed by an 18-year-old gunman at Robb Elementary in May.

“I miss her every moment of every day,” Torres said in a joint press release with her lawyers from Everytown for Gun Safety’s legal team and Texas-based LM Law Group. “I’ve brought this lawsuit to seek accountability. No parent should ever go through what I have.”

The new lawsuit alleges that Daniel Defense — the manufacturer of the shooter’s weapon — violated the Federal Trade Commission Act, arguing that the Georgia-based company’s marketing on social media and video games “prime young buyers to purchase AR-15-style rifles as soon as they are legally able.” Earlier this year, gun-maker Remington settled a lawsuit for $73 million with the Sandy Hook shooting victims’ families who had also targeted the company’s marketing.

Torres’ lawsuit also accused Oasis Outback of “reckless dereliction” of selling weapons to the 18-year-old shooter. Some store patrons later told the FBI that he had “appeared odd and looked like one of those school shooters.”

The suit also accuses various law enforcement officers of failing “to follow active shooter protocols.” It argues that their decision to treat the active shooter as a “barricaded subject” inside the two classrooms had violated the victims’ constitutional rights.

[…]

Many of these defendants have also been facing a federal lawsuit filed by the families of three student survivors in September, which alleges that the parties’ actions and negligence contributed to the shooting. This followed another claim filed in August seeking $27 billion from the school district and other government agencies to compensate the victims.

Numerous Uvalde officials and officers have also resigned or been fired over the past few months, and the school district also suspended its entire police department in October. Some are named in Torres’ lawsuit, including former Uvalde school district police Chief Pete Arredondo, Uvalde Police Department’s acting chief Lt. Mariano Pargas, as well as Texas Department of Public Safety’s troopers  Juan Maldonado andCrimson Elizondo.

See here and here for more on the earlier lawsuits; the former is a class action suit that I’m still not sure has actually been filed yet. The Chron adds some details.

The 77-page lawsuit accuses many of the defendants of contributing to wrongful death, negligence and violating the constitutional rights of Eliahna and other victims at Robb Elementary.

“Sometimes the only way you get justice is by filing a lawsuit,” said Blas Delgado of San Antonio, the lead lawyer for the Torres family. “There have been a lot of questions throughout the investigation, and we hope this also helps answer some of them.”

The suit alleges that Daniel Defense “markets its products to adolescent and young men using a range of channels, including social media content, product placements, and print advertising.

“For example, Daniel Defense promotes its products heavily on Instagram, a platform with a young user base,” the lawsuit states.

“Daniel Defense also places its products in video games, and then heavily promotes the video game tie-ins in the company’s social media accounts,” the suit said.

The gun manufacturer did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Salvador Ramos of Uvalde bought a DDM4 V7 rifle on Daniel Defense’s website for $2,054.28 on May 16, his 18th birthday.

On another website, he paid $1,761.50 for 1,740 rounds of ammunition for the rifle.

The next day, Ramos went to Oasis Outback and bought a Smith & Wesson M&P15 assault rifle for $1,081.42, the lawsuit said.

The day after that, the teenager went back to Oasis Outback to buy an additional 375 rounds of AR-15 ammunition.

Ramos returned to Oasis Outback again two days later, on May 20, to pick up his Daniel Defense rifle and bought accessories for the weapon.

“Oasis Outback had a duty not to sell weapons to the just-turned 18-year-old shooter, who it knew or reasonably should have known was likely to harm himself or others,” the suit said.

“The shooter was described by patrons of the store as having a nervous disposition and behaving suspiciously.”

“The shooter had purchased two extraordinarily lethal assault weapons and enough ammunition to fight off a small army, as well as a holographic sight and Hellfire Gen 2 trigger system, spending thousands of dollars within days of his 18th birthday,” it stated.

We’ve talked about Daniel Defense before. I’d love to see them at least feel compelled to settle, but suffice it to say I consider that an underdog. With SCOTUS as it is I fear they’re untouchable. But I hope to be proved wrong. Reform Houston and the Current have more.

DPS asks to be rewarded for its abject failure at Uvalde

I like to think that I don’t get easily shocked, but this did it to me.

The Texas Department of Public Safety wants $1.2 billion to turn its training center north of Austin into a full-time statewide law enforcement academy — starting with a state-of-the-art active-shooter facility that would need a nearly half-billion-dollar investment from Texas taxpayers next year.

“You play like you practice,” DPS Director Steve McCraw told budget officials last month. “You need to practice in a real environment.”

If approved, the requested $466.6 million “down payment,” as McCraw called it, in the state’s 2024-25 budget — which won’t be finalized until the middle of next year — would be the start of a six-year proposal to turn the nearly 200-acre Williamson County DPS Tactical Training Center complex in Florence into a Texas law enforcement academy for use by agencies across the state, he said.

The $1.2 billion project figure does not appear in the agency’s legislative appropriations request, which comes at a time when agencies are making their bids for a share of a historic state cash surplus in the next biennium — and against the backdrop of an emotional debate over what the state needs to do to prevent more mass killings.

A “state-of-the-art” active-shooter facility would be built with the first round of funding next year and could be used “right off the bat,” independent of the rest of the proposed upgrades, to immediately enhance active-shooter response by Texas law enforcement, McCraw said in a brief presentation before the Texas Legislative Budget Board on Oct. 4.

If fully funded over the next three budget cycles, the training academy would cost $1.2 billion and eventually include dormitories, a cafeteria and other elements, McCraw said.

“It’s a cost we recognize as a cost that can’t be borne in any one session. It takes time to build it,” McCraw said of the proposed academy.

He did not specify whether the center would charge fees for other law enforcement agencies to use the facility, if it would draw down any federal funding or what it would cost to run the center beyond the six-year construction budget.

DPS officials did not respond to repeated requests for a copy of the proposed plans for the active-shooter facility or the larger multiyear proposal for the academy, information about whether additional land purchases would be needed or the breakdown of the cost estimate for the upgrades.

The proposed active-shooter facility was part of a presentation made by McCraw to captains at the Texas Highway Patrol, an arm of the DPS, according to meeting minutes obtained by The Texas Tribune. The minutes said the facility would include the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program — an active-shooter response training system developed 20 years ago at Texas State University in San Marcos that has been the national standard for active-shooter training for a decade.

[…]

Pete Blair, executive director of the ALERRT center at Texas State, said his San Marcos facility is used for several types of first-responder training as well as active-shooter training on site.

Blair hasn’t seen the DPS plans for the proposed site but said a facility that would be considered state of the art might include reconfigurable walls, cameras and similar technological upgrades.

That’s the sort of technology that would be found at facilities like the federal Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility in Quantico, Virginia, which has 17 structures including a school scenario. Another of the nation’s top-tier facilities is at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Glynco campus, a 1,600-acre facility near Brunswick, Georgia.

Most of the quarter-million first responders the Texas ALERRT center has worked with in the past two decades were trained somewhere besides the Texas State center in San Marcos, Blair said.

“I will say there is a need for training facilities across the state,” Blair said. “We’ve always had more demand than we have money to provide training. So every cycle, it’s been a situation of us having to put departments on the waitlist and say, ‘We’re coming to you, but it’s going to be a while.’”

Here’s my proposal for DPS active shooter training: A single PowerPoint slide that says “Don’t stand around with your thumb up your ass while kids are being murdered.” I can deliver that for a lot less than $1.2 billion, and the results can’t possibly be any worse than what we already had. The idea that we could turn mass shooter situations into a growth industry is just…I can’t. I’m going to go eat some pie. Reform Austin.

Sen. Gutierrez begins his mission to be a pest about Uvalde

One of the things I’ll be watching this session.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio has pre-filed three bills ahead of Texas’ next legislative session that would reform state gun laws and set up a state fund to compensate victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde.

The two gun-related bills would establish high risk protective orders to keep firearms away from potentially dangerous people and raise the age limit to buy any firearm from 18 to 21.

The other proposal would set up a $300 million fund for Uvalde victims and their families and waive legal immunity for state and local law enforcement who responded to the Robb Elementary shooting on May 24.

“We are doing what should have been done after Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, El Paso, and Midland-Odessa,” the Democrat said in an emailed statement. “Making sure that young killers cannot get their hands on the weaponry that is used in most of these shootings.”

