Attorneys for Oxford families to pursue appeal after judge throws out civil case

Posted at 7:17 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-08 11:45:26-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Attorneys for the families of Oxford High School shooting victims say they plan to pursue an appeal after a judge threw out civil lawsuits against school employees.

Attorney Ven Johnson is representing the families of students Justin Shilling and Tate Myre who were killed in the November 2021 shooting as well as the family of Keegan Gregory who was injured.

The three families joined Johnson on Tuesday for a press conference at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit following the Friday Oakland County circuit court decision.

"We respectfully disagree with some of the judge's findings but what it really illustrates is the inherent unfairness, and I'm using a nice word, the crookedness if you will and evil-ity if you will of governmental immunity. A system that was designed to protect the government and its employees from being held liable in a civil courtroom like everybody else across the country," said Johnson.

Johnson began the press conference by talking about the history of the law cited in the judge's opinion. Johnson says the government immunity law is derived from a historic practice preventing people from "suing the king." In 1961, the Michigan State Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote to overturn the common law allowing for state residents to sue governmental employees for negligence with a proximate cause.

Johnson says in the 1980s, the Government Tort Liability Act was passed which says people cannot sue a government entity for negligence with the exception of six reasons. They instead are supposed to sue specific employees which is why Johnson says the lawsuit named teachers and administrative staff.

Johnson says in 2000, the same law was interpreted differently than it had been in all the years prior during Robinson v. City of Detroit. He says while the law previously required negligence on the part of a governmental employee to be a part of the cause of injury, in 2000 it was interpreted to mean the governmental employee must be the most immediate cause of the injury in order to face litigation. Johnson says based on this interpretation, Judge Mary Brennan ruled Oxford school employees could not be sued for the November 2021 shooting because the shooter was the most immediate cause.

"To this day we’ve had nothing done. We have no investigation, no explanation, no accountability, nothing," said Buck Myre who is the father of Tate Myre. "(Ethan Crumbley) didn’t walk into the school with guns a blazing, he walked out of the counseling office with guns a blazing. Who was the immediate cause? I think we can make an argument that the school was the immediate cause but we can’t make that argument because our government doesn’t want to be questioned."

Parents say in the 15 months since the shooting, they have been waiting for the opportunity to learn what went wrong that day. They say the judges ruling now impedes their ability to get answers.

"When it comes to governmental immunity, people need to stand up with us and be outraged especially if they’re a parent and have children in public school," said Jill Soave who is the mother of Justin Shilling. "We have a community of kids in Oxford who are severely traumatized. They’re not okay. We have an extended group of family and friends that lost four. We have several injured and what message are we sending to them? In my opinion, we’re saying your lives don’t matter."

Johnson says the argument used by the school district's attorneys could not be used if the shooting were to take place in a private school making it unfair.

"Accountability would be a jury trial. If they choose to make a decision that they did nothing wrong, I can move forward but the fact that there’s so much evidence out there, it’s really scary that they’re still employed," said Meghan Gregory who is the mother of Keegan Gregory. "If a firefighter were to go into a building, carry someone out and breaks their pelvis, okay let’s protect them. I can be totally fine with that. I cannot be fine with the fact that four kids were murdered in our school and not one person will be held accountable."

The parents and Johnson maintain that teachers and administrators were negligent and did not follow proper protocol the day of the shooting leading to the deaths of four students. They say they want administrators to lay out all of the facts in front of a jury in hopes of determining what went wrong and how the district can learn from the incident.

"We need all the facts out. We need to know the complete truth. We need everybody who was involved before, the weeks before, a few days before, we need everybody to be held accountable," said Soave.

7 Action News reached out to the attorneys for the school district for comment on Tuesday but did not hear back.

Attorneys for the victims' families say they plan to start the appellate process in the coming weeks but there's no telling how long it will be before they can make their arguments in a courtroom. They say no matter the outcome of the appeal, they expect the case to head to the Michigan State Supreme Court.