Education Law

Masked gunman in surprise 'active shooter' school drill traumatized teacher, federal lawsuit says

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A surprise “active shooter” drill at a charter school in a rural Oregon community in 2013 was intended to help staff make better preparations to deflect real bullets, if such a situation ever occurs.

No students were present on the in-service day when two masked, hooded, armed men appeared in classrooms and shot blanks at Pine Eagle School District 61 teachers, and some teachers told the Oregonian soon afterward that they had learned from the experience. Dollie Beck, for example, began keeping her classroom door locked.

Not everyone, however, found the drill a positive experience. In a federal lawsuit filed Friday in Portland, teacher Linda McLean says the April 26, 2013 drill at the Halfway school, in which a gunman in a black hoodie and goggles pointed a pistol at her face and shot her with blanks, left her with permanent emotional trauma and unable to return to work, the Oregonian reports.

An employee of the school district since 1982, McLean “was extremely shaken, confused and mentally, physically and emotionally ill” after the drill, the complaint alleges. “She could not shake the event but continued to relive it and try to make sense of it, but could not. Ms. McLean could not sleep and remained anxious and vigilant. When she drifted off to sleep, she experienced nightmares and sweating.”

She sought psychological help, but when she tried to return to the school building, “she was short of breath, anxious, emotionally distressed and had to leave.”

One teacher wet her pants during the drill and another injured his arm as he scuffled with a gunman at the door to his classroom, according to the suit.

It seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees, asserting claims for alleged civil assault, false imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress, failure to supervise staff, and deprivation of liberty without due process, the newspaper reports.

Named as defendants are district safety officer Shawn Thatcher and school board member John Minarich, who reportedly played the gunmen during the drill, as well as the other six members of the school board, two administrators and Alpine Alarm Communications and Construction LLC, which sold, installed and maintained the school’s security system. Court papers say Minarich is the president of Alpine Alarm.

To ensure that no one fired back at Thatcher and Minarich with real bullets during the drill, the Baker’s County sheriff’s department reviewed concealed-carry permits beforehand, the suit says. The 911 dispatch center also was notified prior to the drill.

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