[…]

The next session of the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature session starts in January. So far, Texas GOP leaders have shown no willingness to impose new limits on gun ownership despite multiple high-profile mass killings across the state.

“It’s time for the killing in Texas to stop,” Gutierrez said. “We cannot continue to live in fear of going to school, going to church, shopping for groceries, and just living our lives.”

See here for the background. To be clear, many, many, many bills are filed every session. Few ever see the light of day, and fewer still even get a committee vote. Without Republican backing, these bills aren’t going anywhere. That’s where Sen. Gutierrez’s pledge to force debate by offering gun control measures as amendments on all sorts of other priority legislation comes into play, and is what I’ll be watching for. In the best case scenario, he manages to succeed and get one of these bills passed. More likely, he’s a thorn in Dan Patrick’s side. I’ll take either outcome.

If all we ever do are defensive measures, we’ll never make any progress

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do these things, although some of them definitely should be questioned. I am saying we can’t just do things like these.

The Texas Education Agency announced Thursday a plethora of proposals that would, among other changes, require public schools to install silent panic alarms and automatic locks on exterior doors.

Other proposals include inspecting doors on a weekly basis to make sure they lock and can be opened from the outside only with a key. Two-way emergency radios would also have to be tested regularly. Schools would need to add some sort of vestibules so visitors can wait before being let in, and all ground-level windows would have to be made with bulletproof glass.

These proposed requirements come about five months after a gunman killed 21 people, including 19 children, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. The gunman entered a door that had been closed by a teacher, but the automatic lock failed.

If approved, schools would have to start putting in place these safety measures starting in 2023. Before the end of this year, the education department will collect public comments on the proposed rules.

The state has allocated $400 million for increased safety measures that will be disbursed to districts. In the coming weeks, the education department will make a grant application available to districts. Districts will receive those grants based on enrollment, while smaller, rural schools will receive the minimum $200,000.

Proposing these safety measures is the latest action the state has taken to secure schools in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. In June, the education department announced that it would check all the locks on exterior doors prior to the start of the 2022-2023 school year and review every district’s school safety plans.

[…]

As Texas moves forward with different safety measures, experts have said there is no indication that beefing up security in schools has prevented violence. Rather, they can can be detrimental to children, especially Black and Hispanic children. Black students are overrepresented in all types of disciplinary referrals and are more likely to have their behavior addressed by school police officers than their white peers.

School districts also expressed concerns about the cost, because the Lege is famous for under-appropriating funds for things it mandates, and the ability to get this done by the deadline since every other district will be scrambling to do the same and there will be some competition for resources. I share the concern about how effective any of this is – remember that a lot of school shooters are current or former students at the schools in question and can often get through security checkpoints because of that – and of the negative effects on the children at the schools. We’re still dancing around the questions of law enforcement’s response to mass shooting incidents at schools, as certain key players continue to evade accountability. And we can’t even talk about restricting gun sales to people over the age of 21, for reasons that make no sense. There’s an extremely limited range of “solutions” to this problem that are politically acceptable to Republicans, and as long as they remain in power those are the only “solutions” we’re going to get, whether they have any effect or not.

Sen. Gutierrez vows to be a pest about Uvalde and gun control in the next session

I’m rooting for him.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

As he watched a couple load ice chests into their car at a gas station, something didn’t sit right with Roland Gutierrez. The pair were likely on their way to the lake to enjoy the late May sunshine in San Antonio—a normal way to spend the day, he knew. But Gutierrez, the state senator for District 19, couldn’t help thinking how surreal it is that life continues after a tragedy. He was on his way to Uvalde just days after an 18-year-old had opened fire on a classroom at Robb Elementary School, killing 19 students and two teachers.

“I was thinking how sad it is that … we move on with our lives,” Gutierrez said when we met at his San Antonio law office in September. “It’s not an unnatural thing. I get it. When these things happen, we always say, ‘Oh, it’s just too bad. I feel so sorry for those people.’”

Gutierrez represents a massive district that stretches from his hometown of San Antonio west to Big Bend National Park, encompassing a broad swath of southwest Texas, including Uvalde. The Democrat is relatively new to the Texas Senate, taking office in January 2021. His campaign had promised certain priorities: to push for legalized marijuana, to bolster mental health resources for rural Texans, and to improve public schools. Although he hasn’t dropped these issues, nearly all of his public appearances since May have been about Uvalde.

The shooting “changed me for sure,” Gutierrez said. “I won’t be a singular-issue public servant, but it has become a very, very big issue in my life and in the lives of these new friends that I’ve made. … For these parents … there’s no issue out there that matters if you don’t have your kid.”

Gutierrez, a father of two girls aged 15 and 13, has emerged as one of the most vocal lawmakers in the shooting’s aftermath. He called for accountability from the agencies that responded to the killings, appealed to Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session on gun laws, and sued the Texas Department of Public Safety and its powerful chief Steve McCraw to try and force the release of more records about the massacre. The state police agency’s response to the Uvalde shooting only deepened his concern. He’s been skeptical of DPS ever since the launch of the “bullshit propaganda machine for Greg Abbott” that is Operation Lone Star, the multi-billion-dollar border security initiative in which state troopers play a starring role.

[…]

If re-elected, Gutierrez said, he’ll go into the 2023 legislative session with a no-excuses plan: force the issue on gun reform. He plans to spearhead legislation on age increases for gun purchases, expanded background checks, and red flag laws. If that doesn’t work, he said he’ll force debate by offering gun control measures as amendments on all sorts of other priority legislation.

“If they don’t want to talk about guns, and they don’t want to talk about gun violence in this state, well, I’m going to be talking about it,” Gutierrez said. “We’ll have Uvalde families in there. … As far as I can see, those families aren’t going to stop, nor should they.”

I’m sure there are plenty of procedural ways in which he can make a pain of himself – Dems have had some success in this department in recent years, though generally speaking at some point the weight of the majority wins, if not in the same session. I would hope that he’ll have plenty of company – it’s clear that one of the Republican goals for this session is to limit Democrats’ influence, so it’s not like there’s much to lose. Not everyone needs to be actively involved with this, but plenty of Dems will have little else of substance to do, most likely. May as well make some political hay – if you want the public that agrees with you on the issues to support you in the next election, you have to make sure they know who is and is not on their side.

Sen. Gutierrez is already at work on this.

Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez released call logs Monday that he said show Gov. Greg Abbott waited hours after the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School to have phone conversations about the tragedy with the state’s top cop.

Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, said the late timing of the three calls Abbott made on May 24, the date of the shooting, to the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, shows the Republican governor’s lack of concern.

So do their brevity, the Democratic senator added. Records show the three calls totaled 31 minutes.

“That’s not what leaders do, but that’s what this person did,” said Gutierrez, who shared the call logs during a Monday press conference.

[…]

During his Monday press event, Gutierrez said he received the call logs 60 days ago but declined to share them until now because he wanted to give the state’s investigation into the shooting “the benefit of the doubt.”

However, Gutierrez said he’s dismayed by the lack of transparency from both DPS and Abbott’s office around the shooting. He also accused the governor of bankrolling recent ads against him.

“If he wants to play politics with me and with South Texas, then we’re going to tell the truth,” Gutierrez said.

“This man has done absolutely nothing, which is why we’re sharing this today,” the senator added.

I might have acted sooner than that, but at least we’re all clear about who has good faith. This will definitely be worth watching come January.

More on hoax school shooter reports

I don’t know when this ends, but I continue to be worried that they will cause a major problem eventually.

This year has seen a significant number of hoax calls across the country. In the three weeks between mid-September and early October, according to an NPR analysis, local news reports documented 113 false calls across the country. Experts say this increase isn’t surprising given that most school shootings inspire copycats to call in false reports of shootings to law enforcement.

The source of these fake threats remains largely unknown. Law enforcement said some originated from local agitators, while others appeared to come from as far away as Ethiopia, NPR reported.

Regardless of the source, Texas law enforcement agencies say all threats are treated as credible until an investigation proves otherwise. But before threats are deemed hoaxes, law enforcement and parents must grapple with the very real fear that another mass shooting could be underway.

The families with children at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers, also clashed with police outside the building on the day of the tragedy. Law enforcement took over an hour to confront the shooter, despite the fact that some officers knew children were calling 911 from the classrooms. Police outside the building prevented parents from entering the school, even putting some parents in handcuffs.

