Only taxpayers will get hurt, mayor says
By Doug Keeler
Midway Driller Editor
The Taft City Council is appealing to the Taft Union High School to drop a lawsuit filed against the city in connection with the January 2023 campus shooting that critically injured one student and sent the shooter to prison.
The suit, filed months after the shooting, alleges the city was negligent in fulfilling its contractual duties for a school resource officer because no officer was on campus when Bryan Oliver shot Bowe Cleveland in a science building classroom.
Cleveland was critically injured and underwent multiple surgeries.
Oliver was sentenced to 27 years, 4 months in prison after pleading no contest to unpremeditated attempted murder
Officer Douglas Hallmark, then the SRO assigned to Taft High, was delayed by weather from his home in Frazier Park.
The city contends the lawsuit will only hurt the taxpayers.
Further, city officials have told the Taft Midway Driller, the suit could endanger current contracts between the city, Taft High, the taft City School District and Taft College.
The city provides school resource officers to each of the districts, and it is now required to include language in the contracts indemnifying the city against suits like the one filed by TUHS.
The contract between the city and high school expired on June 30 a new contract proposal has not yet been approved, said TUHS Board of Trustees President Paul Linder.
It was on the council agenda for Tuesday's meeting but was tabled.
"It's under discussion," he said. "It's being bounced around between our attorney and the city's attorney."
The city said it can't assign SROs to the schools without the protection from lawsuits."
Linder, a former Taft mayor and councilman, said the school and city have enjoyed good relations and wants to continue to work with the city.
Further, in a statement read by City Attorney Jason Epperson, the city asked for the current suit to be dropped.
"The City of Taft has publicly denied any wrongdoing in the shooting incident and strongly disagrees with the High School District’s decision to file suit against the City of Taft," Epperson said."Multiple attempts at convincing the Taft Union High School District and its insurance carrier to drop the suit against the City of Taft have failed.
"This is especially unfortunate and ironic because the taxpayers of the City of Taft will ultimately foot the bill for the High School District to sue the City of Taft, regardless of which side wins in court. In other words, unless the suit is dropped against the City of Taft, the taxpayers of Taft are effectively paying to sue themselves. The City Council finds this approach to lack any common sense and to be destructive of the bonds that hold this community together."
"We all remember the tragic events of January 10, 2013," Epperson continued. "However, the current situation -- in which Taft taxpayers are being forced to sue themselves -- only deepens the wounds this community suffered that day. The City Council is proud of the Taft Police Department and the difficult job its officers have done every day. The City Council hopes that the Taft Union High School District and its claims management company will publicly say the same and, further, demonstrate that support by dropping this expensive and wasteful lawsuit against the City of Taft."
Mayor Dave Noerr added some comments of his own, calling the lawsuit "a travesty."