A Connecticut Superior Court judge has ruled that Newtown and its school board are not liable in the deaths of 6-year-old boys Jesse Lewis and Noah Pozner, two of the 20 children and six adults killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting.
“Emergencies, by their very nature, are sudden and often rapidly evolving events, and a response can never be one hundred percent scripted and directed,” wrote Judge Robin Wilson, adding that it’s “a significant reason why police officers have been afforded broad discretion” in similar cases.
In the wrongful death action brought in the Judicial District of New Haven by Jesse’s mother, Scarlett Lewis, and Noah’s father, Leonard Pozner, the plaintiffs argued that the school and town “had a ministerial duty to create, enforce and abide by a collection of rules and regulations regarding the management of the school and to ensure safety” as outlined in state statutes.
In an amended complaint dated Sept. 1, 2016, the plaintiffs claimed negligence on the part of town and school officials for failing to provide school doors at Sandy Hook the could be locked from the inside, and alleged that the school failed to provide proper training and equipment to teachers and staff for lockdowns.
The plaintiffs also alleged the school failed to follow its own safety guidelines and had failed to remove a nonsafety glass window near doors on the premises, where Adam Lanza shot his way into the school and proceeded to kill elementary school children and teachers with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
The defendants countered that the school and town are protected by governmental immunity.
Wilson, granting defense motions for summary judgment, stressed in her ruling that the burden of proof was on the movants to “present evidence that demonstrates the existence of some disputed factual issue.” In dismissing the claims, Wilson wrote that the revised complaint “is replete with allegations that negligence occurred as a result of the defendants’ conduct. In other words, the plaintiffs allege that the safety protocols were not implemented and others were rendered ineffective because the board and the town failed to provide adequate equipment and training and staff to implement the protocols.”
Wilson noted that the assertion of negligence on the part of faculty and staff for “failing to implement and follow” safety protocols on Dec. 14, 2012, “sets forth a theory of liability not previously alleged.”
While Sandy Hook did have emergency “code blue” protocols in its guidelines, Wilson noted that language in the guidelines is discretionary. “The actions of the faculty and staff upon notification of a code blue lockdown are clearly described with qualifying language of ‘may’ or ‘should,’ indicating the ability to exercise judgment in performing the tasks,” the judge added. Different preparedness and emergency plans at the school have different requirements, and Wilson reasoned that guidelines “are meant to guide and inform [the] response to an emergency while retaining the ability to use judgment.”
Wilson’s decision revisits the sequence of events that took place shortly after 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2012, and conveys an immediate and chaotic emergency, during which “The first 911 call was received at 9:35:39 a.m., and at 9:40:03, a single final shot, believed to be the suicide shot, was heard.”
Teachers who had been shot in the process had to make split-second decisions, she said.
“These were extraordinary circumstances, in which the individuals in room nine were forced to make split-second decisions while under attack themselves,” Wilson wrote. “In a situation so extraordinary and unique, and so chaotic and violent, it could not have been apparent that their actions or inactions were likely to subject the students and other faculty to imminent harm.”