Prior to the shooting in Uvalde, the chaotic scene outside of Jefferson High School last month wasn’t the norm, said Deputy Chief David Hightower with the San Antonio Police Department.

“Now we see an increase in parents wanting to sort of take matters into their own hands in order to retrieve their children,” Hightower said.

He said the protocols for responding to active-shooter threats have not changed since the Uvalde shooting, but the heightened anxiety of parents and officers reflects the trauma still resonating across Texas. As a result of elevated fears, Hightower said there have been more officers assigned to communicating with parents.

One of the most recent examples of false active shooter threats in Texas was on Monday, when there was a false active-shooter call at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio. Police evacuated the roughly 500 students from the campus in response. After the lockdown was lifted, school officials said they would make counseling available for its students.

“Events like this shake everyone to the core,” said Kathy Martinez-Prather, the director of the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University. “It is definitely a situation that is at the top of mind of parents right now.”

Martinez-Prather added students are sharing in the anxiety, which she sees as an opportunity to teach schools about how to remain vigilant. Communicating with teachers and students about how to identify potential threats or concerning behavior is one area Martinez-Prather said schools can target to improve school safety. She also pointed to a guide for parents that details key components of school safety as another communication tool.

See here for some background. I couldn’t get all the ay through that story about the 911 calls from Robb Elementary, it was too upsetting. As I said before, when one of these happened at Heights High School, I think the first job is for law enforcement to make extra sure they not only know what their response procedures are but also that they know how they will operate with other agencies that arrive – at HHS, there was HPD, the Sheriff, various Constables, and I’m sure HISD’s police force in response – and who is in charge. And they very much need to communicate that to the parents, who have a justifiable fear following the tragedy at Robb that they can’t simply rely on law enforcement. That’s a problem in itself, and one of many other things that our state leadership has failed to address after this massacre. It’s on the locals in their absence, and I hope they realize that.

We have different definitions of “failure”

And by “we”, I mean DPS head Steve McCraw and everybody else.

Weeks after Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said he would resign if his troopers had “any culpability” in the botched police response to the Uvalde school shooting, he told families calling for his resignation Thursday that the agency has not failed as an institution.

“If DPS as an institution — as an institution — failed the families, failed the school or failed the community of Uvalde, then absolutely I need to go,” McCraw said during a heated Public Safety Commission meeting. “But I can tell you this right now: DPS as an institution, right now, did not fail the community — plain and simple.”

McCraw made the remark during a frazzled nearly 15 minutes of comments after several families of the 19 children who were killed spoke during the meeting’s public hearing portion. Two teachers were also killed during the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary.

At least three sets of relatives — as well as state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio — addressed McCraw, sharing the pain they endure every day and castigating government officials who have failed to release accurate and complete information about the shooting since it occurred.

“Typically when situations like this come up, you expect people to tell you the truth, to be transparent, to own up to their mistakes — nothing much to it,” said an uncle of Jackie Cazares, one of the children killed. “But every single time, it seemed like a lie after lie, misinformation, roadblock after roadblock. You can’t begin the healing process.”

Last week, DPS fired the first trooper in connection to the incident, Sgt. Juan Maldonado, who was one of the first and most senior troopers to get to the school. The agency revealed in September at least five troopers were under investigation for their conduct that day.

[…]

As he spoke, relatives of the victims who were present in the room appeared infuriated. Looking at the leader of the state’s top law enforcement agency, they broke their stare to shake their heads.

Afterward, McCraw told the commission he wanted any families present to have an opportunity to respond.

Brett Cross, whose 10-year-old nephew Uziyah Garcia was among the children killed, walked to a podium.

“Are you a man of your word?” Cross asked.

“Absolutely,” McCraw said.

“Then resign,” Cross responded.

Honestly, I can’t add anything to that. I approve of this message. Texas Public Radio has more.

There’s a wave of hoax school shooting reports around the country

Weird and scary.

When Emmi Conley first heard in September about a rash of hoax calls reporting active shooters in schools, she dismissed it. Conley, an extremism researcher who studies groups and people behind public displays of violence, said she found no indication that these calls were connected to fringe online spaces where these pranks often originate.

But as the number of these reports swelled over time, Conley said she began to discern some very strange patterns — including the possibility that the calls may have come from overseas, and perhaps specifically from Africa.

“The scale and the timeline of the events is highly, highly unusual,” she said. “The calls are consistent. They are coordinated. They are grouped state-by-state and district-by-district, and they’re also sustained. So somebody is putting significant effort to keep these going.”

As Conley began digging further, more questions emerged. Elements of these calls were notably different than what she has typically seen in school-based threats. Nobody has taken credit for these calls, even as they stretched over several weeks, and the technological planning and research behind the calls betrayed a level of sophistication not typically seen.

In a statement, the FBI has said it is aware of the incidents, but has “no information to indicate a specific and credible threat.”

The agency said it is working with law enforcement at every level to investigate the cases. But some news reports, including in Minnesota and Louisiana, have cited local authorities who said the calls may be originating in Africa or, specifically, Ethiopia. The FBI would not comment on this detail.

For Conley, particulars around these calls suggest that the people or person behind them are, indeed, overseas.

“Our big questions now are whose attention are they after?” she said. “Is it the public? Law enforcement? Media? Something else? And why they’re after it?”

The story notes that schools in multiple states have been receiving bomb threat calls since March, and in five states there was more than one such call on the same day in April. This is a form of “swatting”, which is a term that refers to calls that falsely report an act of violence in progress or about to occur. Such calls have themselves sometimes resulted in violence as part of the police response. I’ve written about some recent local examples of similar hoax reports, and while Texas is not mentioned in that NPR story, there’s no reason to think whoever is behind this couldn’t target our state as well. As I said before, this is a grim reminder to school districts and police forces that they need to be thinking about this kind of situation and make sure they have plans in place to respond. Unfortunately, it looks like they need to have a plan in place for dealing with false alarms as well.

In which I pay a few minutes’ attention to the Miss USA pageant

What can I say? I love some controversy in niche competitive events.

R’Bonney Gabirel

Just days after Miss Texas USA R’Bonney Gabriel was crowned Miss USA, several other contestants have accused the pageant of favoritism and rigging the competition.

During the live broadcast, several contestants walk off stage as Gabriel was crowned instead of congratulating her. In the days after the pageant, some contestants have aired their grievances on social media.

“I think the most important thing is that all the contestants feel like they have a fair shot at the crown and that starts with more transparency in judging,” said Miss District of Columbia Faith Porter in an interview with ABC news.

Miss Montana USA Heather O’Keefe published several videos on Instagram and TikTok, claiming Gabriel had an unfair advantage and said the sponsors showed a preference for Gabriel.

“Most of the Miss USA contestants feel very strongly that there was favoritism towards Miss Texas USA and we have the receipts to prove it,” she said in her TikTok video.

Nancy Shuster, director of talent and media relations, said in a statement the current allegations made by the 2022 Miss USA class of 2022 are misleading and simply not factual. Shuster said the misunderstanding is the fact that Mia Beauté is a sponsor of the State Miss Texas USA Pageant and a sponsor of the National Miss USA Pageant. Mia Beauté has also recently opened a location at Nizuc Resort and Spa, which is also a sponsor of the national Miss USA Pageant.

Shuster said Gabriel did multiple sponsor visits, one with Mia Beauté, at which time they proposed that she finally visit Nizuc Spa. She said Gabriel paid for her own flight.

“Just as other contestants have been engaged by other sponsors before competing and or winning at the National level, Mia Beauté wanted to use R’Bonney’s diversity and representation as the first Filipina American to win Miss Texas USA,” Shuster said in a statement.

Ms. Gabriel has denied the allegations, as you might expect.

New Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel is denying allegations pageant officials favored her over other contestants, asserting the competition was not “rigged.”

Speaking to E! News, Gabriel said she would “never enter any pageant or any competition that I know I would win.”

“I have a lot of integrity,” she added.

Gabriel, the first Filipino-American woman to win the title, is a model and fashion designer who competed as Miss Texas USA. Her win was questioned by contestants after the pageant as questions swirled on social media as to why most of the Miss USA contestants walked off the stage after Gabriel was crowned.

