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County court to hear lawsuit in school shooting

The Baltimore Sun

A lawsuit filed by the mother of a former Randallstown High School student paralyzed in a 2004 shooting on the school's parking lot will be tried in Baltimore County, a Maryland appellate court ruled yesterday.

The decision from the Court of Special Appeals - the state's second-highest court - means that the civil suit will be transferred from Baltimore City, where the case was filed last year by Edna "Peggy" Payton-Henderson, the mother of William "Tipper" Thomas III.

A wide receiver for the Randallstown High School Rams who had intended to play football at Morgan State University, Thomas was paralyzed from the waist down when he was shot in the neck, back and lung.

Payton-Henderson has sued the then-principal of Randallstown High, the Baltimore County Board of Education, the county Police Department, two police officers and the two shooters convicted of firing a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun into a crowd of students. The suit accuses the defendants of negligent failure in not preventing the injury to Thomas.

In upholding a lower court's decision to transfer the case to Baltimore County, the three-judge panel found that Towson would be a more convenient location than Baltimore for most of the witnesses who might be called to testify in the case. The appellate court also ruled that, in the "interest of justice," the county was a more appropriate location for the suit.

"When a fusillade of gunshots endangers dozens, if not hundreds, of students at a large Baltimore County high school, Baltimore County self-evidently has an intense interest in the outcome of the case," the judges wrote in their 26-page opinion. "When the Baltimore County Board of Education and the Baltimore County Police Department are sued for negligence in permitting such a threat to high school students to have occurred, Baltimore County self-evidently has an intense interest in the outcome of the case."

Gunshots rang out across the parking lot of Randallstown High on a sunny Friday afternoon in May 2004 as a charity basketball game was letting out. Four students were hit in the only school shooting in Baltimore County history.

Two gunmen were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of 50 and 100 years. A third suspect, who is accused of bringing the gun to the school that day, is scheduled to go to trial this summer.

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