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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

City Wins Judgment Over Student Killed by Gang

(CN) - A California federal judge dismissed charges against Union City filed by the mother of a black 14-year-old shot and killed in front of a middle school. Angelique Paige had sued her son's school district and the city, alleging that they ignored racially motivated violence toward black students.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton also dismissed Paige's premises liability charge against the New Haven School District, but she upheld the negligence claim it faced.

Vernon Eddins was shot outside Barnard-White Middle School on Friday, December 21, 2007, the last day of school before the winter break.

The boy and his friends, freshmen at Logan High School, had left school early that day and tried to pick up one of the boy's younger brothers from Barnard-White, the middle school.

Middle School employees summoned the police, reporting that black students were loitering on campus. A pedestrian also reported that the boys were carrying weapons and sticks, but the police officer who responded to the scene found nothing out of the ordinary. The officer ordered the boys off campus, and that they were free to go.

The boys returned after school let out to pick up the middle school student, dropped the younger boy off at home, and then returned to the middle school to wait for a bus.

As they waited, a group of Latinos, allegedly members of the Decoto gang, approached the black students and fired shots, killing Eddins.

A school employee had called the police to report that the loiterers had returned, and the gunshots occurred when she called a second time, 10 minutes later, to report possible fighting.

Eddins' mother says she had reported Latinos harassing her son four or five times in the two years prior to the shooting. On the day of the shooting, her son had told a New Haven teacher that there would be trouble at Barnard-White later that day.

New Haven argued that it could not have predicted that "Eddins would be shot to death on or near the Barnard campus after school had been dismissed for winter break, by virtue of criminal third party conduct," the ruling states.

The judge found that the question of the school's negligence was best left for a jury to decide since Eddins' mother may be able to prove that the shooting was foreseeable.

Hamilton granted summary judgment to New Haven on the premises liability claim, finding that the shooting was not tied to the school and that there was no evidence to support the claim the school district allowed the Decoto gang to claim ownership of the campus.

She also granted the city summary judgment on the two issues it raised, negligence and a state law claim.

Eddins' mother had claimed the officer who responded to the loitering complaint should have escorted the students back to the high school.

"Plaintiff's argument stretches the law beyond the bounds of reason," Hamilton wrote. "There is no evidence offered by either defendant or plaintiff that the boys notified the police officers of any threat of violence that day, and no evidence that any police officer in any way induced any reliance on a promise of police protection. As such, there is simply no evidence that could justify a negligence claim against the officers."

As to the equal protection claim under California law, Hamilton pointed to the city's statistics, which disprove the notion that police policies regarding crime reports or investigations had a disparate impact on black youth.

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