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Employer of Washington Navy Yard Mass Shooter Argues for Lawsuit Dismissal
Judge Refuses to Touch Political Question
A private security company whose employee killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013 argued in federal court this week it should not be liable for the rampage.
Attorneys for HP Enterprise Services and subcontractor The Experts said it was not foreseeable that Aaron Alexis would use his security clearance badge to enter the Navy Yard before shooting randomly at people with a shotgun.
Families of the victims argued that The Experts, which employed Alexis, was negligent in hiring and supervising him. Alexis was shot and killed by police during the shooting incident.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer presided over the hearing to determine whether to grant the Navy contractors' motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the victims' families.
A primary issue is whether the contractors could invoke protection from liability under a heightened foreseeability standard. In other words, the families needed to prove not only that Alexis might be a threat to other persons but that he was likely to carry out a specific attack like the one on Sept. 16, 2013.
John Hall of Covington & Burling, who represents the contractors, said there was no specific evidence of Alexis' intent to carry out the attack.
But Peter Grenier of the Grenier Law Group argued that the law does not require evidence of an intent to carry out a specific crime to prove negligence by the employers, only that the employee is dangerous.
In Alexis' case, he showed signs of paranoia, had previous conflicts with coworkers and had a history of arrests, Grenier said as he argued for the victims' families. The Experts should have recognized that his behavior represented a potential danger for other persons, the plaintiffs' attorney said.
Collyer said the standard for determining negligence in the Navy Yard shootings should be considered after looking at other recent mass shootings, such as Columbine, Sandy Hook and Aurora.
The judge also warned about trying to introduce evidence of Alexis' previous arrests that did not result in convictions. She said D.C. law forbids employers from inquiring about criminal records that do not include convictions.
Questions also arose about whether Navy personnel behaved appropriately in watching for warning signs in Alexis. Collyer said the Navy's possible negligence was outside the jurisdiction of the court because it is a political question.