San Bernardino School District Sued After 2016 Murder of Teacher, Student

The lawsuits claim the San Bernardino City Unified School District ignored a teacher's warnings that her estranged husband had been threatening her.
Published: December 28, 2017

Eight families have filed lawsuits against the San Bernardino City Unified School District after a teacher and a student were shot and killed on April 10.

In the two lawsuits filed on December 21, parents say the school district and North Park Elementary School principal Yadira Downing failed to protect their children after ignoring a teacher’s warnings that her estranged husband had been threatening her, reports Courthouse News.

Special needs teacher Karen Smith, 53, was shot and killed when her estranged husband, Cedric Anderson, opened fire in her classroom. Anderson’s gunfire also killed 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez and injured 9-year-old Nolan Brady, who were both standing behind Smith. Anderson then took his own life.

One of the lawsuits was filed on behalf of Martinez’s parents, Alfredo Martinez and Florinda Guerrero, and the other was filed on behalf of seven other families who say their children received “injuries to their psychological health” as a result of the shooting.

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Anderson entered North Park Elementary School on April 10 through the front office and told school officials he was there to drop something off for Smith. Anderson was allowed to make his way to Smith’s classroom because the front office recognized him as Smith’s husband.

“No one at the school knew of the problems in their marriage, and it’s a common practice for spouses to visit teachers at school,” said San Bernardino police chief Jarrod Burguan following the shooting. However, the lawsuits allege Downing, other staff members and even some parents knew of the couple’s marital problems and Smith’s “erratic behavior” in the classroom.

Anderson had been violent towards Smith for months, according to the lawsuits. He threatened to kill her, forcing her to go into hiding and to behave fearfully in school, according to the SB Sun.

“(Smith) had informed Downing about the breakdown of her relationship with Anderson and about the threats Anderson had made against her,” says the Martinez-Guerrero lawsuit. “Smith repeatedly exhibited observable signs of physical abuse, injury, distress and fear. In the weeks before the shooting, Smith came to school with facial trauma that was so apparent that Smith attempted to hide it by wearing dark sunglasses for several days while indoors in her classroom. The existence of these injuries was obvious to North Park Elementary staff, administration and parents.”

Lawsuits Criticize North Park Elementary Security Efforts

According to the families’ lawsuit, Anderson showed up at the school unannounced just four days before the deadly shooting and was observed by staff as acting inappropriately.

“Despite these warnings, and despite his efforts to break into the school through a side gate, Cedric Anderson was not only freely permitted to enter campus, but also into Smith’s classroom,” says the lawsuit.

The Martinez-Guerrero lawsuit also criticizes the district for placing permanent security officers at its middle and high schools following the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack, but not at its elementary schools.

Smith’s classroom also did not have a door; only a curtain stood between Anderson and a classroom full of students.

The school made approximately $1 million worth of renovations over the summer, including locking steel doors for each classroom and a camera alert system outside of the school, allowing staff to see who is trying to gain access to the building before buzzing them in.

The families in both lawsuits are seeking damages and expenses for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and dangerous condition of public property.

In addition, Martinez’s family is seeking damages from the school district and Downing on claims of wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

“The tragic death of a young boy as a result of such heinous violence naturally invokes outrage and sympathy for all involved. But this tragedy is compounded by the fact that Jonathan’s death was fully preventable,” reads the lawsuit.

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