Garlic Fest Shooting Survivors File Claims Against City of Gilroy

The city of Gilroy likely will be sued for damages by 11 surviving gunshot victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival mass shooting, as well as the parents of 6-year-old Stephen Romero, who was killed in the July 28 incident, based on recent court filings.

The 12 notices of claims—required first steps before lawsuits can be filed against a city—were filed Jan. 24 by Randall Scarlett, a San Francisco lawyer representing all 12 individuals. The claims had to be filed by Tuesday this week, the six-month anniversary of the deadly attack by a lone shooter at Christmas Hill Park in the last hour of the annual festival, before any lawsuit could proceed.

The notices provide grim details of the wounds, pain, recovery and emotional trauma that continue to affect the lives of each victim, ages 13 to 69, as the ensuing lawsuits are likely to rekindle the memories of hundreds who fled gunfire six months ago.

It is anticipated the city will be added as a defendant to the lawsuit filed Nov. 12 against the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association and First Alarm Security & Patrol by five of the shooting victims. Those plaintiffs were among the notices of claim filed last week. No dollar amounts of damages have been filed.

As of the afternoon of today, no notices of claim had been filed by families of the two other young people killed or by the three others wounded by shooter Santino Legan.

The claims filed this month repeated much of the language in the lawsuit, which cited lax security, especially an “inadequate, flimsy, low-height, unsupported chain link fence” that allowed Legan to gain easy and undetected entrance to the festival while carrying an automatic rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

He was shot by Gilroy police, then killed himself less than two minutes after opening fire on the festival crowd.

5:39pm, July 28

Each of the notices of claim reported that the incident occurred at 5:39pm, July 28.

City Attorney Andrew Faber said the city could make no comments on the pending litigation, except to acknowledge receipt of the notice of claims. For weeks, city officials have refused to answer questions about festival security. Even though notices filed last week are public documents, the city as of Tuesday was refusing to release them.

This news organization obtained copies from the Scarlett Law Group.

Scarlett had warned in November that he was preparing government claims against the city of Gilroy on behalf of his clients and said he would likely be adding more claimants. State law requires that government claims be filed as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit against a government entity; all government claims have a six-month filing deadline.

Scarlett said that the additional seven individuals will be added as plaintiffs either by way of a new complaint filed with notice of a related claim or through an amendment to the November complaint.

“Next, there will likely be a lawsuit filed against the city,” he said.

No lawsuit can be filed until the city issues a formal denial of the claims filed Jan 24.

The contract between the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association and the city details no specific security provisions, other than to note that the festival association is responsible for providing security.

City’s Joint Venture

In his court filings this month, Scarlett said the city is jointly liable with the Garlic Festival Association because it operated the festival as a joint venture with the non-profit.

Each claim was a two-page notice of claim form, followed by up to eight pages of description of the claim. A copy of the 31-page lawsuit filed Nov. 12 on behalf of five victims, all recovering from gunshot wounds, was attached to each notice.

In the notices, Scarlett contends that the city is liable under state law for “dangerous condition of its property.”

The city, “by holding the 2019 Garlic Festival had a duty of reasonable care to the attendees.” Because the city had a “joint venture with the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association Inc. for the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival, the city of Gilroy is therefore responsible for the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association’s tortious conduct.”

The city also is responsible because of its “promises, advertisements and warranties that this would be a safe event.”

Below are the names and some details about the claimants.

Alberto Romero, 33, San Jose. For the loss of his son, 6-year-old Stephen Romero, killed when he was shot in the back at the festival. Romero “has been deprived of the love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, advice, counsel, moral support and the loss of future services” of his son, the claim stated.

Barbara V. Aquirre, 69, San Jose. For the loss of her grandson, Stephen Romero, and for injuries from a gunshot wound to her right foot, resulting in permanent injuries and difficulty walking.

Barbara J. Aguirre, 37, of San Jose. For the loss of her son, Stephen Romero, and for serious injuries from a gunshot that shattered her left hand, with permanent disfigurement, nerve damage, scarring and chronic pain.

Wendy Towner, 40, of Morgan Hill. “One of the first victims shot by the gunman,” her left calf muscle “was torn apart by the bullets from the shooter’s rifle,” which broke her leg, leaving behind permanent damage, a limp and shrapnel.

Francisco Aguilera, 41, her partner, also of San Jose. Standing near Towner when the gunman fired at him, he “suffered four severe gunshot wounds and his femoral artery was perforated.” One bullet went through his upper right arm, and after numerous surgeries, he can’t bend one knee.

Brynn Ota-Matthews, 23, of Santa Cruz. As she ran away from the shooter, a bullet struck her back, went through her liver and lodged behind her ribs, where it remains. She has ongoing back pain, rib pain and hip pain, “struggles to walk, stand and lift items due to the pain.”