[…]

Gabriel told E! she was open to talking to her fellow contestants.

“I want to be transparent, and I want everybody to know that there was no unfair advantage and nothing was rigged,” she said.

The Miss Universe Organization told the New York Post it is investigating the claims.

“We are aware of the concerns that have been brought forth by this year’s Miss USA contestants,” the organization told The Post in an emailed statement. “We commend the women for bringing these issues to our attention and will always be an organization that encourages women to use their voice.

“We firmly believe everyone has a right to express their thoughts and experiences without retaliation and bullying,” the statement said. “There are existing systems in place to ensure the fairness of our national competitions and as such we have begun an active review into this situation.”

I have done no further research and have no opinion on whether any of the allegations have merit. I’m not that interested in finding out and very likely won’t post any followups unless something really interesting comes up. But I do have an interest in our new Miss USA, because of this.

Within days of receiving her crown, new Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel of Friendswood sparked debate in that city after a publication reported her stance against Texas’ laws on abortion.

Insider reported that Gabriel said that “as a woman, and as a Texan, it was extremely disappointing” to see the state’s near-total ban on abortions that went into effect after the Supreme Court removed federal protections on the procedure. State law only allows an exception for medical emergencies that threaten the mother’s life or impair a “major bodily function.”

[…]

Insider reported that Gabriel, a 28-year-old model and clothing designer, said of abortion, “At the end of the day, I would want a woman to be able to have that decision. In Texas, even if it’s rape or incest, abortion is still illegal — and I disagree with that.”

Chateara Jackson, 30, a Houston resident who works in Friendswood, said of Gabriel, “She’s standing up for what she believes in, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think a lot of people have the same viewpoint, and she just spoke about it.”

Friendswood resident Joshua Garcia, 22, said he identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ communities and is used to his community speaking out for rights and beliefs.

“With Texas traditionally being a red state and her having the power she has, she’s using her voice,” Garcia said. “It can be hard to speak out on something that can be so controversial. I think it might make old people uncomfortable if they’re fixed in their old ways of thinking.”

Democratic activist John Cobarruvias, whose children attend schools in Friendswood, said Gabriel’s statement represents a generational shift.

“This issue has energized young women, and I’m glad that she spoke out,” he said.

Here’s the Insider story, in which she also expressed dismay with Texas’ ridiculous gun laws. Gotta say, this is refreshing and more than a little unexpected, given the nature of pageant culture. Whatever the case, I welcome her words and hope that if she gets invited to a photo op of some kind with one of our state elected officials that she tells them the same things to their faces.

Uvalde school district suspends its entire police force

Um, wow.

Uvalde school officials on Friday suspended all of the district police department’s activities following the firing of a recently hired district officer who was revealed to have been among the first state troopers to respond to the deadly school shooting in May.

Lt. Miguel Hernandez and Ken Mueller were placed on leave, and other officers employed with the department will fill other roles in the district, according to a Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District press release issued Friday. Mueller decided to retire, the release said.

The release did not specify why Hernandez and Mueller were placed on leave. A district spokesperson did not immediately return phone and email messages.

The decision arrived 10 days after protesters set up at the UCISD administrative building to demand the removal of officers from campus grounds until investigations into the police department’s response to the shooting are complete.

The district said decisions regarding the future of the department had been pending the results of two investigations, but it suspended the department’s activities Friday citing “recent developments that have uncovered additional concerns with department operations.”

[…]

Upon suspending the police department, the district asked DPS for extra troopers for campus and extra-curricular activities, according to the Friday news release.

Berlinda Arreola, the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, a 10-year-old who was among the 19 students killed in the shooting, was walking into her workplace when she received an email with news about the suspension of the school district’s police department. Arreola told her supervisor she had to go.

“Go go go go,” the boss told her.

She went to meet other family members of the victims, who have been gathering outside the school district to protest. Arreola said she hugged everybody.

“This was a huge step,” she said. “But there’s still a lot of, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done and so we’re going to continue the fight because we’re not done.”

I did not follow the story of the former DPS trooper, whose name is Crimson Elizondo, who was hired by the Uvalde police despite being under investigation by DPS for the way she responded to the shooting. You can read the story and click the links to catch up as needed. I’m just trying to think of something remotely analogous to this in my memory, and I cannot. I am absolutely stunned. Texas Public Radio has more.

Texas to appeal that ridiculous ruling that forbade banning handgun sales to those under 21

Good. Now we’ll see if their heart is in it.

Texas is gearing up to fight a judge’s ruling that the state can’t ban adults under 21 from carrying handguns, a move that’s drawing anger from some gun rights groups.

Last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office filed a notice of an appeal of the ruling on behalf of the Texas Department of Public Safety. It came almost a month after U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, issued the original ruling on Aug. 25, writing that the Second Amendment protects all adults’ right to bear arms without an age limit. The suit was brought on by two plaintiffs within the 18-to-20 age range and the Firearms Policy Coalition Inc. against the state of Texas.

The notice, which includes Paxton’s name on the filing, did not say the ground on which it would base its appeal. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for DPS said the agency does not comment on pending legal cases.

But in prior filings in the case, the state has argued that the law does not violate the Second Amendment as it is consistent with Texas’ “longstanding tradition” of restricting access to guns based on age.

See here for the background, and here for a reminder that Greg Abbott is either a bad lawyer, a bad liar, or both. A couple of gun-worship groups are quoted as being disappointed in this decision; I’m sure you can imagine my reaction. I’m glad that the state didn’t just punt on this, but I’ll want to see how they actually act before I give them any credit for it beyond that.

Uvalde parents file lawsuit against multiple defendants

Keep an eye on this one.

The first major lawsuit has been filed over the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde by the families of three surviving students.

“The horrors of May 24, 2022, were only possible because so many in positions of power were negligent, careless, and reckless,” Stephanie B. Sherman, the lead attorney in the case, said in a statement.

Defendants in the federal lawsuit include the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, the city of Uvalde, former school district Police Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, suspended Uvalde Police Lt. Mariano Pargas and then-Robb Principal Mandy Gutierrez.

The families also are suing Daniel Defense, the Georgia manufacturer of the assault-style rifle Salvador Ramos, 18, used in the massacre; gun accessory maker Firequest International Inc., over a mechanism that makes a semi-automatic rifle fire like an automatic; Uvalde gun shop Oasis Outback LLC, which transferred guns Ramos purchased online to the mass shooter; lock manufacturer Schneider Electric, over alleged problems with locks on Robb Elementary doors; and Motorola Solutions, over issues with a dispatch communications system that complicated the police response.

Another defendant: an unknown company, John Doe Company 1, that the lawsuit said the district contracted with to ensure security measures were in place and effective.

The 81-page lawsuit, filed in Del Rio, accuses most defendants of negligence, inaction or defective products or systems that enabled Ramos to buy the firearm, ammunition and gun accessories he used to kill 19 students and two teachers. He wounded 16 others.

[…]

“Due to the conduct of the school and police, and the deliberate choices of the gun makers and sellers to directly market their lethal weapons to young untrained civilians, the shooter bought and assembled a military grade assault weapon with 30-round magazines days after his 18th birthday…,” the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs include Corina Camacho, the mother of G.M., a 10-year-old boy who was shot in the leg in classroom 112; Tanisha Rodriguez, the mother of G.R., a 9-year old girl who was playing with classmates on the playground when Ramos began firing; and Selena Sanchez and Omar Carbajal, the parents of D.J., an 8-year-old boy who saw the shooter firing as the boy headed from the gym to the nurse’s station.

Sherman and Monique Alarcon, Texas-based attorneys for the Baum Hedlund law firm of California, and attorney Shawn Brown of San Antonio allege a host of civil claims, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, product liability and violations of due process, among others.

The suit seeks undetermined compensatory damages against all defendants and punitive damages against all the defendants except the school district and the city.

There was a class action lawsuit announced in August that perhaps hasn’t been filed yet. The intended defendants are roughly the same, but I see in those earlier stories that there was no mention of who the plaintiffs were, and I believe that’s because the final paperwork hasn’t been filed yet. Of greatest interest to me is the inclusion of the gun manufacturer and sellers – there’s a legal example to follow, but I don’t know how effective it will be. Let’s just say that I wish these plaintiffs, and those who follow them, a lot of luck. The Trib has more.

