Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Astroworld deaths require independent verification

HOUSTON (AP). Houston police and fire departments took an active part in security measures at a music festival in which a growing crowd killed eight people, playing a key role in riot control, on-site security staffing and emergency response. The police chief even says he met with the headliner. before the show.

The city police department is currently conducting a criminal investigation. about how deadly chaos erupted during rapper Travis Scott’s Friday night performance.

While a prominent local official is calling for a separate independent review of the tragedy, crowd safety experts say an investigation by neutral outsiders can help the city avoid potential conflicts of interest and promote transparency.

Houston Police Department spokeswoman Jody Silva declined to comment on questions about whether her direct involvement in the event sparked a conflict or whether she is considering outsourcing the investigation. Such decisions are often made in the course of investigations such as police shootings.

“All the information that we can publish at the moment is posted on Twitter,” Silva said.

According to Rafael Lemaitre, a district judge’s spokesman, the police department’s investigation will be separate from any independent investigations commissioned by District Judge Lina Hidalgo, the highest elected official in Harris County. Hidalgo has not decided who will conduct such an independent review and how it will be done, Lemaitre said on Monday.

“She wants to know if this can be prevented in any way,” Lemaitre said. “It is also quite possible that it could not have been prevented for any reason, and this is what we would like to know as well.”

Key questions remained unanswered after Astroworld at Harris County NRG. Some of the unresolved issues relate to what the Houston police and fire departments were doing before, during and after the crowd rushed towards the stage, killing eight people. and more were injured, more than 300 people were treated on the spot and at least 13 people were hospitalized. The rest of the questions concern the actions of the organizers of the event.

Houston police and fire officials said part of their investigation would include checking whether the concert promoter and others behind the festival adhered to the plans that were presented at the event.

Astroworld organizers laid out the security and emergency medical protocols for the festival in plans filed with Harris County. A 56-page plan of operations obtained by the Associated Press states that the decision to evacuate the event will be made by the festival director in consultation with others, including the director of security. Such plans have been filed with Harris and Houston County and must be reviewed by Houston Police Officers.

Christopher Slobodzhin, director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt University, said an independent criminal investigation into what happened in Houston could help avoid any potential conflicts of interest. But he acknowledged that this case differs from typical situations where the authorities are faced with decisions about whether to withdraw from the case due to a conflict of interest.

“In fact, the crime was probably not committed directly by the fire department or police department,” he said. “But, at least for the sake of appearances, if the investigation were conducted by an independent body, I think it would be better.”

A private company was primarily responsible for providing security for the festival, officials said, but Houston police were also dispatched to the event. According to the plan, the private company ParaDocs, based in New York, provided medical assistance at the festival.

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said in a news conference Saturday that injuries and crowd size “quickly overwhelmed” private security and medical services companies. Peña said that even though the medical operations plan did not require fire departments to pre-locate units around the festival, his agency decided to deploy these units “in case of an escalation of the incident.”

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Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said Monday that he had a “short and respectful” meeting with Scott and the rapper’s chief of security on the Friday before his performance. The boss said he asked them to work with the police station.

“I expressed my concern about public safety and that in my 31 years in law enforcement, I have never seen a time when citizens of all ages faced more challenges, including a global pandemic and social tensions across the country,” Finner said.

J. Keith Still, visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in the United Kingdom, said his independent investigations into such tragedies usually begin with an assessment of the security clearance process for the event. He assesses how the permit was issued and whether the organizer of the event complied with the conditions of the permit.

“Sometimes the police get too caught up in trying to get eyewitness testimony,” he said. “With 50,000 potential eyewitnesses, by the time they’re done with all of this, they’ll have a huge bewildering mass.”

Houston police and fire officials said their investigation would include watching a video filmed by Live Nation’s concert promoter, as well as dozens of clips from the show’s participants. Officials also planned to review the event’s security plan and determine if the organizers had correctly followed the permit requirements.

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

“It is my hope and expectation that the investigation will be conducted by a third party not influenced by the agencies associated with Astroworld. It’s not uncommon in difficult situations like this, ”wrote Adelman, whose organization was formed after seven people died at the 2011 Indiana State Fair.

Adelman said private forensic experts independently investigated stage collapse in Indiana, studying stage roof design and crowd control.

“A good example of what I hope we see here,” Adelman said of the Houston investigation.

Finner defended how long it took for the concert to be canceled after the first sign of trouble. The police chief said his department immediately notified concert organizers after noticing that attendees were “falling.” The event was canceled 40 minutes after a discussion with representatives from the fire department and NRG Park.

“You can’t just close when you have 50,000 – over 50,000 – people, okay?” Finner said. “We need to worry about riots – riots – when you have such a young group.”

Peña said city officials have limited attendance to 50,000, although fire regulations allowed the venue to hold 200,000.

“The problem was with crowd control on stage, especially when the crowd began to rapidly approach the stage,” said Peña.

Live Nation said in a statement that they are partnering with local authorities “so that both fans who attended the event and their families can get the answers they want and deserve, and we will address all legal issues in due course.”

On Saturday, Hidalgo tweeted that she “calls for an objective and independent investigation into what happened.” She also said that her office is grateful to the police and firefighters for their work.

“It is possible that this tragedy is the result of unpredictable events, a combination of circumstances that could not be avoided,” said Hidalgo. “But until we figure that out, I’ll be asking the tough questions.”

Hidalgo’s office is not a law enforcement agency and is not empowered to conduct criminal investigations.

___

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

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