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Guilt By Association
by Ron Davis
A shooting death that occurred at a Louisiana shopping center will require the center’s owners to defend themselves against charges of negligence.
The shopping center is North Market Plaza in Shreveport, and the shooting resulted from a dispute involving two teenagers. The two had come to the shopping center to mingle with other teens who regularly gathered there on Friday evenings. The draw was a nightclub located on shopping center property and a Taco Bell fast-food restaurant located on adjacent property.
Numerous raucous incidents had regularly occurred at that location prior to the shooting. A Shreveport police officer described the nightclub as a cause of “all types of problems every weekend. Basically fighting, shooting, basic drive-by shooting and stuff like that.” He also described the nightclub’s parking lot as a “gang environment,” adding that the club regularly hired three or four off-duty police officers to provide security on the weekends.
On the evening of the shooting death, complaints of unruly teens at the Taco Bell restaurant as well as an auto accident at the shopping center required a police response. While there, officers heard gunfire, resulting in a “scene of chaos” as those present tried to take cover. But police soon arrested the shooter, and he later was convicted of second-degree murder.
The mother of the shooting victim blamed the shopping center’s owners for failure to maintain a safe environment at the property. In response, the owners claimed that they were never aware, prior to the teen’s death, of any shootings or attempted shootings at the center. Nor, they added, had they ever received any complaints about the nightclub or about troublesome incidents at the center’s parking lot.
In support of the position of the center’s owners, a university professor of criminal justice stated that he found no crime patterns at the center’s location that would make the shooting foreseeable. In fact, the professor added, that particular crime is not the type that is foreseeable at any location.
Finally, the center’s owners pointed out that the shooter was actually a customer of the Taco Bell restaurant and not the shopping center nor the nightclub.
The courts rejected the arguments of the center’s owners. The judges agreed that the shooter was not a patron of the nightclub, nor was he a user of the center’s premises. “But,” they added, “considering the nature of the crowd in the center’s parking lot that night and the experiences police had with it, there is a factual inference reasonably drawn in favor of the mother of the victim as to whether the center’s owners should have foreseen the type of incident that occurred.” (Patton v. Strogen, 2005 WL 1959516 [La.App. 2 Cir.])
Decision: Aug. 2005
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