The Buffalo Massacre: Could the parents of the accused be held responsible?

On May 14, our country faced another brutal mass shooting. Police say Payton Gendron, 18, arrived at Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, NY, around 2:30 p.m. armed and wearing military gear. He then reportedly started shooting, eventually shooting 13 people and killing 10.

Witnesses say Gendron shouted racial slurs during the attack, suggesting the attack was a racially motivated hate crime, according to reports citing law enforcement sources. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the FBI said the attack was being investigated as a hate crime and racially motivated violent extremism.

We have since learned that Gendron was from Broome County, NY, over 200 miles from Buffalo. Gendron’s classmates noted that he had exhibited strange and erratic behavior in the past and had previously been investigated for making disturbing comments referring to murder and suicide. during a lesson.

The Internet accounts that allegedly belonged to Gendron further reinforce the belief that this attack was racially motivated. It was reported that he was apparently the author of a 180-page statement which contained other racial slurs and obscenities. The statement and other online documents showed support for other white supremacist mass shooters and discussed the planning of the attack in detail.

The amount of information available indicates that someone knew this was planned.

Similarities, Differences with Michigan Mass Shooting

In November, I wrote about the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the then 15-year-old Michigan high school shooter who is criminally charged with killing four Oxford High School classmates and seriously injuring seven others. His trial is tentatively set for September.

It was like so many other school shootings in recent years, with one big exception: Michigan prosecutors charged Crumbley’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, with manslaughter.

Although rare, the case involving the Crumbleys may have been a watershed moment, a time when the parents of minors committing atrocious acts would be held accountable. As I said, this case was – and is – a rarity.

Crumbley’s parents were charged for allegedly ignoring, and presumably encouraging, conduct that could have led to the violent attack. The tentative trial date for the parents is October 24.

Investigation of the parents of the accused

On May 15, it was revealed that the FBI was interviewing Gendron’s parents, Paul and Pamela Gendron. The couple are believed to be cooperating with investigators. Certainly, parallels with the Crumbleys will be drawn, but should they be?

Under U.S. federal and state law, generally, the actions of a passive wrongdoer will not be criminally charged unless conspiracy is alleged, or prosecutors can establish a case based on solicitation or complicity. . The logic is that if an actor did not actively participate in the commission of a crime, then that actor should not be held criminally responsible unless a very strong connection can be established between that actor and the commission of that crime. crime. Prosecutors believe that’s what happened in Oxford.

In this case, the Crumbleys allegedly bought their son the gun used to commit the crime and ignored warnings from school officials that their son was planning a school shooting. In subsequent text messages between the Crumbleys and their son, the Crumbleys appear to laugh at their son’s erratic behavior.

The case of the Gendrons is a little different.

While it is true that their son was living with them, the allegations linking the Gendrons to the offense appear absent. At this point, authorities are likely doing their best to determine how much of their son’s behavior should have known to the Gendrons.

Payton Gendron reportedly conducted extensive research before carrying out his attack. He also made no secret of his affection for white supremacist ideology. Authorities are in the process of authenticating the content of his online posts and are searching the Gendrons’ home to see if any further evidence of this attack can be found.

At this point, it doesn’t look like the authorities have enough to criminally charge the Gendrons.

Public liability

As with the Crumbleys, liability is also a potential issue for the Gendrons. If evidence is found showing that the Gendrons could have acted to prevent this attack, and that this attack was foreseeable, then they could be sued by the victims of the attack and their families.

Civil negligence demands a much lower standard than any criminal liability, requiring a plaintiff to show that a defendant merely breached a duty of care to another. It can be much more manageable.

However, civil cases come with their own set of issues, including the ability to recover damages if and when judgment is obtained against a party.

The biggest difference between the cases, however, is the prosecutor. In Michigan, we see someone determined to shake up our passive responses to this endless series of shootings.

It remains to be seen how the New York prosecutor will act and what evidence the police investigation will be able to produce by digging deeper into what happened here. We will all be waiting.

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Dimitri Shahnevich is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Constitutional Law at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. He is the founder of the Manhattan-based law firm Dmitriy Shakhnevich, where he represents clients in criminal cases and various civil cases.

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