At the outset, let’s stipulate that Karen McDonald, the prosecuting attorney for Oakland County, Michigan, appears to be a decent person.
Her righteous anger over the events at Oxford High School on November 30, so visible in her press conferences, is something that all Americans, regardless of their politics, can relate to and respect.
McDonald, alas, is also a politician, more specifically, a Bernie Sanders and ACLU-supported Democrat who, true to form, has used the tragedy to blast supposedly inadequate gun control laws, both in her own state of Michigan and nationally.
Ironically, while appearing on Good Morning America, McDonald inadvertently punctured the liberal illusion that “better” gun storage laws could prevent tragedies like Oxford.
Host George Stephanopoulos asked about the decision to charge the parents — a move which though being hailed by some as groundbreaking is one that a D.A. in even the most conservative jurisdiction likely would make given the parents’ callous indifference.
Her interviewer mentioned that according to the parents’ attorney, the gun was locked, and asked whether that would change the case if true. No, said McDonald, because their son still had access to it, and the parents were aware that he might be dangerous.
Bingo. Unconstitutional “safe storage” laws won’t stop homicidal maniacs from getting their hands on guns, and while the vast majority of Americans who own firearms do so responsibly, they won’t turn the likes of Jennifer and James Crumbley into responsible citizens.
And what does this have to do with whether one or more school officials should be criminally charged?
A lot, actually. It makes sense for a Democrat like McDonald to sermonize about gun control. It fires up the Democratic base.
That base, alas, includes the teachers unions and friends. Indeed, McDonald’s candidacy was backed by the Michigan Education Association, whose 120,000 members include support staff such as counselors — but that hardly matters. Even principals (typically former teachers) and other administrators nominally labeled “management” work closely and are often aligned with union officials.
Teachers unions don’t have a voice in the Democratic Party. They rule the Democratic party — hence the sad reality that Democrats fight measures allowing poor kids to escape the broken but union-run schools in America’s inner cities.
All of which, in turn, brings up the entirely reasonable question of whether a Democratic prosecutor like McDonald might well decide that the better part of discretion means not charging school officials, shielded, if you will, by the very fact that much of what a prosecutor does is exercise discretion.
There’s no space or reason here to inventory all of the warning signs ignored by school officials prior to Ethan Crumbley’s homicidal rampage — in which he murdered four students and injured several others.
Suffice to say that the only clue lacked by officials was a signed note from him detailing his killing plan — and one wonders whether this crew would have acted even with that.
In Michigan, manslaughter encompasses death resulting from “negligently doing some act lawful in itself or by the negligent omission to perform a legal duty,” although “ordinary” or “simple” negligence won’t suffice — there must be “criminal negligence” or “gross negligence.”
If Oxford officials’ actions and inaction aren’t criminal negligence, then perhaps no school official could ever be charged.
Asked by Stephanopoulos about whether officials could be facing charges during her Good Morning America appearance, McDonald punted. “That has not been presented to our office,” she said. But your office decides those things, prosecutor.
In fairness, McDonald has not tried to justify the schools’ actions and inactions and has repeatedly offered that the shooter should not have been allowed back in class once officials had his note — containing a drawing of a gun, a bloody figure with multiple gunshot wounds, and despairing words.
But she has also said that she was not trying “to chastise or attack” Oxford officials. Asked about the community’s anger at officials, McDonald allowed, “I’d be angry too,” adding, “but that doesn’t mean there is criminal culpability.”
Despite her disclaimers, her own words at times seem to make a strong case for criminal liability.
In the December 3 press conference, she said that anyone seeing the note had “absolute reason to believe the individual was dangerous and disturbed.” And yet, officials let him back in class, not even checking his backpack (which contained the gun), armed with the knowledge that he may have access to firearms.
That sure sounds like criminal negligence. Following the shooting, the wretched Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a statement urging legislators to stop “gun violence” — not a peep on the dereliction of duty displayed by school officials.
It’s unclear when McDonald will decide whether to charge officials. Maybe she’s waiting on approval from her union bosses.
In the meantime, some advice to anyone who believes that Oxford officials are criminally negligent: don’t hold your breath.
Ken Sondik is an attorney in Zionsville, Indiana. Reach him at email@example.com
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