Jury awards Bowe Cleveland $3.8 million in school shooting trial

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A Kern County jury has awarded $3.8 million to a man who was shot and badly wounded while a student at Taft Union High School in 2013.

The jury reached its verdict Wednesday in the damages portion of a trial in which Bowe Cleveland sued the Taft Union High School District. The jury had previously found the district negligent in the trial that began June 20.

It found the district 54 percent negligent, meaning the district must pay 54 percent of the $3.8 million reward. That comes to $2,052,000.

Cleveland’s attorney, Daniel Rodriguez, argued the district ignored red flags regarding the behavior of student Bryan Oliver and failed to take adequate precautions before Oliver entered a classroom with a shotgun and shot Cleveland.

Both Cleveland and Oliver were 16 at the time.

“It’s been a long journey for Bowe and his family,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very proud of Bowe because he battled back from devastating injuries and also because he continues to work on being a survivor and not a victim.”

The amount awarded came in far under the $44,850,000 Rodriguez had asked for. He said it’s a little disappointing, but he’s proud of the hard work the jury put in and that they found the district negligent.

He said he hopes the verdict serves as a “wake-up call” to school districts everywhere.

The district’s attorney’s, Leonard Herr, said it was a sad case for everyone involved and he’s hoping the verdict brings resolution to everyone.

Herr argued there was no way for administrators to know Oliver was going to commit a shooting. They said the school had police-approved steps in place for the safety of its students.

District Superintendent Blanca G. Cavazos released the following statement:

“Our entire community has felt the pain of Bryan Oliver’s actions since he made the decision to shoot Bowe Cleveland in January of 2013. There are simply no winners in this case.

“Today’s verdict allows us to continue our healing as a community, and we, likewise, hope it will allow Mr. Cleveland and his family to do the same. While we continue healing as a community, over the past few years, we’ve also learned and grown in our approach to ensure the safest learning environment for our students, staff and faculty. We remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting everyone in our community.”

In reaching its verdicts, the jury found six district employees negligent and that their negligence was a substantial factor in causing harm to Cleveland. 

Oliver is serving a prison term of 27 years and four months, but is eligible for parole in 2027. He claimed at his trial that Cleveland and another, student, Jacob Nichols, bullied him.

He fired at both of them, missing Nichols, in the Jan. 10, 2013, shooting in a science classroom.

A mistrial was declared on charges of attempted murder on Dec. 17, 2014, after jurors were unable to reach a verdict. A month later, Oliver pleaded no contest to two counts of unpremeditated attempted murder.

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