USC Shooting Raises Questions of School Liability
Last Halloween, a young man opened fire on the University of Southern California campus after an argument at a party. Four people were injured in the shooting, leading to a charge of attempted murder for the shooter and prompting USC to institute new security measures.
“As the second incident of violence at the school in recent months, the shooting has raised questions concerning USC’s obligation to protect students and liability when they are assaulted on or near campus,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis.
The party, called “Freak or Geek,” was widely publicized as a college costume party by LA Hype and the USC Black Student Assembly. The party was scheduled to begin at 9 PM and was advertised as officially sanctioned and safe. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reported that the announcements for the party read: “Strict Off Duty Officers plus Campus [Police]=No Worries.”
Unfortunately, the party did not turn out to be as safe as promised. One organizer for the party indicated that throngs of non-USC students showed up. Organizers struggled to keep the crowd under control and the party restricted to students only. By 11:45 P.M., the party turned violent and a gunman opened fire, wounding four people. One person sustained seven bullet wounds and had to undergo an intense three-hour surgery.
Twenty-year-old Brandon Spencer was later arrested in conjunction with the shooting. The Los Angeles Times reported that Spencer currently holds an active security guard license in California and that a family friend described him as a “good kid.” CBS Los Angeles reported that Spencer was charged with four counts of attempted murder, to which he pleaded not guilty.
Increased Security at USC
Following the shooting, USC announced it was making some significant changes to its security procedure that would go into effect after the semester break in January 2013. The new rules ban outside party promoters from holding events on campus and institute tougher restrictions for checking IDs at campus entrances.
Outsiders will no loner be permitted on campus after 9 PM unless they are a student, faculty member or invited guest, and the residence halls will have security guards present 24 hours per day. USC is also increasing the number of Public Safety Officers and yellow jacket ambassadors at the entrance to the campus, in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus and on the campus perimeter.
The increased security measures at USC are necessary because the campus is located in a dangerous area, and there have been many crimes on campus. The Halloween shooting, for example, occurred only six months after two foreign graduate students were killed in a robbery just blocks from the South Los Angeles campus. CBS Local also indicated that one USC student supported the new security regulations because of a prior history of burglaries in residence halls.
Although USC is now increasing security on campus, its efforts come too late to protect the students who were shot on Halloween night and six months prior at the library. The school may find itself facing legal liability as a result of its failure to protect these students.
In fact, last May, the Daily Trojan announced that the parents of the graduate students who had been shot had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school. This wrongful death lawsuit centered around the fact that USC intentionally misrepresented the safety of the area around the campus and the level of security provided. The lawsuit alleged that the school did not provide the security promised to international students and that the students acted, to their detriment, on the basis of the school’s false assertions of safety.
If the school is, in fact, dishonest about the protection provided to students, the school can be held responsible for the consequences of its deception. The school may also be held responsible for negligent security if it is aware of risks to the student population and fails to take reasonable steps to protect against those risks. In the case of the officially sanctioned party, for example, the question that will need to be answered in determining USC’s liability is whether the school knew of the risk to students, had a responsibility to them to provide security and failed in that responsibility.
Because there is a history of violence on or near campus, security was promised at the party and the school likely should have provided greater protection to students to prevent the shooting, there is a good chance that USC could be held accountable for the most recent injuries suffered by its students.
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