Archive for January 2009

10th Circuit Ruling Keeps Columbine Depositions Under Seal

It’s been almost 10 years since the Columbine High School shootings, and still no one outside the legal teams at odds in a pair of long-settled civil suits has seen the depositions of the parents of shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. And that’s the way it’s going to stay for at least 20 years, thanks to a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Holland & Hart partner A. Bruce Jones came into the case relatively late on behalf of the family of Columbine student Mike Taylor, who was seriously wounded in the shootings. Taylor’s family sued a drug company who had manufactured a psychotropic drug taken by one of the shooters prior to the massacre. That suit came alongside another brought by the families of two murdered students against the parents of Harris and Klebold.

The two suits were settled quickly, but not before lawyers in both deposed the killer’s parents. Under the terms of a unique protective order, a special master controlled access to court records in the cases — including the depositions.

“I have never seen a case where discovery materials were so closely monitored,” Jones says.

Various parties have sued to have those records opened up, on the basis of their historical value and the possibility that they could help experts prevent similar attacks in the future. Last year, a federal judge ruled that the records should belong to the National Archives and Records Administration, but that they should remain sealed for another 20 years.

Two sets of plaintiffs appealed to the 10th Circuit, but for very different reasons.

The parents of two of the murdered students — represented by a local boutique headed by Barry K. Arrington — argued that the depositions belonged to the parents and not the National Archives. Jones, meanwhile, argued that an expert on child violence should be able to examine the depositions immediately, and says he would have been open to having the records available in the National Archives at some point.

“That’s better than essentially having them buried for the next 20 years,” Jones says.

On Monday, a three-judge panel ruled 2-1 to uphold the district court’s ruling to transfer the documents to the National Archives but keep them under seal for another 20 years.

One strange twist: the 2-1 majority said it was difficult for them to open up the deposition records because they themselves didn’t have the chance to read them — even though the judge at the district level, Lewis Babcock, read the depositions as part of his ruling in the case. The majority chastised Jones for not asking Babcock to include the depositions in its filing with the appeals court.

“I was really whip-sawed by that,” Jones says. “That seems off the wall to me.”

Jones says Taylor’s family probably found him because of his role in representing the family of Dave Sanders, a teacher slain in the attacks. The Holland team on that case argued that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s department violated Sanders’ civil rights by failing to rescue him as he lay wounded inside the school for several hours. Sanders’ daughter settled the case for $1.5 million, and her lawyers, including Jones, agreed never to discuss what they learned about the shootings, according to this story from theRocky Mountain News.

This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.

(1992)

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Columbine Report Stirs Anger

DENVER, Feb. 26, 2004
Columbine Report Stirs Anger
State AG: Authorities Had 15 Contacts With The Killers
By Jarrett Murphy

(CBS/AP) Authorities had at least 15 contacts with the Columbine High School killers dating back two years before their murderous attack, the state attorney general said Thursday in a report that angered families of the victims.

Attorney General Ken Salazar also said he is investigating whether authorities tried to cover up what they knew about the rampage. However, he did not blame the Jefferson County sheriff’s office for missing warning signs about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and said he found no evidence of negligence.

But the attorney general said his investigation is not complete and has grown since he was asked to look into contacts between the killers and investigators beginning in 1997, two years before the attack.

Salazar said his staff interviewed two former sheriff’s officials just this week. He also said authorities are still trying to find a file detailing a search warrant affidavit for Harris’ home after a pipe bomb was found along a bike path in 1998 — a search that never took place.

“We are still looking for that file,” Salazar said.

Asked if he thought there was a cover-up, he said: “I do not know today.” Speaking in a room with somber families of the dead staring at him from the back wall, Salazar promised to issue a supplemental report.

Harris, 18, and Klebold, 17, killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives at the school near Littleton on April 20, 1999. It remains the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

“In the end, none of the many efforts to open up the Columbine records, including today’s activity, will mean much beyond passing curiosity if we cannot learn from this tragedy,” Salazar said at a news conference.

