This week, both government defendants faced a key deadline in the civil case filed by the family of DeAndre Thomas, the student critically injured in a school shooting at Derwood’s Col. Zadok Magruder High School last January. Only one filed a motion.
The lawsuit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, alleges negligence on the part of both Montgomery County and its Board of Education and specifically cites the county’s removal of school resource officers, or SROs, from its campuses as a basis for fault. Alexander Bush of Rowe, Weinstein & Sohn PLLC represents the family in the lawsuit. According to Bush, negligence lawsuits against local government entities are capped at $400,000.
Bush told Bethesda Beat that both the county and school board had until Tuesday night to file motions to dismiss—which only the county ended up filing.
Because the school board did not challenge the family’s complaint, the case moves into discovery—an opportunity for both sides to take depositions and request documents from each other as they build their cases in preparation for trial. Bush said he plans to contact the school board very soon to ask for deposition dates.
“I have a number of teachers, administrators and police officers I want to depose,” he told Bethesda Beat.
Pushback from the county
Unlike the school board, Montgomery County did file a motion to dismiss, alleging that “the County Council’s isolated decision to remove SROs from schools falls woefully short of stating a cause of action.”
In the motion, obtained from Bush by Bethesda Beat, the county cites case law saying that the Maryland Constitution “does not require government actors to affirmatively protect life, liberty or property against instruction by private third parties.”
As long as a government entity doesn’t increase the risk of harm to its own citizens “through its own affirmative acts,” the county argues, it can’t be held responsible for any harm inflicted by a third party like the Magruder shooter—who pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder in November and was later sentenced to 18 years in prison. But whether this specific case law applies to the Thomas lawsuit will be up to a judge to decide.
To oppose the county’s motion, Bush said he will argue that this set of facts can be distinguished from the case law because it involves minors who are required by law to be in school. During that time, students are “literally in the custody of the local government,” which he said creates an affirmative duty on the government to protect its wards.
Bush plans to file a brief in response by next week and said he hopes the court will schedule a hearing on the motion to dismiss as soon as possible so the case can progress.
Contacted by Bethesda Beat for comment, both the Office of the County Attorney and Montgomery County Public Schools said they do not comment on pending litigation.
A mountain of medical bills
Meanwhile, Bush said the Thomas family is struggling financially to pay DeAndre’s hefty medical bills.
Karen Thomas is a single mother who took off months’ worth of work to care for her son and drive him to medical appointments in the year since he was shot by a fellow Magruder student at school, Bush said. DeAndre was on life support for three weeks and underwent multiple blood transfusions and more than 10 surgeries, and has needed significant help around the house ever since the shooting.
The first medical bill the family received from Johns Hopkins’ Suburban Hospital totaled $17,700, Bush said. Of that, Medicaid only contributed $8,000. That ratio remains consistent for the remaining $450,000 worth of medical bills owed for DeAndre’s care, Bush said.
“I spent about eight hours on the phone getting bounced around, and no one seems to know the answer for why insurance isn’t getting these bills paid or what the basis for denial is,” he said.
Although Bush is barred by Maryland law from providing any direct financial assistance to his clients, he’s helping Karen Thomas promote a GoFundMe to help keep the family financially solvent until their case is resolved. The fundraiser, titled “Magruder Shooting Victim Needs Your help,” has currently raised $1,418 of its $25,000 goal.