Trial for civil lawsuit filed by victims of Santa Fe High School shooting rescheduled for July

Survivors of the 2018 mass shooting near Houston, and the relatives of the 10 people who died, are seeking to hold the shooter’s parents responsible in a lawsuit seeking more than $1 million in damages.

By Adam Zuvanich, Houston Public MediaMay 10, 2024 8:37 am, ,

From Houston Public Media:

Survivors of the Santa Fe High School shooting, and the relatives of the eight students and two teachers who were killed, have waited nearly six years for a measure of justice.

Now they’ll have to wait at least a couple more months.

A judge in Galveston County this week rescheduled the start of a civil trial – pitting the victims and their families against the accused shooter and his parents in a lawsuit seeking more than $1 million in damages – from May 28 to July 29. The trial is being delayed as the plaintiffs await related evidence from the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting a criminal case against shooter Dimitrios Pagourtzis, and also because the judge is determining whether Pagourtzis is mentally competent enough to be deposed, according to Clint McGuire, an attorney for several of the victims and their families.

The criminal case is indefinitely on hold because the 23-year-old Pagourtzis, who was 17 at the time of the mass shooting in southeast Houston on May 18, 2018, remains in a state hospital and is not competent to stand trial, based on repeated psychiatric evaluations.

The civil lawsuit seeks to hold Pagourtzis’ parents, Antonios Pagourtzis and Rose Marie Kosmetatos, responsible for the 10 deaths and injuries to 13 others. McGuire has alleged in court filings that Dimitrios Pagourtzis’ parents knew he was mentally unstable and dangerous and that they did not do enough to prevent him from using their guns, a .38-caliber pistol and sawed-off shotgun, to carry out the massacre.

“These parents and victims are very interested in getting their day in court, so that their story can be told,” McGuire said Thursday. “Many of them feel like this is the mass shooting that gets overlooked because there’s been no criminal trial and they have never had their day in court. They’re very much looking forward to having their day in court and having everyone hear their story and what this case is about.”

Lori Laird, the defense attorney representing Antonios Pagourtzis and Rose Marie Kosmetatos, did not immediately respond to a voicemail and email seeking comment Thursday.

The lawsuit claims negligence, gross negligence and negligent entrustment on the part of the parents, who in court filings have denied responsibility for the actions of their son.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis’ defense attorney in the criminal case, Nick Poehl, previously told Houston Public Media that his client’s mental state at the time of the shootings and whether he should be held legally responsible would be the crux of his argument in a criminal trial, adding that he does not dispute whether his Pagourtzis committed the act.

“We’re all frustrated by the fact that we still can’t proceed in the criminal prosecution,” Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said in a statement. “But I’m glad to see the civil case moving forward. We will provide the parties in the civil case with as much of evidence from the criminal investigation as the law will allow, in the interests of justice and without compromising the pending criminal prosecution.”

LuckyGunner ammunition company and online order fulfillment company Red Stag Fulfillment, both based in Tennessee, also were named as defendants in the civil lawsuit because Pagourtzis had utilized their services prior to the shooting. The victims and their families reached confidential settlements with the companies in January 2023, court records show.

Pagourtzis’ parents are scheduled for video depositions on June 20, according to McGuire, who said his clients also have requested that Pagourtzis be deposed. He must first be determined to be competent enough for a deposition, McGuire said, and that is being considered by Judge Jack Ewing ahead of the July trial.

“Judge Ewing ruled at the most recent hearing that the court would review the (medical) examinations that have been previously done,” McGuire said. “Then based on that information, we’ll figure out where the court goes from there on ruling on, No. 1, whether an additional psychiatric examination is warranted, and No. 2, whether Dimitrios is competent to provide testimony.”

Pagourtzis’ parents have not been criminally charged, but there is a recent precedent for such a legal action. Both parents of a Michigan teenager who shot and killed four classmates in 2021 were convicted of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.

McGuire said the crux of the civil case in Galveston County is ensuring that parents with guns, and children who might be capable of using those guns to cause harm, implement adequate safeguards.

“If you choose to bring weapons into your home and you have knowledge that your children are severely mentally disturbed, then you should safely store those weapons,” McGuire said. “If you don’t and those children access your weapons and go inflict carnage on others, then you as the parent are responsible for what it is that they do with your weapons.”

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