Another hoax shooting situation

And this one shows another challenge for school districts and law enforcement to reckon with.

After a lockdown at Jefferson High School sent worried parents to the school, the San Antonio Independent School District says it will enhance communications with families in such situations.

On Tuesday, a report of a shooting at Jefferson High School caused the campus to lock down, sparking a chaotic scene outside the school as panicked parents waited for updates. As school district police officers and other law enforcement searched the campus and found the report to be unfounded, verbal disputes erupted between parents and officers. Some parents had to be physically restrained from entering the school. A few parents grappled with police.

The incident showed how parents of school-age children remain concerned about school safety — and law enforcement response — in the wake of the May 24 Uvalde mass school shooting that left 21 dead. School officials said it’s possible the report of a shooting was a hoax.

Superintendent Jaime Aquino sent a letter Wednesday to all district families praising local law enforcement for responding quickly to the shooting report and explaining the district’s lockdown procedures.

“Yesterday, our officers worked seamlessly with the officers from the San Antonio Police Department as part of our unified command protocol,” he wrote in the letter, adding that 29 district officers and 58 San Police Department officers quickly arrived at the scene.

But as the crowd of parents at the scene grew larger, resource officers informed parents they weren’t allowed to enter and that students could not be released because of the lockdown. Parents grew angry and frustrated as they waited for updates on the situation.

An hour and a half after the first notification to parents, the district informed them that no evidence of a shooting had been found, but by that time some physical altercations had broken out on the steps of the high school.

In his letter, Aquino stated that when a school is locked down, students and staff cannot be released “until officers determine that the threat has been resolved, give clearance, and lift the lockdown.”

To improve communication in such incidents, Aquino said the district will send staff to the campus to keep families on the scene informed of what is happening.

See here and here for some background. As before, I don’t blame any of the parents for their reactions. To me, the lesson here is that schools and police need to recalibrate their responses to take into account the level of anxiety parents are (justifiably!) feeling these days. They need to come up with a strategy that allows for quicker and more direct communication to parents, both those who are at the school that has had a (thankfully fake) report of a shooting, and to those who haven’t yet shown up at the school. It’s in everyone’s best interests to do so. I hope HISD is paying attention to this.

Now we’re dealing with hoax shootings

A new thing we need to be prepared for.

Texas and other states have experienced hoax shootings, but experts say these threats shouldn’t be taken lightly. Research shows that if someone is going to commit a mass shooting there is a good chance they’ll drop hints beforehand.

Sometimes it’s just a student testing the system, said Julia Andrews, director of Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools, an organization that develops best practices for school security systems.

“Sometimes, it can mean getting out of school early, avoiding a test or just seeking attention,” Andrews said. “We are now seeing a lot of copycat threats, but we must take all threats seriously.”

However, schools need to be prepared when that isn’t the case, she said.

An analysis of 170 perpetrators of mass shootings found that nearly half leaked their intention to act violently, with 44 percent of them leaking specific details of their plans, according to a 2021 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

For decades, school’s have experienced bomb threats, but this many shooting threats — happening at the same time — is unusual, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

“For false bomb threats we have those better figured out, but with a false active shooter situation we’re not there at all,”Canady said, “because we’re dealing with this new trend.”

[…]

In recent years, these threats have likely become more prevalent with the rise of social media, said Zachary Kaufman, the co-director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston.

“Social media and (cell) phones have enabled such hoaxes to be made easier, quicker,” Kaufman said, “and seemingly more genuine than ever.”

See here for the background. As the story and my Facebook commenters noted, there were other hoax reports that day (in Waco, Eanes, and Pflugerville) and the next day, in Klein ISD. That feels a lot more precarious and unsettling than a one off to me. I don’t know what to do about it, I’m just flagging it for your attention. I’m glad to see there are people in the field who do have expertise in this. I really hope they won’t be called on to use it very often.

The active shooter hoax at our neighborhood school

This made for a super eventful Tuesday afternoon.

Police and panicked parents scrambled to Heights High School Tuesday afternoon, in frantic response to a false report that a gunman had shot 10 people in a room on the 2,400-student Houston ISD campus.

The school went into lock down around 1 p.m., and police officers found the room locked and immediately breached the door, according to Chief Troy Finner. Two sweeps of the school found nothing, according to the Houston Police Department.

“We have no injuries here,” Finner said at a news briefing as a crowd of parents stood at an intersection near the high school. “Thank god for that.”

Officials intend to determine who made the hoax call and hold that person accountable. Finner said police believe the call may have come from outside the school.

“There was no active shooter here — there was a fight,” said Constable Alan Rosen.

An email notified parents later that Heights High, as well as nearby Hogg Middle and Harvard and Travis Elementary schools, were placed in lockdown.

“As a precautionary measure, we went into lockdown mode,” Heights Principal Wendy Hampton said in an email to parents. “Houston Police Department and HISD Police are onsite and continue to investigate, though no evidence has been found to substantiate the threat. We take all threats seriously as the safety of our students and staff is always our top priority.”

As it happens, I had to go into the office Tuesday afternoon. I was headed out a little after 1 PM, and was on Studewood going towards the I-10 entrance when I saw three HPD cars with lights and sirens going headed the other way at full speed. I didn’t give it much thought until after I had arrived at the office, took a minute to check Twitter, and found out what was happening. I don’t currently have any kids at Heights or the other schools that got locked down, but my kids have friends there and I have friends and neighbors who have kids at all of them. It was pretty stressful, to say the least, and I had the luxury of not having to be frantic about my own kids. My thoughts today remain with those parents and those kids.

Shannon Velasquez burst into tears on Tuesday afternoon as she waited on the sidewalk near Heights High School, where her daughter and hundreds more students were locked down in their classrooms after someone made a false report about a mass shooting.

The mother knew her daughter was fine — she had spoken with the sophomore student on FaceTime as she sped to school from work.

Still, she could not shake a horrible feeling, and her frustration bubbled over as she heard conflicting information from parents and officers about where she should go to reunite with her child.

“As if this isn’t bad enough?” she said. “I just can’t wait to put my arms around my kid.”

Anxiety, panic and confusion erupted on Tuesday afternoon in the residential streets surrounding Heights High School. Personnel from at least eight law enforcement agencies sped to the scene with lights and sirens. Panicked parents rushed from jobs and lunch appointments. Some drivers ditched their cars on the grassy median along Heights Boulevard, and walked or ran several blocks to the school.

Parents gathered information from their children, other parents, news reports and officials — eventually learning that their kids were safe and the massive frenzy actually stemmed from a false alarm.

Still, some parents said they were frustrated by sparse communication from the school, district or law enforcement agencies, although HISD and law enforcement agencies have defended their response.

[…]

Luis Morales, HISD spokesman, said notifications went out to parents 23 minutes after the district became aware of the situation.

“We were able to get that out a quicker than we have before,” Morales said, adding that the district must verify information before sending out notifications.

Chief Troy Finner said during a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon that he sympathized with parents who were frustrated. But safety comes before notifications, he said.

“We have to search the school. That is the most important thing — to stop the threat if there’s a threat,” he said. “We don’t have time to call. Once we make it safe, we start making those calls.”

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said more than two dozen units from HFD responded to the scene. The first unit arrived two minutes after HFD received the call, he said, and quickly began coordinating a rescue team with police.

“The community expects the first responders to get on scene quickly, to get on scene and coordinate and start taking action as soon as they get on scene,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did.”

I have nothing but sympathy for the parents here. I was scrambling around looking for accurate information too, and the stakes were much lower for me. I have no doubt I’d have been out of my mind and super upset at how long it took to get updates. I also have a lot of sympathy for HISD and HPD, who were understandably reluctant to get out ahead of what they knew. I don’t have a good answer for this.

As relieved as we all are that this turned out to be nothing, we have to talk about the law enforcement response, since that is an obvious item of interest after Uvalde. In addition to HPD, there were deputies from the Precinct 1 Constable and the Sheriff’s office at the scene, and I assume there were some HISD cops as well. We do know that HPD entered Heights HS in search of the alleged shooter, which is good to know, but we don’t know more than that about who was in charge and who was making what decisions. Given what we know about the thoroughly botched response in Uvalde, this should be used as an opportunity for HPD and HISD to review their processes, make sure they have agreements in place, and so on. In the end, thankfully this was just a drill. We damn well better learn from it.