Nick McFarland, 26, of Gilroy. He was hit by bullet fragments in his right calf as he ran away from the shooter. There is still shrapnel lodged in his left leg and hip.

Justin Bates, 25, of Gilroy. Bates and McFarland were friends and were attending the festival together. He sustained “gunshot wounds to his lower legs,” including a “deep bullet graze” to his right leg. His left leg still has shrapnel in it from the gunshot, and he also was shot in the back and has shrapnel in his left upper arm.

Leslie Andres, 13, Campbell. She was struck by a bullet as she ran away from the shooter, suffering a gunshot wound to her right leg above the knee, where a bullet passed through soft tissue.

Gabriella Gaus, 26, Scotts Valley. She was struck by a bullet in her left shoulder and another grazed her back, as she fled the shooter. She needed surgery to remove the bullet from her left shoulder and bullet fragments remain permanently in her body.

Lesley Sanchez, 16, of Gilroy. The Gilroy High cheer team member was volunteering at the team’s fundraising booth when a bullet hit her stomach, went into her abdomen and struck her hip as it passed through her. She still has bullet fragments inside of her.

Harry de la Vega, 39, San Jose. Bullets fractured his right femur, where surgery later inserted a metal rod. He was hospitalized for more than a month, and still has shrapnel in his leg. He has serious difficulty walking, sitting and moving as a result of his injuries.

All victims “suffered and continue to suffer extreme shock, severe emotional distress and pain and suffering, including PTSD, suffering, anguish, fright, horror, nervousness, grief, anxiety, depression, worry, shock, humiliation and shame, trouble sleeping, nightmares and ongoing fear rising to the level that a reasonable person would be unable to cope,” said the notices.

In December, the Garlic Festival Association in a statement declined to answer questions about the festival’s security plan.

“The July shooting was sudden, unanticipated, unforeseeable and immediately contained by heroic Gilroy Police Department officers,” festival executive director Brian Bowe said in a statement. “We look forward to a safe and successful #Gilroy42 next July.”

Bowe announced his resignation in December.

18 Comments

  1. Farewell, Gilroy Garlic Festival.
    It was never meant to be held in a maximum security facility, but a park. A park is not a defensible space.
    And the revenues could never be enough to compensate even a single victim.
    It will quietly go bankrupt, and cease to be.

  2. If security had actually been lax, many more would have died. Instead, the officers who were there heroically dealt with the shooter before he had a chance to accomplish everything he intended.

    • The perp likely assumed he would have an unopposed opportunity to shoot a lot of people.

      If instead, he had thought he might stir up a hornet’s nest of armed volunteers, he would likely have given much more thought to the safety of his skinny hide.

      The all pervasive message of the gun controllers that “guns are dangerous, guns are bad” likely gives copycat shooters a comfortable assurance that their victims will be meek, submissive, unarmed and easy to shoot.

      • It is just as easy to shoot an armed person as an unarmed person if they are not anticipating it. I will never understand how someone can view a tragedy like this and think that MORE guns are the answer.

        • > I will never understand how someone can view a tragedy like this and think that MORE guns are the answer.

          Well, maybe I wasn’t clear. Let me try again.

          “More guns — in the hands or responsible citizens — is the answer.”

          Hint:

          Spend more time thinking about “responsible” and “citizens” and less time thinking about “guns”.

        • Robin, Using CDC data researchers like Kleck estimate there are about 2.5 million Defensive Gun Uses each year. Even using the most stringent criteria, there are at least 300,000 DGUs / year – a figure that even gun opponents accept. In the vast majority of DGU cases, no shots are fired. It’s simply enough that the potential victim shows they are armed and the assailant typically beats a hasty retreat.

          The FBI estimates that armed citizens halt about 11% of mass shooting incidents (where 4 or more are shot). Other highly respected researchers like Dr. John Lott put the number closer to 18% after reviewing each instance. All of this is public information and easily verified.

          Using the latest FBI and most conservative figures, DGU’s arguably prevented about 30X more (300,000 v. 10,265 homicides) from becoming victims.

          The elderly, disabled, women, and minorities are disproportionately victimized. Like it or not, “Guns Saves Lives” as others have pointed out.

          CA’s strict gun laws don’t make us safer. A 10 round magazine (maximum capacity in CA) was carried in shooter Cruz’s backpack at the Parkland FL shooting because a Florida legal 30 round one was too conspicuous. A magazine swap requires less than 2 seconds; low capacity magazines offer no safety benefit as detailed by Federal judge Benitez.

