SAN JOSE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A lawsuit filed today in Santa Clara County Superior Court alleges that negligent security measures allowed a heavily armed gunman to openly enter the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 28, 2019, killing three people and seriously injuring at least 12 others.
The lawsuit against the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association, various security companies and other unnamed defendants, was filed by the Scarlett Law Group on behalf of five shooting victims who suffered multiple life-threatening gunshot wounds.
The lawsuit says organizers could have done numerous things to make the Festival safer, including maintaining a secured perimeter, monitoring that perimeter and other vulnerable areas with trained guards, and properly staffing security personnel.
The lawsuit also alleges that Festival organizers, at a minimum:
- should have known an active shooter was a “foreseeable” risk;
- failed to conduct a threat assessment and/or security audit of the Festival venue;
- installed a “flimsy” chain link fence around the Festival perimeter that contributed to “grossly deficient” security and allowed the shooter to enter the Festival unchecked;
- did not have an adequate number of trained security personnel on duty the day the shooting occurred.
“People in Gilroy know you can hop the fence and get in for free,” said attorney Randall H. Scarlett. “Obviously security was woefully deficient. Festival organizers owed a duty to protect the community members attending their event from the foreseeable and dangerous risk of shooters. No one should undertake to organize and promote a large public event without taking steps to make their attendees safe. It is simply unfathomable that they would not have better planned this event.”
The first Gilroy Garlic Festival was held in 1979 and attracted approximately 15,000 people; nearly 85,000 people attended the 2019 festival.
The Festival is held annually at Christmas Hill Park, which is owned by the city of Gilroy; the Festival Association contracted with the city to lease the park beginning in 1985. Unfortunately, that antiquated contract between the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association and the city of Gilroy has been unchanged since that date.
“The contract simply did not and could not contemplate the risks associated with hosting a large public event in modern times,” Scarlett said. “The 8-year-old U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ‘Protective Measures Guide for the U.S. Outdoor Venues Industry’ should also be observed.”
The guidelines say large event organizers must plan for worst-case scenarios, including possible terrorist attacks. The FBI is investigating the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting as an act of domestic terrorism.
The lack of emergency planning led to chaos after the shooter was neutralized, the lawsuit says:
“For example, other patrons of the Festival rushed to Wendy Towner and Francisco Aguilera’s aid. Unable to find medical personnel or emergency personnel, the patrons were forced to use water mixed with bleach from the utensil wash station to wash Wendy Towner’s wounds. Wendy Towner, Francisco Aguilera and Brynn Ota-Matthews were all loaded into civilian vehicles for transport but were not able to reach a hospital for over an hour… despite being in desperate need of such treatment.”
Shooting victim Wendy Towner said, “I initiated this lawsuit because the many victims and I will likely have long-term health problems due to our injuries and I don’t want to see this happen to anyone else. People who promote big events like the Garlic Festival must protect their volunteers, vendors and visitors.”
The Scarlett Law Group is currently in the process of preparing a government claim against the city of Gilroy on behalf of its clients. State law requires that government claims be filed as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit against a government entity; all government claims have a six-month filing deadline.