Five DPS agents being investigated for their Uvalde actions

It’s a start. It just can’t be the end.

Five Texas Department of Public Safety officers who responded to the Uvalde school shooting in May will face an investigation into their actions at Robb Elementary, the agency said.

The officers were referred to the inspector general’s office, which will determine if they violated any policies in their response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, said DPS spokesperson Travis Considine. The inspector general’s office will also determine if the five officers will face disciplinary actions.

The investigation was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE.

[…]

The announcement of an investigation into five DPS officers coincided with the first day of classes for Uvalde students, which marks 15 weeks since the shooting. Following Arredondo’s firing, residents called for further accountability from public officials, including the firing of school district employees.

Arnulfo Reyes, a Robb Elementary teacher who was shot and injured in Room 111, said the investigation into DPS officers “will give the families a sense of accountability” that they’ve demanded.

Reyes didn’t go back to teach his fourth-grade class Tuesday because he is still mentally and physically recovering from injuries to his left arm and lower back. Before the gunman was confronted, Reyes could hear officers outside of his classroom trying to negotiate with the 18-year-old. When officers stopped talking, Reyes thought the officers had “abandoned” him and his students.

He added that he hopes other agencies’ officers are also investigated.

“It’s a glimmer of hope that there will be justice served,” Reyes said.

The story goes into the House committee investigation and report, and the responses from DPS director Steve McCraw, among other things with which we are familiar. I say this is a good start because there needs to be a transparent investigation into everyone’s actions on that horrible day. It’s not just Pete Arredondo and the local cops, and it’s also not just DPS. We need a full accounting of what happened, with consequences as needed for those who should face them. Until then, this is all unfinished business.

Abbott weasels on raising the minimum age to buy an assault weapon

Typical.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that it would be unconstitutional to increase the minimum age to buy assault-style rifles from 18 to 21 years old — a key proposal Uvalde parents have called for after an 18-year-old gunned down their children’s school in May.

“It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde — as much as they may want it — has already been ruled as unconstitutional,” Abbott said at a reelection campaign event in Allen.

The gunman in Uvalde bought two AR-15-style rifles days after he turned 18, the legal purchasing age in Texas, and used those weapons to kill 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Texas Senate Democrats have asked for a special legislative session to increase the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. Families of Uvalde victims and survivors also have pushed for a three-year increase to the legal purchasing age.

[…]

In the days after the shooting in Uvalde, Abbott was asked if he would consider banning assault-style weapons for 18-year-olds. The governor at the time appeared hesitant.

“Ever since Texas has been a state, an 18-year-old has had the ability to buy a long gun, a rifle. Since that time, it seems like it’s only been in the past decade or two that we’ve had school shootings. For a century and a half, 18-year-olds could buy rifles and we didn’t have school shootings. But we do,” Abbott said. “Maybe we’re focusing our attention on the wrong thing.”

Abbott that day was immediately interrupted by state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who said, “Your own colleagues are telling me, calling me and telling me an 18-year-old shouldn’t have a gun. This is enough. Call us back, man.”

“Simply doing nothing is about as evil as it comes,” Gutierrez later said in June.

See here for the ruling Abbott refers to. I’ll get to the legal stuff in a minute, but first as you might imagine, not everyone cared for this response.

A video of Abbott making the claim circulated on social media, drawing reactions from Texas leaders and Uvalde parents. Brett Cross, father 8-year-old victim Uziyah Garcia’s father, tweeted a video in response to Abbott, noting the “parents matter” signs.

“What parents are you referring to actually? Because it’s not us in Uvalde,” Cross said. Cross also claimed that during a conversation he had in person with Abbott, the governor shut down any talks about changing gun laws because it wouldn’t have changed anything. Abbott allegedly pointed to the 17-year-old gunman from the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018, Cross said.

“Except it would have,” Cross said. “You see that piece of s–t that murdered our children legally bought that damn gun. You could do something about it. You’re just too chicken s–t to do it. So don’t sit there and act like you’re for the people, that you’re for the parents, that you’re for the children, because you don’t give a damn.”

Cross continued: “But I implore you, make a liar out of me. Call a special session. Or don’t and prove me right. The choice is yours buddy.”

Abbott’s office did not immediately on Wednesday return a request for comment on his conversation with Cross.

The video also drew reactions from other Texas leaders. Austin Mayor Steve Adler tweeted in response: “Seven states have raised the minimum age to 21. It is possible.”

Abbott’s Democratic gubernatorial opponent Beto O’Rourke denied the governor’s claim, writing on Twitter: “Yes, it is. And thanks to the leadership of the families in Uvalde, we are going to do it.”

David Hogg, gun control activist and survivor of the Stoneman Douglass High School shooting tweeted: “Bulls–t we did it in Florida.”

The most obvious thing to point out here is that this ruling can be, and should be appealed. Indeed, the judge in question put his ruling on hold for 30 days pending appeal. That stay can be extended by the appeals court or SCOTUS, and at this point we don’t know what a final ruling will be. That ruling was about carrying handguns, and the demand here is about buying assault weapons, so even if the ruling in this case is eventually upheld, it doesn’t mean that a law raising the age to 21 for assault weapons would be illegal under it. Actual legal experts agree with me on these points!

At least seven states — California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Vermont and Washington — have passed legislation raising the legal purchase age for sales of long guns, and several are still cases regarding those laws are winding their way through the courts.

“It’s an unsettled question whether states can restrict guns to people under 21,” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who studies gun policy. “There are court cases going both ways … This is one of many issues the Supreme Court is going to have to take up in the coming years.”

[…]

David Pucino, deputy chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said there is a well-grounded case to be made that age restrictions are lawful and in keeping with historical laws.

“There is really strong law and strong history to support the principle that you can have these restrictions,” Pucino said. “Historically, the age of 21 was the age of majority (legal adulthood); it’s only a far more recent development that it’s been lowered to the age of 18.”

Pucino added that the cases to which Abbott refers had to do with carrying of handguns, not purchasing of assault weapons.

“An important distinction is that handguns are recognized by the Supreme Court as being the quintessential weapon for self-defense, and that is absolutely not the case with assault weapons,” Pucino said. “These rifles in particular have offensive capabilities, and that’s their distinguishing feature is the fact that they can be used to inflict an incredible and horrifying amount of damage in a very short period of time.”

Greg Abbott is a lawyer and he knows these things perfectly well. He just doesn’t want to deal with them, and so he dodges the question. Oh, and did I mention that the state of Texas is the defendant in that handgun lawsuit? The state of Texas is the party that would be making the appeal of that ruling. If it chooses to, of course, which is also a thing Greg Abbott has a say in. Don’t believe his “we can’t do anything” baloney.

The gaps in Texas’ background check law

From Pro Publica:

In the spring of 2009, Elliott Naishtat persuaded his colleagues in the Texas Legislature to pass a bill that he believed would require the state to report court-ordered mental health hospitalizations for Texans of all ages to the national firearms background check system.

Nearly two years had passed since a student with a history of serious mental illness had gone on a deadly shooting rampage that left 32 dead at Virginia Tech. And Naishtat, then a Democratic state representative from Austin, argued that Texas was as vulnerable as Virginia had been to such mass shootings because it didn’t require the reporting of involuntary mental health commitments to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS. Federally licensed dealers are required to check the system before they sell someone a firearm.

“This bill will ultimately save lives, and I hope you’ll give it your most serious consideration,” Naishtat said when he introduced the measure.

But 13 years after the legislation became law, following a string of mass shootings carried out by troubled young men, an investigation by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune has uncovered a major gap in the law and its implementation.

Despite language in Naishtat’s bill that says local courts should report to the state’s top law enforcement agency any time a judge orders any person, regardless of age, to receive inpatient mental health treatment, the news organizations found that they are not reporting juvenile records because of problems with the way the law was written, vague guidance from the state and conflicts with other Texas laws.

[…]

When it comes to the reporting of adult mental health records, the Texas law has been highly effective. By the end of 2021, the state had sent more than 332,000 mental health records — the sixth-highest number in the country — to the national background check system, according to FBI data.

