DA candidates react to school mass shooting reports

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Special to The Dallas Examiner

With two school mass shootings within three months and another averted, Gov. Greg Abbot held public hearings and produced a school shooting report, available on the Texas.gov website. The report didn’t review the history of previous shootings, but did issue a list of possible options. Suggested actions range from increasing counselors, to hardening school entrances, to arming teachers.

At almost the same time, a group of volunteers called The Open Records Project completed an analysis of most school mass shootings since the 1966 UT Tower Sniper, available on the Open Records website. The ORP report reviewed the history of previous shootings but didn’t offer a list of possible options.

Taken together these two reports may offer guidance to legislators and local school boards as they implement policies to save children’s lives.

The ORP report analyzed publicly available documents to identify patterns that might lead to mitigation or avoidance of future school mass shootings and from that information drew several conclusions.

• School mass shooting events are rare but extremely traumatic.

• Shooters can be deterred by extremely hardened campuses, such as in Detroit.

• A motivated individual is likely to get himself and weapons inside the school.

• A large percentage of shooters were confronted by unarmed males who then died.

• Arming these men might save lives.

• A small percentage of shooters resisted when confronted by armed resistance.

• A large percentage of shooters committed suicide.

• Normal law enforcement had negligible effect.

• Armed campus deputies had mixed effect.

• Technology had negligible effect.

• Improving security of parents’ weapons might save lives.

The report documented some already known facts. For example, the overwhelming majority of perpetrators were mentally deranged and in some cases had been found by courts to be “Mentally Ill” or possessing “Significant mental health issues.”

There were four lesser-known facts revealed:

• First, all the school mass shooters in the events analyzed were young white males.

• Second, except for incidents 30 and 50 years ago, none of the perpetrators should have been legally able to obtain weapons.

• Third, except for the UT Tower shooting 50 years ago, normal law enforcement was no factor in stopping the killing. Even then 17 were killed and 31 wounded before an Austin Police Officer aided by an armed civilian shot the gunman.

• Fourth, in the overwhelming majority of cases one or more unarmed white males attacked the gunman. Some successfully disarmed the shooter. However most died in the effort.

Texas is a special case, as it had one of the oldest school mass shootings, the UT Tower Sniper in 1966, and one of the most recent, Santa Fe High School, May 2018.

Texas law enforcement seems more effective than other states. Deputy Sheriff Scot Peterson and other law officers at Florida’s Stoneman-Douglas High School hid safely outside while the gunman murdered 17 and wounded 17 students and staff and then escaped and walked to McDonalds. Three months later at Texas’s Santa Fe High School, Deputy John Barnes immediately ran to the gunfire and was critically wounded by a shotgun blast. A second deputy arrived several minutes later and wounded the gunman thereby stopping the killing.

Over the past decade, many Texas school districts took defensive action without waiting for direction from the Legislature using school board local authority. As of May, 217 Texas school districts have begun arming some employees and teachers and providing specialized training.

In Texas, the district attorney is responsible for working with law enforcement officers in the investigation of criminal cases, presenting cases to the grand jury, representing victims of violence in protective orders, representing the state in removing children from abusive households, and representing the state in prosecuting felony criminal cases.

Dallas district attorney candidates were asked to comment on the findings of the reports.

John Creuzot

Retired District Court Judge John Creuzot is one of the Democrat candidates. He served seven years as assistant district attorney. Governor Ann Richards appointed him a district court Judge, where he sat for 21 years. He is best known as the creator of DIVERT, a program to reduce recidivism by drug offenders.

In regard to school shootings, he made the following points:

  1. We should not allow guns in the hands of children.

  2. Firearms at home should be locked and accessed only by an adult.

  3. Any adult with a firearm should be required to take mandatory safety training.

  4. We should monitor the mental health of our school children, especially those who seem socially isolated.

  5. Schools should have contingency plans and training for active-shooter scenarios.

  6. We should pray for the wisdom of our public officials to get serious about gun safety and the safety of our school children.

During his interview, he suggested that there might be some technology available in the future to limit access to guns by unstable individuals. He was also particularly concerned about mental health treatment of individuals prior to violent events and afterward in the criminal justice system.

He also mentioned that the “Affluenza Defense” was a slippery slope, referring to the psychology defense offered for drunk driving fifteen year old Ethan Couch who killed four and injured nine individuals.

Both the governor’s report and the ORP report mentioned the importance of parents maintaining better control of their firearms. According to the judge, “Improving security of parents’ weapons might save lives.”

He concluded by stating he is not in favor of more guns in schools and advised, “We should pray for the wisdom of our public officials.”

Faith Johnson

The incumbent, District Attorney Faith Johnson, is the Republican candidate. She was an assistant Dallas County district attorney from 1982 to 1989. She helped create the child abuse unit of the DA’s office. She was appointed a district court judge and served 17 years. In 2017, she was appointed by Abbot to replace previous DA Susan Hawk, who resigned over mental health issues.

“Pray for wisdom, so I will do justice and that I will be fair,” she said, the day she was sworn in.

Her office indicated that she believes that presence of armed law enforcement at schools is an important deterrent and has proven effective in stopping shooters when more than one or two law enforcement officers are on the campus.

She made the following points:

  1. Redesign the salary, title, or retirement structure of School Resource Officers as to incentivize highly trained combat law enforcement officers to seek those positions.

  2. Provde a job position that allows armed retired military men and women to work as security officers in the school. Require those military officers to have combat experience.

Her office also indicated that Johnson supported the presence of cameras in the schools with direct access to law enforcement and secured areas inside the classrooms. It was suggested that schools could have a unique alarm system that alerts school personnel and students that there is an active shooter in the building. The alarm would trigger the cameras that are connected to local law enforcement. It would also trigger an immediate police response and trigger any disorienting system that the school creates. This would allow law enforcement to identify the placement of the shooter and the best way to approach the shooter.

Her representatives also suggested that she supported the idea of secured placement inside the school, with the following suggestions:

  1. Build bullet secure rooms in each classroom or shared classrooms – similar to storm shelters that are located in many schools around the country – equipped with a phone for contact to the outside. The rooms would have locks that could not be penetrated from the outside.

  2. Secure the classrooms with bulletproof windows and doors and a blocking mechanism that could be activated manually or remotely.

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