By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Parents of two students affected by the mass shooting at Oxford High School filed two $100 million lawsuits against Oxford Community Schools and school officials in federal court, Thursday, Dec. 9.
Jeffrey and Brandi Franz of Leonard are suing on behalf of their children Riley Franz, 17, a senior who was shot in the neck, and Bella Franz, 14, a freshman who was with Riley when she was shot, narrowly missed the bullets fired toward her and witnessed other classmates shot and killed Nov. 30. The suit claims the school violated their 14th Amendment rights to be free from danger.
Representing the parents is Southfield-based attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who also represented the parents of a student killed in the Columbine massacre in 1999. He said the Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald has done her job by prosecuting the suspect and his parents, but that is not enough. “I now am going to prosecute the rest of this case for everyone else,” he said in a fervent speech announcing the suit at his law office. “The prosecutor has her job, and I have mine.”
Fieger said he intends to hold people responsible for failing to protect children. “I understand we can’t change the perverted values of the Second Amendment society overnight; values that prioritize gun ownership over the lives of our children. But we can make the cost of denying our own responsibility to stop this slaughter of our children so costly that maybe, just maybe, one less child will survive and not be murdered.”
Named defendants in the suit are the district itself, Superintendent Timothy Throne, Oxford High School Principal Steven Wolf, Dean of Students Ryan Moore, two unnamed school counselors, two unnamed teachers and an unnamed staff member.
Fieger admitted that he included all the school officials in the suit, including the unnamed teachers, “because we are not certain who did what.”
“However,” Fieger continued, “it is clear to us that whether it be school administrators, whether it be teachers or whether it be counselors, some or all of them were involved with (Ethan) Crumbley in terms of the knowledge of what he had written, in terms of the knowledge of what he had drawn, in terms of their absolute knowledge that he presented a danger and that he had no business being in the school. . . So it’s a process of weeding them out.”
Now that the suit has been filed, he can subpoena the same documents the county prosecutor has obtained from the schools.
On the same day of the filing, an attorney representing Oxford Community Schools sent a letter to Fieger requesting Ryan Moore be removed from the lawsuit, since he is not the Dean of Students at Oxford High School and has not been employed by the school for more than a year.
“All of your allegations regarding Mr. Moore are false,” wrote Timothy J. Mullins, an attorney with the firm Giarmarco, Mullins and Horton. “I demand that you retract all allegations and references relating to Mr. Moore. It is this type of misrepresentation that has resulted in school employees receiving death threats. I insist you publicly retract this lie and apologize to Mr. Moore.”
As of Sunday, Fieger had not made a correction.
What the suit alleges
The lawsuit claims the high school received warnings from multiple concerned parents about threats students made on social media in the weeks before the incident, according to the suit. In communications to Principal Wolf, parents said “I know it’s been investigated but my kid doesn’t feel safe at school,” and “He didn’t even want to go back to school today.”
The suit said Principal Wolf emailed parents Nov. 16 saying, “I know I’m being redundant here, but there is absolutely no threat at the HS…large assumptions were made from a few social media posts, then the assumptions evolved into exaggerated rumors.”
According to communications posted on the high school website, OHS administration had emailed all parents Nov. 12, saying every concern had been investigated and there was no threat. “Some rumors have evolved from an incident last week, while others do not appear to have any connection. Student interpretations of social media posts and false information have exacerbated the overall concern.”
In a Dec. 4 open letter to the district, Supt. Throne said he agreed with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office that previous incidents, including those addressed in the Nov. 12 communication to families, are unrelated to the events of Nov. 30.
The suit alleges that both Throne and Wolf specifically “reviewed the social media posts of Crumbley prior to November 30, 2021, which threated Oxford High School students.”
It also says Throne “discouraged students and parents from reporting, sharing, or otherwise discussing the threatening social media posts” via email and loudspeaker, reiterating that there were no threats that posed any danger.
However, the suit does not mention that the Nov. 12 communication from OHS administration also encouraged parents to “contact us if you are aware of a specific threat or concern that you have heard directly.”
The suit goes on to allege wrongdoing by the other staff members during the incidents involving Ethan Crumbley Nov. 29 and Nov. 30, arguing each defendant failed to search Ethan’s backpack and failed to involve the school’s resource officer at every step of the way.
