Lawsuit: Garlic Fest Should Have Used DHS Safety Guidelines

Organizers of the Gilroy Garlic Festival did not follow a lengthy list of recommendations from US authorities on how to properly secure large outdoor public gatherings, according to a lawsuit filed by five survivors of the July 28 mass shooting at Christmas Hill Park.

Attorneys for the five shooting survivors have accused the Garlic Festival Association of failing to implement the Department of Homeland Security’s “Protective Measures Guide for the US Outdoor Venues Industry.” The guide is a 70-page list of suggestions for owners and operators of both permanent outdoor entertainment facilities (such as amusement parks and fairgrounds) and one-time or annual outdoor gatherings (such as festivals, parades and concerts) that occur in public spaces.

The Garlic Festival Association in a statement declined to say whether it implemented the DHS guide cited in the Nov. 12 lawsuit, because of the pending litigation. The association also continued to decline 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 Director Brian Bowe said in a statement on behalf of the association. “The shooter used military style weapons and tactics, and is being investigated as a domestic terrorist. Any public discussion of security specifics will not occur because to do so will undermine those protocols.”

He added: “We look forward to a safe and successful #Gilroy42 next July. We will continue our mission of raising money for more than 150 charities in our community.”

Guidelines on the Web

DHS produces a series of protective measures guides “that provide an overview of best practices and protective measures” designed to assist organizers in planning and managing security at facilities and events, reads a version of the outdoor venues guide found on the internet. The guide is not available to the public from DHS, and the department did not respond to numerous questions and requests for comment.

An electronic version of the protective measures guide for outdoor venues can be found on the privately run website The “About” section of the site describes it as an “international, collaborative research project aimed at aggregating the collective work of independent researchers around the globe who wish to defend the public’s right to access information.”

The DHS guide found on was last updated in 2011. DHS did not respond to requests to verify the guide’s authenticity.

The guide’s purpose is “to provide venue owners and operators with information that can be used to maintain a safe environment for patrons and employees,” reads the document.

“The measures provide suggestions for successful planning, organizing, coordinating, communicating, operating, and training activities to augment the overall security posture at outdoor venues,” the 2011 guide continues. The measures are not requirements.

The guide lists detailed recommended security measures for all types of potential terrorist attacks on outdoor gatherings, including active shooters as well as bombings, chemical/biological attacks, vehicle-borne explosives, cybercrime and airplane attacks. It also covers recommended safety measures for natural disasters.

For each scenario, the DHS guide lists potential key vulnerabilities and likely terrorist objectives. It advises organizers to properly train, hire and coordinate security staff; coordinate with public agencies such as police, DHS and other authorities to develop a detailed security plan; identify a chain of command and evacuation plan in the event of an incident; and conduct risk assessments and security audits of venues prior to scheduled public events. “Protective measures include equipment, personnel, training, and procedures designed to protect an event or facility against threats and mitigate the effects of an attack,” the guide reads.

Chain Link Fence

The November lawsuit filed by the survivors lists dozens of suggested security and safety measures that Garlic Festival organizers allegedly failed to implement; many of these are listed specifically in the 2011 DHS guide. Many of the allegations in the lawsuit focus on the effectiveness of a chain link fence surrounding Christmas Hill Park, and festival staff’s attentiveness and ability to monitor the fence for breaches.

Numerous bulleted points in the 2011 DHS guide offer suggestions for perimeter fencing, and advise event staff to regularly monitor those barriers during festival hours.

Police and FBI investigators have said the July 28 shooter entered the festival unauthorized, through a hole he cut in the perimeter fence at Christmas Hill Park. The shooter opened fire on the crowd with an AK-47 style rifle, killing three people and injuring at least 14.

Gilroy police officers ran toward the shooter as soon as shots rang out, and struck him numerous times with rounds from their service weapons, according to authorities. The shooter shot and killed himself as officers approached—about a minute after he started firing. The FBI continues to investigate the shooting, which they have labeled an act of domestic terrorism. Investigators have not identified the shooter’s motive.

The lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court by Wendy Towner, Francisco Aguilera, Nick McFarland, Justin Bates and Brynn Ota-Matthews—all of whom suffered gunshot wounds during the July massacre. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the festival association, as well as First Alarm and Security Control—a private security firm hired by the association to provide additional security at the Garlic Festival.

“Defendants failed to coordinate security staff operations with local law enforcement and state and federal agencies such as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Terrorism Task Force,” reads one of the lawsuit’s allegations.

Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


  1. These tragedies of terrorist violence are rare in the USA. Perhaps Congress should create a medical and funeral expense fund for victims of verified terrorism on domestic soil. These are rare acts of random violence. Perhaps there is also some mechanism that could provide disability insurance, but this would require premium payments.

    My experience is that the Festival had reasonable security measures in place. It does not stand out as unreasonable or lax, especially as compared to other public events. Think about the art and wine festival. It has no fence and is open to anyone that walks in.

    Everyone knows USA juries will give hundreds of millions to people that spill coffee on their lap. It is out of all proportion to reason. An unintended consequence are corrupt politician/lawyers that block tort reform so they can continue to exploit victims and shake down businesses. The cost burden is huge, but hidden by confidential settlement agreements. Shaking down marks is as easy as filing a claim and it’s legal too! Unlike the Mafia and gangs, the lawyer can’t be accused of extortion. The business is eager to settle, because it’s potentially less money that legal defense.

    What a crappy situation. We need tort reform. People will scream, “how can you be so mean and not consider these poor innocent victims!!” I am considering them. Please refer back to my first paragraph.

  2. When the Garlic Festival goes away we all know who to thank for it – The lawyers.

    The simple fact that armed police engage and neutralized the shooter almost immediately say enough about the security for me to attend next year.

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