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District Sues Town Over School Shooting

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) - A high school shooting could have been prevented if the City of Taft, Calif. had sent a police officer to Taft Union High School as it should have, the school district claims in court.

Taft Union High School District sued the city on New Year's Eve in Kern County Superior Court, for a Jan. 10, 2013 shotgun shooting that wounded two people on campus.

Taft, pop. 9,327, is 30 miles southwest of Bakersfield at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley.

In August 2012, the city agreed to send a police officer to Taft High School during school hours to prevent truancy, among other things, according to the 8-page complaint.

But the city failed to send an officer to the school on Jan. 10, 2013, and a truant student came onto campus and shot fellow student Bowe Cleveland, the complaint states.

Cleveland was in his first-period science class when the lone gunman, 16-year-old Bryan Oliver, entered the room with a 12-gage shotgun and opened fire, grazing the teacher's head and shooting Cleveland in the upper body. No one else was hurt in the attack and no one died, according to Courthouse News's prior coverage .

Oliver got onto campus through an unlocked side gate, according to The Bakersfield Californian. Superintendant Kim Fields and the teacher, Ryan Heber, persuaded Oliver to put down the gun and surrender, the California reported.

Cleveland sued the school district in April 2013, claiming that it knew Oliver was dangerous because he had made a hit list the previous year with nearly 30 names on it, including Cleveland's, and because several students had previously reported being threatened by Oliver.

In its new complaint, the school district claims that the shooting would not have happened had the city made sure a police officer was on campus that morning, in accordance with its contract.

"Under the contract, a police officer was to be assigned for at least 40 hours per week to Taft Union High School, and one was assigned to be there at the time of the shooting. This gave rise to a duty to have a police officer at the high school," the complaint states.

"The duty to provide the officer was breached when an officer did not show up. After school began, the truant observed that the officer's car was not parked in its ordinary spot, and entered the campus because the officer was not there."

The Californian reported that the officer assigned to the school that day was snowed in, and there was no one available to take his place.

Though the contract contained a "mutual indemnity clause," the city refuses to indemnify the school district, forcing it to incur the costs of hiring an attorney and defend itself in court, according to the complaint.

Taft city representatives did not return requests for comment by the close of business hours Friday.

The schools seek damages for breach of contract, contractual indemnity, equitable indemnity and contribution. They also want a declaration that the city must indemnify them in Cleveland's lawsuit and contribute to the costs of defense.

They are represented by Leonard C. Herr with Dooley, Herr, Pedersen & Berglund Bailey, of Visalia.

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