Unlike adult records, juvenile records are tightly controlled under state law, which includes criminal penalties for officials who release them unlawfully. That has likely contributed to widespread confusion about the reach of the 2009 law, which does not differentiate between adults and minors, said Dru Stevenson, a South Texas College of Law professor whose research focuses on gun violence and regulation.

“Anybody dealing with either health records or juveniles are super skittish about preserving privacy and confidentiality,” he said.

Mike Schneider, a former Harris County juvenile court judge, said the 2009 law fails to account for nuances in the juvenile code. For example, the law requires the reporting of all court-ordered mental health commitments. But Schneider and other juvenile officials say that in many cases juveniles end up in inpatient treatment not through a judge’s order, but via treatment plans agreed to by mental health professionals working on their cases. Additionally, Schneider said he interprets the law to directly address only the mental health commitments of juveniles already in lockup, not those first entering the system.

As a result, he estimated that some 99% of juvenile mental health commitments in the state are not the result of the kinds of judicial orders spelled out in the 2009 law.

“It’s just a really, really, really tiny sliver and would miss most of the people who are juveniles who have court-ordered mental health services,” he said.

The Office of Court Administration convened a task force of clerks, judges and various state officials more than a decade ago to figure out how to increase the number of all mental health records being sent to DPS.

The resulting report, published in 2012, found that “DPS lacks the resources to assist the district and county clerks with reporting mental health information.” It made a number of recommendations for ensuring better reporting across the state, including that OCA distribute a reporting manual to clerks detailing the law’s exact requirements. But neither the report nor the resulting manual addressed the reporting of juvenile records.

The agency has since moved to remedy that.

“Recently, because of increased questions, we decided to update the quick reference table to make it even more clear that juvenile records should be included under those provisions, and an updated FAQ section will be going in the manual,” spokesperson Megan LaVoie wrote in an email last month.

Amid a lack of clear direction, courts across the state aren’t following the law as Naishtat intended.

[…]

Schneider, the former Harris County juvenile judge, said the Legislature should address the narrowness and ambiguity that has resulted in the widespread failure to report juvenile mental health records, though he said such an effort will require lawmakers to answer difficult questions about how to handle sensitive records. In his mind, the law should cover young Texans with troubling histories of bullying, animal cruelty and sexual assault, behavior that foreshadows what experts call “future dangerousness.”

“What do you do with kids who have tortured a cat or a dog or done something really cruel, sexually or not, to another kid?” he said. “Those are, I think, the ones that people really worry about, because that seems to be so strongly correlated with really, really bad outcomes in the future.”

This is a long story with a lot of detail, so go read the rest for yourself. I think I’ve captured the main points in my excerpts, so the real question is whether the Lege is even interested in trying to address the gaps in that law. On that score, there was no comment from either Dan Patrick or Dade Phelan, so at the least there’s a lot of work to be done to even get it on the radar. And in keeping with what I’ve suggested before, this isn’t a whole solution but a part of one. Combining a fix to the Naishtat law with a ban on most types of gun purchases by anyone under the age of 21 would be a start. But first, the will to act has to be there. We can have a say in that this November.

The Lege sure thinks a lot of companies need to be coddled

It’s kind of amazing, actually.

Texas banned 10 financial firms from doing business with the state after Comptroller Glenn Hegar said Wednesday that they did not support the oil and gas industry.

Hegar, a Republican running for reelection in November, banned BlackRock Inc., and other banks and investment firms — as well as some investment funds within large banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan — from entering into most contracts with state and local entities after Hegar’s office said the firms “boycott” the fossil fuel sector.

Hegar sent inquiries to hundreds of financial companies earlier this year requesting information about whether they were avoiding investments in the oil and gas industry in favor of renewable energy companies. The survey was a result of a new Texas law that went into effect in September and prohibits most state agencies, as well as local governments, from contracting with firms that have cut ties with carbon-emitting energy companies.

State pension funds and local governments issuing municipal bonds will have to divest from the companies on the list, though there are some exemptions, Hegar said.

“The environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) movement has produced an opaque and perverse system in which some financial companies no longer make decisions in the best interest of their shareholders or their clients, but instead use their financial clout to push a social and political agenda shrouded in secrecy,” Hegar said in a written statement on Wednesday.

New York-based BlackRock, which has publicly embraced investing more in renewable energy, criticized Hegar’s decision.

“This is not a fact-based judgment,” a spokesperson for the company said in a written statement. “BlackRock does not boycott fossil fuels — investing over $100 billion in Texas energy companies on behalf of our clients proves that.

“Elected and appointed public officials have a duty to act in the best interests of the people they serve,” the spokesperson added. “Politicizing state pension funds, restricting access to investments, and impacting the financial returns of retirees, is not consistent with that duty.”

The other nine companies banned completely are: BNP Paribas SA, a French international banking group; Swiss-based Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS Group AG; Danske Bank A/S, a Danish multinational banking and financial services corporation; London-based Jupiter Fund Management PLC, a fund management group; Nordea Bank ABP, a European financial services group based in Finland; Schroders PLC, a British multinational asset management company; and Swedish banks Svenska Handelsbanken AB and Swedbank AB.

[…]

Texas energy experts said the intent of the law, and Wednesday’s announcement, was to punish financial firms that don’t want to invest in the backbone of Texas’ economy — oil and gas.

“But at the end of the day, it’s all about a rate of return,” said Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston. “Quite honestly, fossil fuel companies, in particular oil and gas companies, have not been great performers in the (stock market) prior to this year.”

The Lone Star Chapter of the environmental group Sierra Club said Hegar’s “climate-denying publicity stunt will be costly for taxpayers.”

​​“Major financial institutions like the ones on this list are beginning to recognize that investments in fossil fuels bring significant risk in the face of an inevitable clean energy transition, and that addressing the financial risks of the climate crisis is essential to good business,” said Sierra Club Fossil-Free Finance Campaign Manager Ben Cushing. “The fact that the Texas Comptroller has arbitrarily picked a handful of companies that, despite their climate commitments, continue to have massive fossil fuel investments, shows that this is nothing more than a political stunt at Texas taxpayers’ expense.”

We’ve already determined that Comptroller Hegar is math-challenged, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve also seen the Lege make similar laws to protect gun manufacturers and the country of Israel, about which more in a minute. I suppose one could make a protectionist case for this kind of legislative cherry-picking, and as someone old enough to remember the efforts to divest from South Africa in order to pressure it to abandon apartheid, there is certainly a moral case for this kind of law, if not for these specific ones. But if you’re going to go that route, you need to be clear about what you’re aiming at.

The firms on Hegar’s list are BlackRock, UBS Group, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse Group, Danske Bank, Jupiter Fund Management, Nordea Bank, Schroders, Svenska Handelsbanken, Swedbank, and UBS Group.

Of the six firms that responded to the Houston Chronicle’s inquiries by press time, four deny that they are “boycotting” the oil and gas industry, even if they admittedly have some investments that reflect the growing influence of — and consumer and investor interest in — the environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement.

“As we noted in our response to the Texas Comptroller, Credit Suisse is not boycotting the energy sector as the bank has ongoing partnerships and strong client relationships in the energy sector,” said a spokesperson for Credit Suisse, based in Zurich. Spokespeople for BlackRock, UBS Group, and Schroders made similar points in disputing the comptroller’s “boycotting” label.

[…]

This is a different approach than the one taken by BlackRock, for example, which had $287 billion in assets invested in energy companies globally as of June, $108 billion of which is invested in Texas energy companies, a spokesperson said.

There are “many similarities” between BlackRock’s approach to investing in the fossil fuel industry and that of other major firms, such as JP Morgan, didn’t make the list, said Andrew Poreda, senior vice president and senior ESG Research Analyst at Sage Advisory Services, an investment firm based in Austin.

A “frequently asked questions” document prepared by Hegar’s office, raises questions itself about the state’s methodology, Poreda said. For example, the comptroller’s initial criteria included whether a firm had made public pledges to the Net Zero Banking Alliance or Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, which call for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, nearly three decades from now.

That’s not exactly radical territory. Oil and gas companies are openly talking about plans for the energy transition — including getting to net-zero emissions.

“Envisioning a different world in three decades hardly classifies as a boycott, and at this point is so far away that it is largely aspirational,” Poreda argues.