          Although overall “gun violence” has declined by over 50% since the 1990s, there are effective measures we should do here. Unlike 5 other “gun friendly” states like PA and WV, California does not criminalize “lie & try” – buying a gun for someone else that is unable to pass a background check.

          Most crime guns are obtained from friends and family – but not prosecuted in CA. In the most recent reporting period, US Attorneys (“lie & try” is a Federal crime) only prosecuted 12 cases. PA prosecuted over 340 in the same time period.

          Another is clearing California’s roughly 24,000 (and growing) Armed Prohibited Persons – people convicted of a felony, but records show they own firearms. The number has more than doubled in the past decade. A felony conviction makes possession illegal. And many continue to recidivate with firearms. I’d like to see them identified as we do sex offenders, but the list is confidential.

          And of course offer a bounty to encourage reporting and convicting law breakers.

          While “universal background checks” and “red flag laws” are championed as effective tools, the claim is not supported by fact. Many counties fail to report . They are not required to, nor reimbursed for the administrative cost. And taxpayer funded Violence Prevention Research Center at UC Davis was forced to admit late last year that our red flag law have not resulted in any demonstrable benefit even though CA was among the first to enact.

          More gun control isn’t the answer. We need to enforce current law, add a statute prohibiting “lie and try”, and rescind those that have no safety benefit.

  3. Although I feel for the victims and their families this is nothing but a money grab. When these law suits happen it really tells the story of how humanity has become so obsessed with money.

    There is nothing that the city, security, or the promoter of the Garlic Festival could have done to prevent an unstable criminal from committing multiple felonies before he even arrived in Gilroy. None the less stop the shooter before he arrived. He transported illegal weapons, ammunition, and magazines to the state and he wasn’t old enough own them here. To top it off he cut through a security fence to access the festival. Aside from a closed and locked arena with 20,000 naked people inside and armed security outside how could you prevent this? Oh wait do you really trust the armed security?

    The only thing that will come from this is no more festivals, street fairs, school dances, etc.. No one can guarantee your safety ever. I think I have PSTD from this lawsuit, can I get paid too?

    Like Bubble says are everyone. An armed society is a polite society!

  4. I have trouble seeing why this is the city’s fault. They had police on the scene who rapidly dealt with the situation. Were they supposed to install electric fencing and video monitoring around the park to prevent the shooter from entering? Does any city event now have to have a task force brainstorming for any possible shooting possibility?

  5. Reading about the injuries involved in this incident got to me. I don’t want to be unsympathetic with my earlier comment: being a victim of a random shooting really is just about the unfairest thing that can happen to anyone. Plus in this country one has the joys of dealing with massive–impossible to deal with medical costs–unless one is lucky enough to have a really remarkable insurance plan or plain old super wealthy. While I don’t think the City of Gilroy is in any way responsible for this, I do think it can be argued the federal government is. Kidney dialysis has been paid for by the government for the past 50 years b/c insurance companies refused to get involved in covering it. Similarly, on this basis, I propose that if one is a victim of a shooting (mass or otherwise) the government should pickup the medical, rehab, pain and suffering costs (and funeral ones if necessary) of victims inasmuch as they have never dealt effectively with the issue of controlling guns.

  6. > The claims . . . cited lax security, especially an “inadequate, flimsy, low-height, unsupported chain link fence” that allowed Legan to gain easy and undetected entrance to the festival while carrying an automatic rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

    I’M A GENIUS!

    Just combine the Garlic Gilroy Festival with a Gun Show!

    Give free admission or discount coupons to anyone with a valid CCW.

    It will be a “mass-shooting free zone” and the safest place in California.

    • I agree with you Mr. Bubble and put up a big sign that says ” Not A Gun Free Zone”, and you are a Genius!

      • > Put up a big sign that says ” Not A Gun Free Zone”

        We’re on fire here, M.T.

        Just cancel the “Garlic Festival” and call it the “Gilroy Gun Show”.

        Have booths that sell garlic fries and garlic ice cream and garlic whatever.

        All the San Francisco snowflakes boycott.

        Safe, enjoyable, dignified, and a better class of people.

    • I actually was at a gun range last weekend with hundreds of people carrying guns, semi automatic and full automatic.
      everything was peaceful, orderly and under control with only a barb wire fence to keep the cows out. Disappointing, nobody shot at any of us, and only paper target got killed.

  7. If he was carrying an “automatic” rifle he would have violated federal law (National Firearms Act, 1934) as well as California law. I believe the gun used was variant of a semi-auto AK47. It’s sounds like it’s semantics but it’s a very different thing as very few entities are legally allowed to own automatic weapons. Automatic means one trigger pull and multiple rounds are fired. Semi-auto requires one trigger pull per round, AKA auto loading.

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