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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Parents of Arizona ‘Gilbert Goon’ deny responsibility for suspected beating

The parents say they couldn’t have foreseen or prevented their son, who is accused of being part of a teen street gang, from assaulting another teenager.

PHOENIX (CN) — The father and stepmother of a teenager accused of threatening and orchestrating an assault on another teenager last May argued before a state judge Tuesday that they shouldn’t be held liable for their son’s violent behaviors.

Theodore and Jamie Lander are two of four parents and nine total defendants named in a lawsuit aimed at a southeast Phoenix valley hybrid street gang known as the Gilbert Goons, responsible for multiple beatings of high school-age kids in the last two years. Two of the defendants are charged in a separate case with the murder of 16-year-old Preston Lord outside a Halloween party in Queen Creek last year. 

JoBeth Palmer sued the teens and their parents in February on behalf of her son Kaleb Williams, who in May 2023 was attacked and beaten outside a park in Mesa. One of the defendants, Mason Lander, sent a message to Williams days after the attack.

“Keep trying to hit my girl up n watch yo ass get stomped in again jit," Lander wrote, using slang for "juvenile in training," a term with origins in Florida gang culture that means a young or "wannabe" gangster.

It was just one of multiple threatening messages from members of the Gilbert Goons laid out in the lawsuit.

Palmer accuses Theodore and Jamie Lander of negligent supervision of their son and statutory liability for the harm inflicted upon Williams. But their defense attorney Scott McClure made the case Tuesday morning in Phoenix that neither adult bears any responsibility for the acts Mason Lander stands accused of. 

“Did the Landers have the ability to control?” McClure asked Maricopa County Judge Melissa Julian. “They have no facts to allege that.”

To satisfy a parental liability tort — laid out in what’s known as Section 316 — McClure said a parent must have both knowledge and ability to control a child, and that control must be necessary to protect others from harm.

The legal question isn’t whether a parent should have foreseen a need for control, but rather, “whether the parent exercised reasonable control at the moment they had the opportunity to do so,” the Landers wrote in a motion to dismiss. 

McClure said the only fact the plaintiff has on her side is the text message implying that Mason Lander orchestrated the attack. But “a text after the fact doesn’t demonstrate that they had the ability to control,” he said.

Richard Lyons, representing the plaintiffs, countered that a parent has a duty to be aware of the messages their child sends. 

“I have kids, and they have phones because of me,” Lyons told Julian. “And I can monitor their social media. Mr. Lander was oblivious to it all, and was not keeping track of where his kid was going or what messages he was sending.”

“The standard of review certainly isn’t that a parent has to review every text sent out by a child,” McClure preemptively countered. 

Lyons then emphasized that “parents have a duty to supervise their kids,” but Julian seemed to side with the defendants. 

“This is a conclusory finding,” she told Lyons. “You have to give me facts.”

Lyons asked for the chance to amend the complaint to include other text messages that he says would prove the Landers should have been aware of Mason’s actions. 

“I can provide evidence of at least one other threat,” he said, alluding to a second lawsuit he filed in February that also names the Landers as defendants. 

Whether the judge finds sufficient facts to move forward with discovery, McClure argued Jamie Lander should at least be dismissed as an individual because she isn’t Mason’s biological mother, and therefore has no legal right to control or discipline Mason.

“There is no community obligation to rear that child,” McClure said. “There is no community obligation to educate that child. There is no community obligation to supervise that child. It’s all a separate obligation to that child that runs through the father. 

“How can you be liable for something you have no right to control to begin with?” he asked. 

Lyons agreed that Jamie Lander cannot incur separate liability as an individual, but said it doesn’t matter. As long as she is married to Theodore Lander, he reasoned, she is jointly responsible for any debt he may incur via damages from this lawsuit, so her name must be included in the filings. He said he has sued surgeons for medical malpractice and included the names of their spouses for that reason. 

McClure encouraged Julian to deny Lyons’ informal request to further amend the complaint. He said Lyons always had access to all the facts he could have included the first time around, including those cited in the other lawsuit, so there’s no reason to allow him to do so now. He asked that the case against both Jamie and Theodore Landers be dismissed.

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Categories / Courts, Law, Regional

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