School shooting civil trial now in the hands of the jury

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A civil case brought against the Taft Union High School District arguing administrators ignored concerns raised about a troubled student who later shot another student is now in the hands of a Kern County jury.

Both counsel representing the family of injured student Bowe Cleveland and the attorney defending the school district presented their closing arguments Tuesday afternoon in a trial that began June 20.

Daniel Rodriguez, representing the Clevelands, said this is probably the most important case of his career.

“Why? Because it has to do with kids,” Rodriguez told the jury. “Our kids. The safety of our kids.”

During his 80-minute closing argument, Rodriguez displayed two large poster boards filled with images of red flags and descriptions marking the many instances of troubling behavior or reports about Bryan Oliver he said the school district ignored.

The district failed to monitor Oliver and take preventative action before the 16-year-old entered a science classroom at Taft Union High with a shotgun Jan. 10, 2013 and shot Cleveland, Rodriguez said.

Rona Angelo, the school’s assistant principal at the time, oversaw the school resource officers and was in charge of discipline. She was told about comments Oliver made about threatening to shoot people, Rodriguez said, about drawings he made of people getting shot and other remarks that left teachers and students concerned.

She failed to communicate these reports to the Oliver family, teachers, the school resource officers or law enforcement, the attorney said. Those who came to her had their concerns dismised, he said. She told them the school would take care of it.

Rodriguez said Angelo lied repeatedly during her testimony when she claimed she communicated those concerns to others. What she told the jury conflicts with what school resource officers, parents and students have testified to, he said.

The attorney said Angelo and the district have refused – and are continuing to refuse – to take responsibility.

“Does the truth matter in this house?” Rodriguez asked the jury.

Leonard Herr, representing the district, argued Oliver alone is to blame for what happened.

The school district diligently followed its policies and procedures in completing and reviewing incident reports regarding Oliver. It interviewed students and had a full-time police officer on campus through a contract with law enforcement.

Herr said the question at the heart of this case is, “Should (the district) have been able to reasonably foresee that Bryan Oliver would bring a gun to school and shoot Bowe Cleveland?”

The answer, he said, is “no.” The evidence shows even Oliver didn’t know he was going to shoot Cleveland until shortly before the incident occurred, and has been unable to explain why he did it, Herr said in his 40-minute closing argument.

A school’s primary job is to educate all students the best it can, Herr said. Taft Union High fulfilled that role, and provided a safe environment for its students, he said.

The jury begins deliberating Wednesday morning.

Jurors will be given a questionnaire with a number of names, including Oliver and Angelo, and asked whether each person on the questionnaire was negligent. The form then asks whether their negligence was a substantial factor in causing harm to Cleveland, and what percentage are they responsible.

In a civil trial, a verdict does not have to be unanimous. Instead, nine out of 12 jurors must agree for a verdict.

Following the shooting, a campus supervisor convinced Oliver to drop the gun and he was taken into custody. Cleveland was then rushed to a hospital where doctors managed to save his life.

A mistrial was declared in Oliver’s trial 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 and was sentenced to 27 years and four months in prison.

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