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Attorney for Bowe Cleveland asks for about $45 million in damages for 2013 school shooting


In this file photo, Bowe Cleveland, who suffered major injuries from a shotgun blast when authorities say fellow Taft Union High student Bryan Oliver entered a classroom and shot him, sits in attorney Daniel Rodriguez's office where he released a written statement almost one year after the January 2013 shooting.

Bowe Cleveland, a former Taft Union High School student who was severely injured during a 2013 school shooting, still suffers physically, mentally and emotionally from that incident.

Within one year of the shooting, Cleveland underwent 31 surgeries and had to take about 33 different medications to save his life and manage the immense amount of pain he suffered, his attorney Daniel Rodriguez said. For that, Rodriguez on Thursday asked a Kern County jury to award $44,850,000 to Cleveland for the pain and suffering he has already endured and could continue to endure.

"Today is the best day of Bowe's life," Rodriguez said. "As he gets older, it's not going to get better." 

On Jan. 10, 2013, Cleveland, 16 at the time of the shooting, was sitting in his science class when Bryan Oliver walked into the classroom with a shotgun and opened fire, striking Cleveland in the chest. Lead pellets remain in Cleveland's body and continue to cause problems for him 6½ years later.

The civil lawsuit brought by Cleveland's family against the school district in April 2013 alleged that the administrators, particularly Rona Angelo, former assistant principal at Taft High, was fully aware of the dangers the gunman presented to students and staff and did nothing about it. Rodriguez said the gunman "leaked his intentions" about the shooting and his violent tendencies.

A Kern County jury found the Taft Union High School District negligent Wednesday, arguing that the district ignored warning signs that the gunman was dangerous. 

Rodriguez discussed in great detail the injuries Cleveland sustained, both physically and mentally. He suffered a softball-sized wound in his chest from the gunshot, massive blood loss, shattered ribs, multiple puncture wounds to his lungs and a "chest riddled with shotgun pellets," Rodriguez said. He was even placed into an induced coma for the first few weeks after the shooting. Cleveland also suffers from mental health issues as a result, Rodriguez said. 

Attorney Leonard Herr, who represents the school district, told jurors on Thursday he thought Cleveland should be compensated, but differed from Rodriguez on the amount.

"(Cleveland) absolutely suffered tremendous pain," Herr said. "He should be fully compensated for his pain and suffering." 

Herr did not specify a specific amount, but urged jurors to consider "a reasonable amount" of compensation for Cleveland. 

The damages phase of the trial is ongoing and is expected to continue into next week. 

In 2013, prosecutors charged Oliver with two counts of attempted murder and argued at trial he intended to kill Cleveland and another student, Jacob Nichols, as retaliation for perceived bullying against him. Oliver shot at Nichols but missed. 

He faced a life term if convicted.

Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman said incessant bullying at the school caused the gunman to "snap" and enter a blackout state the morning of the shooting.

Among the humiliations the gunman suffered, Cadman said, was a fight his freshman year that ended in him being sexually assaulted.

A mistrial was declared Dec. 17, 2014, after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

About a month later, Oliver pleaded no contest to two counts of unpremeditated attempted murder and was sentenced to 27 years and four months in prison. He'll be eligible for parole in less than 10 years. 

Maureen Strode can be reached at 661-395-7491. Follow her on Twitter: @maureenstrode.

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