The family of school shooter Bryan Oliver has filed a claim against the Taft Union High School District seeking $5.5 million on the basis of what its attorney said is the district’s “indifference in dealing with the protection of children.”
Attorney Thomas Anton said the high school and district didn’t follow their own rules and regulations, and state laws regarding bullying and sexual harassment.
“They didn’t comply with all the laws that are in place,” he said. “The school knew what was going on.”
Anton said he filed the claim, a required step before pursuing a lawsuit against a public entity, last week. The district has 45 days to respond.
The district’s attorney, Leonard Herr, said he had no comment on the claim.
Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman, Oliver’s criminal attorney, said he could not comment on the claim due to a gag order in the case. Oliver’s next court hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Oliver's trial on two counts of attempted murder ended in a mistrial Dec. 16. A retrial is scheduled for Jan. 26.
Oliver was 16 when he brought a shotgun to Taft Union High School the morning of Jan. 10, 2013, and shot classmate Bowe Cleveland in the chest. He also fired at, but missed, classmate Jacob Nichols.
Cleveland suffered major injuries but survived.
Students testified at Oliver’s trial last year that he was repeatedly bullied at Taft Union High. In one incident, a student allegedly sexually assaulted Oliver in front of a group of classmates during his freshman year by placing his genitalia on Oliver’s face.
A psychologist retained by the Kern County Public Defender’s office said Oliver has bipolar disorder and experienced a “disassociative” episode the morning of the shooting where he blacked out at home and didn’t come to until after firing the first shot in the classroom. The psychologist also said Oliver suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Oliver had faced a life sentence if found guilty of the attempted murder charges. Both prosecutors and the defense agree he was the shooter.
Several lawsuits have been filed in connection with the shooting.
Last week, the Taft Union High School District filed a lawsuit against the city of Taft seeking damages for breach of contract and contractual indemnity. The district argues the shooting would not have happened if the Taft Police Department officer scheduled to work at the school hadn’t failed to show up.
The district’s contract with the city states the city was to provide a police officer on campus during school hours. Officer Doug Hallmark, who lives in the Frazier Park area, was trapped at home that morning because the Grapevine was closed due to ice and snow.
The family of Cleveland is suing the district for failing to take adequate precautions against Oliver. The family’s attorney, Daniel Rodriguez, has said district officials knew, or reasonably should have known, that Oliver was dangerous, threatening and likely to commit a violent act.
Rodriguez said Tuesday he was aware of Oliver’s claim against the district.
“While we’re not sure what the theory of his case will be, what we do know is that whatever the outcome may be, whether it be thrown out by a judge as being frivolous or whether a jury turns him away — because after all he was the one that shot a defenseless student in the chest — at the end of the day Oliver’s claim will not effect Bowe Cleveland’s claim,” Rodriguez said.
“Because after all,” he added, “Bowe is the real victim in this tragedy.”