Bremerton School District added to Amina Bowman shooting lawsuit

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by TRAVIS PITTMAN / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on October 16, 2012 at 9:33 AM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 16 at 5:20 PM

The family of Amina Bowman, the 9-year-old Bremerton girl who was shot when a gun went off in a classmate’s backpack in February, has added the Bremerton School District to its lawsuit. They say the findings of a former state school superintendent back up their claim that the district either knew or should have known the student who brought the gun could be a danger.

The lawsuit claims Bowman’s 9-year-old classmate brought a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun to Armin Jahr Elementary on February 22. While in a classroom, the boy allegedly “reached into his backpack, placed his hand on the handgun, and discharged the gun.”

Bowman was critically injured, but survived after numerous surgeries and she went home in April. She has transferred to a private Catholic school.

The boy allegedly told Bremerton Police he brought the gun to school for protection because two classmates who he recently fought with told him they were going to have some teenagers beat him up.

According to the lawsuit, the school district knew or should have known that:

  • The student was a risk to harm other students
  • The student told other students he was going to bring a gun to school
  • The student told another student he intended to shoot someone in the classroom
  • The student had a history of acting out aggressively in school, that he and other boys consistently caused trouble on the playground and that the student was involved in bullying at school
  • The student was not receiving appropriate parental or guardian support

The lawsuit also claims that the mother of another student found knives in her son's school bag as he was leaving for school. The mother removed the knives and contacted the school district.

The lawsuit cites what it calls “expert opinions” of former Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction Judith Billings as well as Ronald Garrison, who has worked as a consultant and trainer for school campus safety.

Billings said she believes the school district failed to take reasonable steps to protect students from harming one another, and that it was more than likely the reason why Bowman was shot.

“I have performed a preliminary review of the facts preceding and during the shooting of Amina Bowman at Bremerton School District’s Armin Jahr Elementary School classroom and there is reason to believe the Armin Jahr school administrators and staff failed to comply with the standard of care for a public elementary school in Washington in failing to take reasonable steps in response to information regarding risks of harm to students, or develop reasonable practices, policies and procedures to investigate and follow up upon information regarding risks of harm to students and thereby protect Armin Jahr students from harm associated with bullying, student violence, weapons, and firearms,” Billings said.

Garrison said the school district failed to investigate and follow up on information about risks to students. He also said that Armin Jahr’s student handbook is wrong when it says a student or a student’s property can be searched with probable cause. Garrison said the school has a duty to protect students and that it can search a student if they believe it’s necessary to maintain discipline.

“In this case, clearly there were reasonable grounds to search students’ backpacks upon learning that they had attempted to bring weapons and knives to school," Garrison said.

The Bremerton School District had no comment on the lawsuit.

The boy’s divorced parents, Jamie Lee Chaffin and Jason Cochran, Chaffin’s boyfriend, Douglas Bauer, and the boy’s uncle, Patrick Cochran, were named in the lawsuit earlier this year.

Chaffin pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. Chaffin, a convicted felon, was prohibited from owning a firearm.  Chaffin was also charged with third-degree felony assault, but that charge was dropped in a plea deal. In return, she was expected to testify against her boyfriend, Douglas Bauer. Had she been convicted on the assault charge, Chaffin could have faced five years in prison.

Bauer was charged with third-degree assault and unlawful firearms possession, but the judge threw out the firearm charge.

The Bowman family's attorney previously said the boy's home had an "arsenal of weapons." At least four loaded guns were allegedly found around the house, with ammunition that included hollow point bullets.

The boy was sentenced to a year of supervision and 48 hours of counseling. He also agreed to testify against Chaffin.

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