Kendrick Castillo’s parents seek release of STEM school shooting info

A judge will decide whether to make public information about the 2019 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch that the parents of Kendrick Castillo have learned through their lawsuit against the school — including what their attorney says are details of missed warnings about the shooters.

John and Maria Castillo said in court Wednesday that they have learned more about the May 7, 2019, shooting that took their son’s life, and want that information — collected through the discovery process during litigation — released so it can be used to improve school safety.

“We wanted to hear things that weren’t being told to us,” John Castillo said when asked why he listened to the depositions given as a result of the family’s lawsuit.

The Castillos have refused the $387,000 settlement offered in their lawsuit against STEM and want their case to go before a jury, which could find the school failed to protect their son. Kendrick Castillo, 18, died after rushing one of the shooters during the attack, which will mark its fourth anniversary next month. (The settlement is not an admission of liability.)

Retired Judge Christopher C. Cross served as a special master during Wednesday’s hearing in Douglas County District Court and will decide what materials and information should be made public.

Only part of the hearing, which included testimony from John Castillo and Michael Davis, the father of a student killed in a shooting at Arapahoe High School in 2013, was open to the public. The judge and attorneys for both parties were expected to spend the afternoon privately debating what specific discovery could be released.

For now, the information remains confidential. Douglas County District Court Judge Jeffrey Holmes previously put the records under a protective order to keep them from public review.

Attorneys with STEM and the Douglas County School District argued during the hearing that some of the materials should remain secret because of concerns about school safety and student privacy.

But during opening statements, they also appeared to agree with the Castillos’ attorney, Dan Caplis, that other information could be released to the public. It’s unclear exactly what that information is as it is confidential, but Caplis said it would prove that one of the shooters was “a walking red flag.”

The Castillos initially sued both the school and the district, but the latter was dismissed as a defendant.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first to test Colorado’s Claire Davis School Safety Act, which state legislators passed eight years ago. The law is named after Claire Davis, 17, who was killed by another student at Arapahoe High.

Michael Davis and others who helped create the law testified in support of the Castillos on Wednesday, saying that the intent of the law was for information — especially anything that sheds light on failures by a school or district to keep students and staff safe — to be released to the public so others could learn from those mistakes.

“We hope for the better, but systems fail,” Davis said during the hearing.


Cross said in an order making the hearing partially open to the public that the case is of the “highest interest to the public,” noting that “unfortunately, school shootings remain in the news and the public interest in doing anything possible to stop such violence is immeasurable.”

To his knowledge, the Claire Davis School Safety Act “has not been tested in court ” before, Cross said in his order.

The act allows parents to sue if a school fails to provide “reasonable care” to protect all students and employees from the violence that is considered “reasonably foreseeable.” Before it became law, it was even harder to hold schools legally responsible for shootings, in part, because it would have to be proven that officials showed willful and wanton conduct.

The Castillos’ lawsuit was potentially the first lawsuit filed under the act — or at least the first to make it this far in court. In recent months, at least two other lawsuits have been filed that are seeking to expand the law’s reach so it can be used to hold districts responsible for failing to stop bullying.

The crux of the issue centers on what the Castillos can do with the information they learned during their discovery. In most cases, such information can be shared with the public. But the law “only deals with allowing full discovery,” Cross wrote.

“Still, it very well may imply that the plaintiff can and should disseminate that information in the hopes that measures to prevent school shootings in the future might ensue,” Cross wrote.

He acknowledged that one of the arguments for keeping certain information confidential is that it could be used to help carry out future attacks.

Caplis, the Castillos’ attorney, previously has said they discovered information that “will shock the conscience of the public and will force urgently needed school safety changes.”

“Have they fixed the failures that led to Kendrick Castillo being carried out of that school dead?” Caplis said during Wednesday’s hearing, adding, “People can use that information to make things safer.”

The students who carried out the attack “were able to spot the fatal flaws in the STEM and DCSD security system,” Caplis said.

But David Jones, an attorney for STEM, pushed back on the idea of any kind of potential cover-up by the school.

“That’s simply not true,” he said. “The essential lessons of this shooting were learned and have been in the public eye for almost four years. Some information should not be made public because it could be used as a roadmap for others who wish to (carry out) a violent act.”

Both STEM and the district argued that federal student privacy law and Colorado’s public records act prevent some details about current and former students and personnel records from being released.

“Douglas County School District is not here to shield any information from the public about what led to the events on May 7 and what happened on May 7,” said Gwyneth Whalen, an attorney representing the school district.

But, she said, the district “has to draw the line about releasing information about ongoing security and school safety measures.”

Releasing details about safety measures, such as panic button locations and threat and suicide assessment protocols, would endanger current students, Whalen said.

Get more Colorado news by signing up for our Mile High Roundup email newsletter.

Source: Read Full Article