MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. - A lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of the teen shot inside a bathroom at Magruder High School accuses Montgomery County leaders of negligence in removing school resources officers during a time of "significantly increased violence."
"It’s been very difficult," said Attorney Alexander Bush, one of the attorneys with Rowe, Weinstein & Sohn PLLC representing the teen shot and his mother. "The struggle that it’s been to get any recognition from the county about the legitimacy of her claim and you know, just her dealing with the difference between what the school board and Ms. McKnight would say in public about what they’re doing and how much they care – and the complete lack of care that she’s been shown."
The student who was shot is DeAndre Thomas. He was 15 years old at the time. His mother is Karen Thomas.
Attorneys filed the lawsuit last month and named both the Montgomery County Board of Education and Montgomery County as plaintiffs. School Board President Brenda Wolff and County Executive Marc Elrich were the officials served.
The 13-page document describes the extensive injuries Thomas suffered after the shooting on Jan. 21st of this year. Thomas was rushed to Suburban Hospital with a bullet still lodged in his side, according to attorneys, who also said that the bullet shattered his left pelvis and destroyed part of his lower intestine.
The teen barely survived, according to the lawsuit. He dealt with nine surgeries, prolonged intubation, Sepsis and kidney failure. Attorneys said he was not discharged until nearly two months later.
His hospital costs are estimated to be approximately $350,000.
The lawsuit includes different Montgomery County leaders commenting and supporting the plan to remove school resource officers from MCPS buildings last school year – and notes the various school incidents of violence that took place since – and in the months leading up to the January shooting.
According to the lawsuit, Magruder High School’s staff even removed doors from all the boys' bathrooms, due to concerns of violence. The only door that hadn’t been removed is the bathroom the shooting allegedly took place inside.
The Thomas family’s attorneys also claim the teenage suspect spoke about wanting to purchase a ghost gun and allegedly showed other students a website to purchase one. The lawsuit alleges he told students and school employees not to touch his book bag. Attorneys say nothing was done to inspect the suspicious activity.
"That the Defendant and Defendant’s agents, servants, and/or employees breached its duty of care by (a) removing longstanding security measures at a time of significantly increased violence, (b) failing to implement alternative measures of preventing violence, (c) allowing one of the bathrooms of the Colonel Zadok Magruder High School to remain an area where violence was more likely to occur, and (d) by failing to act on the numerous suspicious activities of the shooter in the days and weeks leading up to his assault on DeAndre Thomas," the lawsuit reads.
Ms. Thomas spoke out Wednesday night at a meeting held by Montgomery County Public Schools. She said that in the past 10 months since the incident changed her son's life, no one from MCPS’ central office had reached out to check on her son or offer support.
FOX 5’s Lindsay Watts was in the room Wednesday night and spoke with Magruder parents who were also shocked to learn MCPS central staff had not contacted the Thomas family.
For months, Magruder parents testified at school board meetings, calling for this Wednesday session to be held.
"It’s not just a lack of concern but it’s hypocrisy," said attorney Alexander Bush. "They want parents to feel safe or they want the goodwill of the public, but they’re not actually willing to do anything to earn that."
"MCPS remains committed to supporting the Magruder community, following the tragic events that occurred on Jan. 21. This community meeting represents months of additional listening sessions with staff and families affected by this incident. We heard from families that they wanted clarity on the sequence of events that transpired that day, and to openly engage in dialogue on how we move forward," said MCPS Spokesperson Jessica Baxter, in a response to FOX 5.
FOX 5 asked MCPS on Thursday whether there are any plans for the School Resource Officer program to return. MCPS did not answer.
In the wake of removing the SRO program, county and school leaders created a Community Engagement Officer program and later expanded that program to allow officers back inside the schools in the wake of the Magruder High School shooting. However, CEOs are still not permanently staffed at county high schools.
When the county executive removed the SRO program, the Montgomery County Council also allowed MCPS to hire 50 mental health professionals to place inside school buildings.
A few days after the Magruder High School shooting, Councilmember Will Jawando, who is named in the lawsuit for his support in removing the SROs, told FOX 5 he believed around 20 of those positions had been filled up to that point. FOX 5 checked with MCPS on that figure. MCPS Spokesperson Chris Cram confirmed that was not true – that MCPS only had about two positions filled at the time.
In April, FOX 5 asked MCPS about the vacancies again and was told the 50 figure was scaled back to include more supervisors. MCPS informed FOX 5 they now had around 66 vacancies for mental health positions that now included psychologists, social workers, and part-time vs. full-time school counselors.
FOX 5 asked MCPS on Thursday how many vacancies still exist.
"We have reached out to staff about the number of mental health professionals. These positions were added based on student needs from the pandemic," Baxter said via email.
Councilmember Will Jawando gave FOX 5 the following statement:
"I cannot comment on pending litigation. What I have said, and will continue to say, is that school security, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and teachers are the best-trained adults to address and prevent student conflict. Of course, in the case of gun possession or an imminent threat of violence, the police can and should be called and will respond quickly. Police officers patrolling in schools lead to disproportionate contact and arrests of Black and Latino students as well as students with disabilities."
County Executive Marc Elrich’s office did not answer FOX 5’s request for a response.