Parents of Columbine shooter plan to sue

Klebolds say authorities ignored indications that Eric Harris was violent

October 19, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DENVER -- In the first public sign of discord between the families of the teen-agers responsible for the killings at Columbine High School, the parents of Dylan Klebold are considering a lawsuit against Jefferson County, claiming that the authorities ignored indications that the other shooter, Eric Harris, had violent tendencies.

Susan and Thomas Klebold argued in papers filed Friday with the county attorney that the sheriff's office was "reckless, willful and wanton" in failing to respond to complaints last year that Harris had threatened to kill another student.

In Colorado, any lawsuit against a government agency must be proceeded by a notification, known as an "intent to sue" claim, within 180 days of the event.

The shootings, in which Harris and Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves, occurred April 20.

The Klebolds filed "intent to sue" claims against the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, as did the families of 14 victims, four of whom died, and one teacher.

Thirteen of the families also filed papers with the county school district, and at least eight filed with the county probationary department because, at the time of the shootings, Harris and Klebold were on probation.

The filing took many officials by surprise because the Klebolds noted previous incidents involving Harris that they contend should have alerted the authorities to his potential for violent behavior.

They argued that if the authorities had told them and the probation department that Harris once threatened to kill a student, the knowledge "would more likely than not have caused the Klebolds to become aware of dangers of which they were not aware and demand that their son, Dylan, be excluded from all contacts with Eric Harris."

William A. Tuthill III, an assistant county attorney, said the claim "is without any legal basis whatsoever."

The attorney for the Klebolds, Gary Lozow, and Benjamin Colkitt, who represents the Harrises, did not return phone calls.

For those who proceed with a lawsuit, the rewards may be minimal.

Under Colorado law, a plaintiff suing a government agency can recover no more than $150,000, and the agency is liable for no more than $600,000 for any one incident.

Pub Date: 10/19/99

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