Prosecutors will consider whether the rapper was aware of cries for help and when, legal experts say
Travis Scott could face several criminal charges, legal experts tell TheWrap, after his Houston music festival left 10 people dead — including a 9-year-old boy who died on Sunday — and injured hundreds of other concert-goers.
The possibility of criminal charges could include involuntary manslaughter, assault or disorderly conduct for inciting a riot, lawyers said, adding that Houston law enforcement is still investigating the case and would need to establish key facts for prosecutors to make a case.
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One factor may be Scott’s own checkered past. “Travis Scott has a prior history of problems at performances leading to injury,” Tracy A. Pearson, former trial and appellate attorney, told TheWrap. In 2015, the rapper pleaded guilty to reckless conduct for encouraging people at a Chicago summer concert to climb over barriers. Three years later, he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for riling up an Arkansas crowd. And three concertgoers were injured during a stampede at a 2019 festival where he performed.
Scott also faces separate legal liability as a producer of the show, legal experts said, who noted comparisons to the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of actor-producer Alec Baldwin’s indie Western “Rust” last month. “Similar to the Alec Baldwin case, we have Travis Scott as the performer having liability, as well as Travis Scott the producer with separate liability,” personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio said. “Scott’s legal defense team will point to when he stopped the music to let first responders get to certain people, but that would only help his liability as a performer.”
On Sunday, 9-year-old Ezra Blount became the 10th and youngest casualty of the tragedy, which claimed the lives of eight concertgoers aged 14 to 27 on Nov. 5; a ninth victim, Texas A&M senior Bharti Shahani, died last Wednesday. At least 25 were hospitalized in one of the worst disasters to strike a U.S. music concert in recent years.
Concert company Live Nation and Texas promoter Scoremore Shows could also face criminal charges — and Live Nation’s track record could work against it in court. An investigation by the Houston Chronicle found records showing at least 750 people have been injured and 200 people have died at Live Nation events in the past 15 years. Since 2016, company has paid out millions of dollars in settlements after these tragedies.
Questions around the safety and security of the venue, Houston’s NRG Park, and responsibility of the companies are also under investigation and prompting the industry to reassess the safety measures at such large-scale music festivals, from medical protocols to stage layouts.
“It’s hard to imagine a more poorly conceived security setup than we saw with the Astroworld disaster,” attorney Darrell Cochran said. “The world’s largest concert promotion company has 50,000 young people set to attend a high-energy event during a time period that everyone’s energy has been pent up in a pandemic. This is Security 101: Separate and protect the people for their safety. It’s so predictable that there will be a frenzied surge at some point and because you can predict it, you can prevent it.”
Even if Houston prosecutors don’t bring criminal charges over the concert deaths, both Scott and even organizers face daunting civil claims. More than 200 civil lawsuits have already been filed, including nearly 100 on Friday from Texas-based attorney Ben Crump.
But the payout could be limited; NRG Park has an insurance policy totaling $26 million for events — nowhere near the hundreds of millions that victims and survivors are likely to claim. “These civil lawsuits are likely to last years and are unlikely to result in full compensation and justice for the victims due to limits on available insurance,” attorney Jeffrey D. Wolf told TheWrap. “One can only hope that this tragedy will lead to more careful preparation and additional safety measures at future concerts.”
According to Pearson, prosecutors will focus on whether Scott was aware of the violence happening while he was on stage — his lawyer said he was not in a Friday interview on “Good Morning America” — and whether others on stage had any indication that there was a problem. Based on some reports with video reconstruction of the performance, some attendees attempted to call for help over the blaring music. This aspect will be investigated to determine whether Scott heard any of these cries for help and chose to continue the show.
“Who knew what and when are central to determining criminal charges and civil claims,” Pearson said. “It is possible that production companies, the venue, security companies, municipalities on-site to help with crowd control could all be sharing responsibility. It’s reasonable to attend a concert and expect that there will not be a surge in the crowd that will result in injury or death.”
The checkered history of Scott’s previous performances is also likely to be a factor, including a stampede at a 2019 festival that resulted in multiple injuries and another 2018 show in which he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after authorities determined that he encouraged his audience’s disorderly behavior. Further back in 2015, court records show Scott pleaded guilty to reckless conduct in Chicago at a summer concert for encouraging people to climb over barriers.
“Given his history of inciting and encouraging dangerous behavior at concerts — this is the guy who said, ‘It’s not a show until someone passes out’ — investigators will scrutinize what he said during his performance to create or encourage this crowd surge,” Custodio said. “Audience videos and statements are going to be crucial here. Those will help show whether Travis Scott knew, at what point, about the catastrophe that was happening. There are videos of people alerting production workers on stage that people were dying and none of those people did anything.”
On Thursday, Scott issued a statement saying that he was “distraught” by the tragedy and is trying to connect with families of victims to provide aid. Scott has also said that he is refunding all attendees of the festival and canceled another upcoming performance at a similar music festival in Las Vegas.
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