Are Lawsuits Likely After Mn. School Shootings?


If the families of the Red Lake, Mn., shooting victims follow the pattern of other school shootings, their five stages of grief will be supplemented by filing a civil suit, says the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Unlike those at Columbine, Jonesboro or other schools where shootings spawned litigation, the Red Lake residents have the option of filing suit in their own tribal court system. It is a legal arena that is less complicated and has fewer standards of court procedure than state or federal courts. Says Dan Charnoski, the court’s administrator and acting chief judge: “It’s pretty basic – ‘either you did it or you didn’t.’ ” A report by a consultant last year found Red Lake’s courts overloaded, lax in procedures, and indifferent to victims’ safety. It noted that while the caseload was going up, funding was being cut.

On March 21, Jeff Weise, a depressed 16-year-old, killed nine people and wounded seven before killing himself. Of those he killed, seven were at Red Lake Senior High School. The first civil case in the Columbine school shootings in Colorado in 1999 was filed five weeks after the tragedy. Of several cases filed against various individuals and institutions, some were dropped, some were thrown out of court, and most were settled out of court for money. Potential plaintiffs at Red Lake who believe they might have a case against the tribal police or tribal council would face a major hurdle: The Red Lake Band of Chippewa claims sovereign immunity.


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