On Nov. 29, Teacher #1 found Ethan searching ammunition on his phone. After Counselor #1 and another staff member met with Ethan about the incident, the staff member contacted Jennifer Crumbley via voicemail and email, but both the counselor and staff member failed to discipline Ethan or prevent him from returning to school the next day.
On Nov. 30, Teacher #2 found a violent drawing on Ethan’s desk and reported it to the dean of students. Ethan was called into the office and his parents were called in for a meeting, but the resource officer was not included.
The suit further alleges both Throne and Wolf were notified of the cell phone incident. It also says Wolf was present at the meeting with Ethan’s parents, even though Throne claimed, Dec. 4, “these incidents remained at the guidance counselor level and were never elevated to the principal or assistant principal’s office.”
The suit argues that staff members should have known that interviewing Ethan Crumbley in front of his parents and threatening, without action, to call Child Protective Services within 48 hours, would accelerate his violent plans.
Finally, the defendants allowed Ethan Crumbley to return to class with his backpack containing the handgun and 30 live bullets.
Under the 14th amendment, Riley and Bella had “a clearly established right to be free from danger created and/or increased by the Defendants,” the suit said. Each individual defendant took actions resulting in the students being less safe. “Their actions created the danger and increased the risk of harm that their students would be exposed to private acts of violence.”
Fieger said Riley is an honor student who was accepted to six colleges and Bella is a star athlete. They were planning to go on vacation Dec. 25.
“Instead,” Fieger said, “Riley is spending her time convalescing and packing a neck wound. . . Bella has been literally traumatized as if she was surviving in a war zone. These are two ultimately beautiful children who now are going to have to go back to a school that they know was attacked and is a war zone.”
Parents Jeffrey and Brandi Franz attended the press conference at Fieger’s office, but did not take questions.
Fieger said the lawsuit is suing the district officials, not the taxpayers. “The taxpayers fund them, but the taxpayers don’t make up that district. . . There’s a lot of things taxpayers fund. But taxpayers are also funding insurance policies. And insurance policies, I promise you, are covering all of those people, just like any other enterprise.”
The lawsuit isn’t about the money, Fieger said, it is about seeking justice and protection for the children. “How do you think things get done in this country? There’s only one Oakland County prosecutor and (the Crumbleys) are the only people who might go to jail for the rest of their lives. Nobody from that administration is going to go to jail. Nobody is going to be brought out before the bar of justice by the Oakland County prosecutor. It is only through the action of these parents (the Franzes) and others like them that something might get done in this regard.”
Based on his experience, Fieger does not believe any criminal charges will be brought against the school. He also accused the district and the superintendent of not being transparent. “The reason you’re not hearing anything from the superintendent of schools and the principal at Oxford High School is because they’ve lawyered up by insurance lawyers who tell them, keep your mouth shut. Why? Because . . . they’re worried about paying money. That’s all they care about.”
He added that the prosecutor can’t stop the superintendent from talking or sharing evidence. “Who are you protecting? Are you protecting the students? Are you protecting the parents? Or are you protecting yourselves from liability?”
Mullins, the school district’s attorney, said “The Prosecutor has requested that we not comment on these matters to avoid compromising the ongoing prosecutorial proceedings.”
Throne said in a Dec. 8 open letter that the district is fully cooperating with the Oakland County Sheriff’s and county prosecutor’s offices and that the district has not been able to say more because they cannot interfere with the investigation or prosecution.
“We know this has caused frustration and anger but we are doing our best under difficult circumstances,” Throne wrote.
Throne announced his intention to initiate a third-party investigation and review of safety practices and procedures in the letter.
By James Hanlon
To the Editor.
I sent an opinion about the shooting and the lack of action by the principal who failed to protect his school by his inaction.
Apparently that opinion is not welcome in your newspaper.
Law suits will support my belief that the school leadership did not do its job and ignored all the signs of a disturbed kid focused on death, blood and guns.
Man up and put my original opinion in your paper.
Editor’s Note: please consider this: https://www.bridgemi.com/guest-commentary/opinion-oxford-shooting-dont-blame-high-school-following-state-rules