Judge: Administrators not liable for Ohio school shooting

By Mark Gillispie - The Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — Five former administrators at a northeastern Ohio school district where three high school students were fatally shot and a fourth permanently disabled are not liable for the shootings six years ago, a judge presiding over a lawsuit filed on behalf of the victims ruled Thursday.

The administrators, including the district’s superintendent, were the last remaining defendants in a lawsuit filed after student T.J. Lane opened fire in the Chardon High School cafeteria while waiting to catch a bus to an alternative school on Feb. 27, 2012. The students, 16-year-old Daniel Parmertor, 16-year-old Russell King Jr. and 17-year-old Demetrius Hewlin, were killed. Seventeen-year-old Nick Walczak was permanently disabled.

A lawsuit filed on the second anniversary of the shootings by Walczak and the estates of the three slain students claimed that Chardon schools, the school board and the five administrators failed to provide security that could have prevented the shootings while Lake Academy Alternative School, where Lane was a student, didn’t properly evaluate the risks he posed.

Lake County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell dropped the schools and school board from the lawsuit in November 2014, but left some claims against the administrators intact. None of the administrators still work for the Chardon schools.

An attorney for the administrators declined to comment about the ruling. An attorney for the estates of the slain students didn’t return a message seeking comment. It’s unclear whether an appeal is planned.

Lane pleaded guilty in 2013 to three counts of aggravated murder and was sentenced to three life sentences. It’s never been made clear why Lane shot the students.

A Juvenile Court judge ruled that Lane was mentally competent and allowed his case to be tried in adult court but noted there was evidence Lane suffered from hallucinations, psychosis and fantasies. At sentencing in March 2013, Lane wore a t-shirt with the word “KILLER” scrawled across it, swore and made obscene gestures.

O’Donnell in dismissing the remaining claims against the administrators — superintendent Joseph Bergant II, operations manager Dana Stearns, high school principal Andrew Fetchik and assistant principals Drew Trimble and Michael Sedlak — wrote: “According to the School Employees, there is no evidence they had any knowledge Lane intended to bring a gun to school or that he intended to shoot and kill other students.”

Attorneys argued they weren’t aware that Lane had behavioral issues or violent tendencies.

O’Donnell’s ruling said local police had not criticized the Chardon schools’ security plan, including the district’s lack of a school resource officer and that a Chardon police officer walked through the high school twice a day.

The estates of Parmertor, King and Hewlin settled a lawsuit filed against Lane’s family in May 2014, with each receiving about $890,000.

By Mark Gillispie

The Associated Press