Elliot Rodger went on a deadly rampage in Isla Vista in May, 2014. He killed six people and injured 14 more before ending the siege by taking his own life. The first two murder victims were his roommates; the third was a friend of those roommates. The parents of Rodger’s roommates have now filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, and the apartment complex where Rodgers and his roommates lived.
The crux of the lawsuit is that all of them ignored the obvious warning signs that Rodger was dangerous. As to the apartment complex, the lawsuit claims that the building owners and manager didn’t complete a reasonable background check, and that his roommates relied on the notion that Rodger had been thoroughly investigated. As to the county and the Sheriff’s Department, the suit claims that numerous “red flags” were ignored, including an incident when Sheriff’s deputies were called to Rodger’s apartment to perform a welfare check, but left without searching his room. Had they done so, they would have found a cache of weapons and ammunition that were ultimately used to carry out the attacks.
There is no question that the Isla Vista attacks were horrific, the violent work of a deeply disturbed individual. What will now be decided by a jury in Federal Court is whether, and to what extent, the failure of the apartment complex and Sheriff’s Deputies to act reasonably in the face of evidence of Rodger’s erratic behavior makes them complicit in the result.
I’m regularly called upon to weigh in on legal news stories such as this one. It’s such a difficult thing, in the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, to view these cases objectively. It becomes extremely tempting to “Monday morning quarterback” these scenarios, and point an accusatory finger at those that could have stopped a tragedy, if only they would have had clarity of vision at the time. And yet we live in a country that is founded on notions of freedom, and government actors are rightly loathe to take away our liberties without good reason to do so. There’s no question now about the smoldering powder keg that Rodger was; and, at that same time, when the apartment complex or the Sheriff’s Deputies encountered Rodger, with the information that they had at the time, did they fail to act reasonably? This, ultimately, will be a question for 12 jurors to resolve, but as much as I want safety, I don’t want it at the expense of liberty, and striking the balance is not always easy to do in real time.
Speaking of “striking,” the Ray Rice case has now been resolved. Rice, the former star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, settled his wrongful termination grievance against the Ravens for a reported $1.588 million dollars. This, of course, isn’t a bad payday to not play football, but is less than half the amount he would have received had he suited up for the games he missed.
Rice, as may be recalled, was initially disciplined with a two game suspension for a domestic violence incident involving his then-fiancée in an elevator. When videotape of the attack was released, this was modified to an indefinite suspension, which Rice contested and was successful in having rescinded. The person with the most long-term damage from the incident may be NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has been widely criticized for his handling of the situation. However, with Goodell’s reported annual salary of $44 million dollars, doubtful anyone will be feeling too sorry for him.
The real silver lining in the dark cloud that was the Ray Rice story is the national conversation that developed around allegations of domestic violence and abuse, and the very powerful “No More” TV commercials that encouraged us all to tackle this topic, no matter how difficult we found it. (And for those of you who, like me, have some memory deficits thanks to their college years, refresh your recollection here ) As the father of a daughter, I couldn’t agree more. No More.
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