It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to make the base think they’re owning the libs. That’s Republican policy in a nutshell these days.

To bring it back to the Israel example for a minute, that law has been mostly blocked by a federal judge, who ruled that an engineering firm that couldn’t get a contract with the city of Houston had its free speech rights violated by the Texas law. I Am Not A Lawyer, but it sure looks to me like the laws banning “boycotts” of fossil fuels and gun manufacturers are at least in the same neighborhood as the anti-Israel boycott law is. Credit Suisse and Blackrock probably don’t need the state of Texas’ business, but other red states are adopting similar laws, and at some point it does start to cost them real money. When that happens, the lawyers usually get involved. I don’t know what happens from there, but I won’t be surprised if that’s where it goes. The Chron has more.

More on the Uvalde class action lawsuit

A few more details, anyway.

Charles Bonner served the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District with the multibillion-dollar claim Monday, requesting compensation for the victims. Bonner told The Texas Tribune he intended to serve Uvalde city leaders on Tuesday evening at a City Council meeting.

As evidence of the school district’s responsibility, the claim pointed to a Texas House committee’s report that investigated the shooting as well as law enforcement’s response. The report, which was published a month ago, found that “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” contributed to the gunman’s ability to get inside a classroom and law enforcement’s delayed response in confronting him.

[…]

The claim, which could become a precursor to a class-action lawsuit, puts the would-be defendants of a potential suit on notice. Bonner said he hopes to reach a settlement ahead of the class-action suit, but if those parties don’t come to the negotiating table, he plans to file the federal lawsuit in September.

Bonner said the claim seeks to establish a medical monitoring fund to pay for counseling for those affected by the incident and further compensation for the victims of the shooting, their families and the other people in the school on the day of the tragedy.

As it stands, the class named in the prospective lawsuit covers nine families of shooting victims, but Bonner said he expects that more people impacted by the shooting will sign on moving forward.

“The theme of this invitation to negotiate is accountability, responsibility and justice, and that’s what we want for everyone in that class. We will leave no victim behind,” Bonner said.

See here for some background on the lawsuit, and here for more on that House committee report. I don’t know what might qualify this as a class action lawsuit – I know that having multiple plaintiffs isn’t enough for that. I do know that $27 billion could pay for a lot of counseling and still provide for significant “further compensation”. I don’t expect there to be a settlement, though one presumes with an opening bid of $27 billion there’s plenty of room to negotiate, so we’ll see what the filing looks like next month. Any lawyers want to comment on this? ABC News and the Express News have more.

Judge rules Texas cannot ban handgun sales to 18-to-20-year olds

WTAF?

A federal court in Fort Worth on Thursday struck down a Texas prohibition that limited adults under 21 from carrying handguns.

Texas law bars most 18- to 20-year-olds in the state from obtaining a license to carry a handgun or carrying a handgun for self-defense outside their homes. Two plaintiffs, who fall within that age range, and the Firearms Policy Coalition Inc., filed a lawsuit against the state to challenge the statute. The suit says the Texas law prevented the plaintiffs from traveling with a handgun between Parker, Fannin and Grayson counties, where they lived, worked and went to school.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman wrote that the Second Amendment does not specify an age limit and protects adults under 21 years old.

“Based on the Second Amendment’s text, as informed by Founding-Era history and tradition, the Court concludes that the Second Amendment protects against this prohibition,” Pittman wrote in the ruling.

The order will not go into immediate effect. Pittman stayed the ruling for 30 days pending appeal.

I didn’t know this lawsuit existed; it was filed last November, apparently. The under-21 law is nothing new, I guess it was just a matter of someone deciding that now was the time to sue. I find the reasoning specious – if there’s no age limit in the constitution, then why allow the restriction for anyone under 18 as well? Sure, there are plenty of laws restricting other things that minors may want to buy, but if we are talking about Our Sacred God-Given Unalienable Right To Own Guns, then who cares about that? Eighteen is just as arbitrary as 21 when you get right down to it.

The ruling is on hold pending appeal, and I have questions about whether it actually will get appealed. Do you expect Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton to want to appeal this, and to have their hearts in it if they do? Color me suspicious. We’ll see what happens next.

Arredondo fired

Took awhile, but there it is.

The Uvalde school board agreed Wednesday to fire Pete Arredondo, the school district police chief broadly criticized for his response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in a vote that came shortly after he asked to be taken off of suspension and receive backpay.

Arredondo, widely blamed for law enforcement’s delayed response in confronting the gunman who killed 21 people at Robb Elementary, made the request for reinstatement through his attorney, George E. Hyde. The meeting came exactly three months after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at the school.

“Chief Arredondo will not participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynching and respectfully requests the Board immediately reinstate him, with all backpay and benefits and close the complaint as unfounded,” Hyde said in a statement.

Arredondo didn’t attend the meeting, citing death threats made against him.

But about 100 people, including relatives of the shooting victims, showed up for the vote. Many chanted “coward” and “no justice, no peace.” Four people spoke during a public comment period before the seven-member board went into closed session to deliberate Arredondo’s employment, criticizing the decision to not discuss the matter in front of the public.

[…]

In his statement Wednesday, Arredondo’s lawyer said that the school district violated his constitutional due process rights by failing to provide him notice of the complaints against him and conduct an investigation of his response to the mass shooting ahead of the termination hearing.

Arredondo’s lawyer said that he received an email from the district on July 19, recommending his termination based on his failure to establish himself as the incident commander during the shooting, but argued the letter should have been sent earlier and in a physical format.

Arredondo was listed in the district’s active-shooter plan as the commanding officer, but the consensus of those interviewed by the House committee was that Arredondo did not assume that role and no one else took over for him, which resulted in a chaotic law enforcement response.

See here and here for some background. I wasn’t particularly inclined to be sympathetic to Pete Arredondo, though I do agree that not all of the blame for the law enforcement response at Robb Elementary is his and I will push back against DPS’ self-serving efforts to scapegoat him, but that’s about as far as I’ll go. Seeing him refer to this as a “lynching” and whining about his “constitutional rights” in an employment matter confirms to me that I’m in the right place. Go away and find another line of work, dude. We’ll all be better off that way.

Class action lawsuit for Uvalde parents being prepped

There are a lot of blanks to be filled in for this. You can be sure I’ll be watching for them.

Some of the families affected by the Robb Elementary School mass shooting are now a part of a major lawsuit.

The class action lawsuit, which was announced Sunday, is going after several law enforcement agencies as well as the manufacturer of the gun used in the massacre.

”What we intend to do (is) to help serve this community, and that is to file a $27 billion civil rights lawsuit under our United States Constitution, one-of-a-kind in the whole world,” attorney Charles Bonner of Bonner & Bonner Law said.

The civil rights attorney is holding no punches. He intends to file a class action lawsuit against anyone who can be held responsible for what happened inside Robb Elementary on May 24.

“We have the school police, OK, Arredondo, we have the city police, and we have the sheriffs and we have the Texas Rangers, the DPS and we have the Border Patrol,” Bonner said.

The defendants also include gun manufacturer Daniel Defense and Oasis Outback, where the gunman bought the weapon used in the shooting.

“There will be some institutional defendants as well, such as school board or such as City Council or such as the City of the Uvalde,” Bonner said.

[…]

The suit is being filed on constitutionality, as Bonner said the victims, survivors, and their families had their 14th Amendment rights violated.

“People have a right to life under the 14th Amendment and what we’ve seen here is that the law enforcement agencies have shown a deliberate conscious disregard of the life,” Bonner said.

Bonner’s law firm is taking on this class action lawsuit with a team of other firms, including a local Uvalde law office and Everytown, a gun safety organization.

See here and here for some background, though it’s not clear to me that there’s a connection between the previous actions we’ve seen and this pending case. Attorney Bonner says he will file in September, after the Justice Department releases its report on Uvalde and the various law enforcement failures.

I have no idea what to expect from this lawsuit. I think the odds of the plaintiffs winning a judgment whose dollar value starts with a B are vanishingly small, but they could win multiple millions. How long it takes, and what the fallout from it might be – assuming they do in fact win and not have the suit tossed by an appeals court or SCOTUS – is anyone’s guess. We’ll know a little bit more next month.