Lawyers say Oxford school officials destroyed evidence after mass shooting – Detroit Free Press

Lawyers suing the Oxford School District over last month’s deadly mass shooting claim that school officials have started destroying evidence in the case and have asked a judge to intervene.
But a lawyer for the school district scoffed at the allegation late Friday, calling it “disgusting” and “a lie,” and saying the district is cooperating fully with the investigation and has turned over everything it has to prosecutors.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg  late Friday ordered the Oxford school district to preserve all electronic evidence that relates to the lawsuit, as requested by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Berg’s one-page order did not mention the plaintiffs’ allegations of destroyed evidence by school officials. These claims are part of a lawsuit that seeks $100 million from the school district on behalf of an Oxford High School student who was shot in the neck and her younger sister who saw it happen.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday by attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who claims the school district failed to protect students and put them in harm’s way by letting a “deranged” and “homicidal” student return to class after the school had warning signs that he was about to do something dangerous.
Among the pieces of evidence that plaintiffs lawyers claim have gone missing or have been destroyed are the LinkedIn profile of one defendant, and a list of administrators from the school website.
“Not only did defendants fail to take necessary steps to preserve the evidence, but they willfully destructed the evidence by deleting the webpages and social media accounts,” attorney Nora Hanna wrote in Friday’s filing. “Plaintiffs cannot continue to be blindsided by the defendants by having to search for what evidence is being destroyed or altered.”
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The allegations sent Oxford school attorney Timothy J. Mullins reeling.
“It’s a lie … it’s disgusting,” said Mullins, stressing the school district has fully cooperated with authorities from the get go. “People think that the school district is withholding information? Everything that we have has been given to the prosecutor … everything they want we’ve given to them.”
Mullins said that Fieger has made a mistake in his lawsuit, but rather than own up to it he is claiming that the district is hiding information. Specifically, Mullins claims that Fieger has named a defendant in the lawsuit who no longer works for the district, and, has refused to remove the person’s name from the case despite repeated requests.  
In court filings alleging destroyed evidence, Fieger’s law firm claims that this school employee deleted his LinkedIn account after the shooting. But Mullins says that that person hasn’t worked at the district in more than a year, and that Fieger is causing him “unnecessary trauma.”
“It’s disgusting. This man has been defamed,” Mullins said. “I’ve asked Fieger to remove him from the lawsuit — and he won’t.”
Oxford administrators have said they will hire a third party to review school officials’ actions, and are calling for a review of the district’s “entire system” in the aftermath of the Nov. 30 shooting.
Superintendent Tim Throne wrote Wednesday evening to families after a flurry of other messages from Oxford High’s principal and the district’s school board president.
“We haven’t been able to say more because this is an on-going investigation,” Throne wrote to families earlier this week. “We do not have all the facts and cannot interfere with the prosecutorial investigation. We know this has caused frustration and anger, but we are doing our best under difficult circumstances.”
Plaintiffs lawyers, meanwhile, have asked the court to hold a hearing “to discuss sanctioning the defendants for participating in obstructionist behavior just hours after the commencement of a lawsuit.”
No such hearing has been scheduled.
Meanwhile, Fieger’s law firm has made scores of requests for evidence that it believes is crucial to holding school officials accountable for the injuries of Riley Franz, 17, who was shot in the neck, and the trauma suffered by her sister Bella Franz, 14, who watched it happen as the two exited a bathroom.
Fieger’s team has reached out to companies and governmental agencies asking them to preserve evidence, including Verizon, AT&T, the FBI and the Department of Justice. Plaintiffs lawyers also have asked Instagram and Facebook to save any posts that mention the hashtags #OxfordStrong and #OxfordSchoolShooting.
The school district, in particular, is being asked to produce the most information, including: all files of the alleged gunman, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, who is facing first-degree murder and terrorism charges; correspondence involving potential past threats; and employment records of all counselors, teachers and staff.
The plaintiffs also want any video footage the school district may have of Crumbley’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, who have been charged in the case with involuntary manslaughter. According to prosecutors and police, Ethan Crumbley shot up his school with a gun that his parents bought him for as an early Christmas present four days before the attack.
Authorities said that Crumbley’s parents were notified twice about their son’s concerning behavior in school.
On the day before the shooting, Ethan Crumbley was seen looking for ammunition on his cellphone. A teacher notified school officials, who contacted the teen’s mother by phone and email, but she didn’t respond. That same day, the mother texted her son about the incident, writing: “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
The next day at school, authorities said that Ethan Crumbley was found with a note depicting a semiautomatic handgun with the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” and a sketch of someone bleeding.
His parents were summoned, and a meeting with counselors and their son followed at the school. The parents were ordered to get their son into counseling within 48 hours. The parents resisted the counseling request and left the meeting. Their son went back to his class, with his backpack, which was never searched.
Just before 1 p.m. that day, gunfire erupted. Ethan Crumbley had gone into a bathroom with his backpack, came out with a gun and started blasting shots down the hallway, according to video evidence from inside the school. The sophomore surrendered in five minutes to sheriffs deputies who arrived at the scene, police said.
According to school officials, Ethan Crumbley explained that the drawing of the gun and blood was part of a video game design, and that counselors did not believe he might harm others based on his “behavior, responses and demeanor,” so they let him return to class.
Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

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