Salazar said his investigators looked at how sheriff’s officials reacted to 1997 complaints about Harris, from a thrown snowball that cracked a car window to a prank telephone call.

There were more ominous signs, too: Authorities have said an anonymous tip that year led a deputy to a Web site run by Harris that said the two teens had built pipe bombs and concluded: “Now our only problem is to find the place that will be ‘ground zero.”‘

Family members said Salazar’s report failed to give them the answers they crave.

“This raises more questions than it answers,” said Dawn Anna, whose daughter, Lauren Townsend, died at Columbine. “I would disagree that there was no negligence.”

Nearby, more than 150 people lined up to view a vast and chilling display of evidence — the murder weapons, bullet fragments, the chairs and tables where the victims were gunned down.

The collection includes computer screens, shell casings and pieces of clothing sealed in bags. It features everything from the guns the teenage attackers used to kill classmates, to the furniture from the cafeteria where many died, to arrest and autopsy reports, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara.

There are also amateur videos of Harris and Klebold, similar to the chilling images released last year of the pair practicing with their deadly arsenal six weeks before the school attack.

A message board put up in a school window that day still says in blue Magic Marker: “1 bleeding to death.”

Authorities also released two videos, one of the anxious scene in a park across the street from the school that day, and another, 90-minute compilation of videos made by Harris and Klebold.

Much of the material is headed for the state archives. Relatives of the dead and survivors of the horrific attack saw much of it for the first time in a private viewing Wednesday.

“This new information isn’t likely to change the legal dynamic involved in this tragedy. The lawsuits brought years ago by the family members of victims were either dismissed or settled or both. And I’m not sure there is anything in this newly-released batch of evidence that would permit anyone to reopen their case,” says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

“Seeing the evidence and information, I think, reinforces the notion that many survivors and family members of victims have — that the authorities missed plenty of opportunities to do more to reign in Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold before they killed all those people. But from a legal perspective, it won’t change a thing — the law in Colorado and elsewhere is very protective of public officials in these sorts of circumstances,” says Cohen.

Darrell Scott, whose daughter Rachel was killed in the massacre, told CBS News Early Show that seeing the evidence was “impossible to fully describe.”

“It was an emotional event for everyone there to walk in and see,” he told the “And probably the most emotional for any one of us would be to see the weapon that killed our child or that killed the teacher.”

A key part of Salazar’s investigation looked at work done by former sheriff’s deputy John Hicks. Sheriff Ted Mink asked Salazar to investigate why a 1997 report by Hicks — found in a folder last October — was never reviewed as part of the probe into the shootings.

Hicks also looked into a 1998 complaint that Harris posted a death threat against a fellow student on the Web site, along with descriptions of pipe bombs he and Klebold built.

Randy and Judy Brown, whose son was named in the threat, reported the information to the sheriff’s office. A warrant was drafted to search Harris’ home, but it was never executed.

Hicks left the department in 2000 and now lives in South Carolina.

Tom Mauser, whose son, Daniel, was killed at the school, said he wanted more details about why the search never took place.

“If we’re going to learn lessons, that’s a key part of it,” he said. “Why did law enforcement stop where it did?”

(930)

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ASPEN PARK MURDER STUNS RESIDENTS

Article: ASPEN PARK MURDER STUNS RESIDENTS.(News)

Article from:Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) Article date:May 30, 2005 Author:Poppen, Julie; Torkelson, Jean Copyright

 

 

Byline: Julie Poppen And Jean Torkelson, Rocky Mountain News

 

ASPEN PARK — Residents of this small mountain community east of Conifer can’t believe anyone would murder a 70-year-old neighbor.

One man in the live-and-let-live community of Aspen Park is convinced that Patrick Housand, a member of the Knights of Columbus and an active Catholic, was mauled to death by a mountain lion as he left for work before dawn Saturday.

But Jefferson County sheriff’s officials are calling the death a homicide. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacki Tallman declined to comment on the cause of death Sunday despite abundant rumors circulating among Aspen Park residents.

(1130)

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