Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Astroworld calls for independent review of deaths

HOUSTON (AP) — The death of eight people in a fan crush at a music festival has led to calls for an independent, outside investigation rather than one by Houston police, who played a key role in crowd control along with the fire department. And other security measures on show.

Crowd safety experts say an investigation by neutral outsiders into the tragedy during Friday night’s performance by rapper Travis Scott could help the city avoid potential conflicts of interest and promote transparency.

Read more: Astroworld concert victims identified in weekend tragedy

Houston Police Department spokeswoman Jodi Silva declined to comment on whether the department’s close involvement in the incident created a conflict or if it was considering handing the investigation over to an outside agency. Such decisions are often taken in investigations like police firing.

“All the information we have available at this time has been put on Twitter,” Silva said.

According to Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the county judge’s office, the police department’s investigation will be separate from any independent investigation ordered by County Judge Lena Hidalgo, Harris County’s top elected official. Hidalgo has not decided who will conduct such an independent review or how it will be done, Lemaitre said on Monday.

“She wants to know if it could have been prevented somehow,” Lemaitre said. “It’s also entirely possible that it couldn’t have been prevented for whatever reason, and that’s something we’d like to know as well.”

Major questions remain unanswered after the Astroworld festival at Harris County-owned NRG Park. Some include what Houston police and fire departments did before, during and after the stage march, which killed eight people and injured several others, with more than 300 people being treated on site and At least 13 others were hospitalized. Other questions focus on the actions of the event organizers.

Houston Police and Fire Department officials have said part of their investigation will include reviewing whether concert promoters and others behind the festival followed through on plans presented for the event.

Organizers of Astroworld set out safety and emergency medical response protocols for the festival in plans filed with Harris County. The 56-page plan, obtained by The Associated Press, said any decision to evacuate the event would be made by the festival’s director after consultation with other persons, including the security director. Such plans would have to be reviewed by Houston police officers.

Christopher Slobogin, director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt University, said that an independent criminal investigation could be beneficial to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, but acknowledged that this case differs from typical situations where authorities may be asked to make a decision. Have to face whether to get away from it. A case.

“The actual crime was probably not committed directly by the fire department or the police department,” he said. “But at least for attendance purposes, I think it would be better practice if an independent body did the investigation.”

Officials have said that a private company was primarily responsible for providing security at the festival, but Houston police were also assigned to organize the event. The plan says that medical care at the festival was provided by ParaDocs, a private company based in New York.

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pea said during a news conference Saturday that the injuries and size of the crowd had “quickly overwhelmed” private companies providing security and medical services. Pena said that even though the medical operations plan did not require the fire department to have units already deployed around the festival, those units were “in the event of an escalation.”

Houston Police Chief Troy Finer said in a statement Monday that he had a “brief and respectful” meeting with Scott and the rapper’s chief of security on the Friday before their performance. The chief said he asked them to work with the police department.

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“I expressed my concern about public safety and never in my 31 years of law enforcement experience have I faced more challenges facing citizens of all ages, to include a global pandemic and social tensions across the country.” ,” Finer said.

G Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in the United Kingdom, said that his independent investigation of similar tragedies typically begins with an evaluation of an incident’s safety permit process, including how the permit was issued and whether The event organizer had complied with the permit conditions.

“Police sometimes get caught up in trying to take account of eyewitnesses,” he said. “By the time they go through all of that, with 50,000 potential eyewitnesses, they’re left with a huge, confused mass.”

Watch: Houston music reporter’s eyewitness account of concert tragedy and investigation

Houston police and fire officials said their investigation would include a review of videos taken by concert promoter Live Nation, as well as dozens of clips of people on the show. Officials also plan to review the event’s security plan and determine whether its organizers have properly complied with permit requirements.

Steven Edelman, vice president of industry group Event Safety Alliance, said in an email that he sees no problem with public safety officials authorizing an independent investigation into the Houston tragedy.

“I expect and believe that the investigation will be conducted by an outsider who is not subject to the influence of agencies affiliated with Astroworld. This is not an unusual scenario in such complex circumstances,” wrote Edelman, whose organization was founded in 2011 in Indiana. The State Fair was built after a stage collapse killed seven people.

Edelman said private forensic analysis experts independently investigated the Indiana Stage collapse, investigating stage roof engineering and crowd management.

“We see a good example of what I hope for here,” Edelman said of the investigation in Houston.

Finer has defended how long it took for the concert to be called off after the first signs of trouble. The police chief said his department immediately informed the organizers of the concert that attendees were “going down.” The incident was called off after 40 minutes of discussion, which involved fire department and park officials.

“When you get 50,000 – over 50,000 – persons you just can’t shut down, right?” Finer said. “We have to worry about riots — riots — when you have a group that’s young.”

Pea said city officials limited attendance to 50,000, even though there could have been 200,000 based on fire codes at the venue.
“It was the crowd control at the point of the stage that was the issue, especially as the crowd started moving towards the stage,” Pea said.

Live Nation said in a statement that it is cooperating with local authorities “so that both fans and their families can get the answers they want and deserve, and we will address all legal matters at an appropriate time.”

County Judge Hidalgo tweeted Saturday that she was calling for “an objective and independent investigation into what happened.” She also said that her office is grateful for the work done by the police and fire departments.

“It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unforeseen events, the coming together of circumstances that could not possibly have been avoided,” Hidalgo said. “But until we determine that, I’ll ask the tough questions.”

Hidalgo’s office is not a law-enforcement agency and does not have criminal investigation powers.

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Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland. Associated Press journalists Kimberly Krusei in Nashville and Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report.

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