Red Lake Seeks School Shooting Surveillance Footage as It Faces Lawsuits

Sept. 11, 2005
School district seeks surveillance recordings from school shooting now held by FBI

The Red Lake school district, facing hundreds of workers' compensation claims from employees and the possibility of multiple lawsuits, is seeking to view a complete video record of a student's killing spree at Red Lake High School as well as the killer's academic and psychological records.

Those materials, the district said in a motion filed Thursday, were among the items seized by the FBI immediately following the March 21 shootings. Eight people died at the school, including the shooter, 16-year-old student Jeff Weise, who took his own life. Seven were injured. Weise had killed his grandfather and his grandfather's partner at home before assaulting the school.

Shamus O'Meara, a Minneapolis attorney who is representing the school district in the shootings and expected legal claims, said federal officials have declined to make the materials available, and he has failed at attempts to use freedom of information laws to view them.

"There is an immediate need to thoroughly review the district's security system to ensure the protection of staff and students from incidents of violence," the school district said in its motion. The district is asking a federal judge to allow the district to view the materials.

U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, whose office is leading the criminal investigation into the shootings, said he had not yet reviewed the papers and could not comment on the district's request. The criminal case against a second 16-year-old student, Louis Jourdain, suspected of helping plot the assault is still pending.

According to the district's court filings, video cameras in the school recorded what a technician described as "graphic and detailed incidents of the murder scene." The district retained a copy, but it is a shortened version without all the available camera angles, O'Meara said, and the district wants to view copies held by federal investigators.

The school district said it is also seeking access to educational records for Weise, who was at home that day on the school's homebound instruction program. Included in the district's request are records from the teacher who visited Weise at home during the school year. The district also said it believes the FBI has a psychiatrist's report on Weise.

"The district's perspective is that these are important items of information to have so that we can cogently speak to the issues of security, with the school board, with the district staff, as well as the community," O'Meara said. "Without them, we simply have not done the job we need to do to fully evaluate that system."

In the court papers, the district said "several hundred workers' compensation claims" have been filed against the district over the shootings. The papers suggested that many lawsuits are possible, and said groups of victims' families, school employees and parents of students in one classroom all are consulting attorneys.

O'Meara is also representing the Rocori school district in the aftermath of a school shooting that killed two students at Rocori High School in September 2003. He said in that case, materials were made available by the state to the school district under a judge's order, which prohibited copying or public dissemination of some documents.

The court papers filed by the school district say federal agents seized dozens of school computers and were given maps and blueprints of the school, a student directory with parents' phone numbers, attendance on the day of the shooting and locker combinations for each student.

(c) 2005 Associated Press