Twenty-one families of those killed or injured in last year's school shootings at Red Lake will share in the settlement once it's approved by state and federal courts. School officials say the $1 million figure is what the school's insurance company was willing to pay to settle claims.
The agreement calls for the school district to pay $900,000 to the families. The remaining $100,000 will be held in escrow until March of 2011. That money could be used to settle any additional claims against the school district.
Lead counsel for the Red Lake school district, Minneapolis attorney Shamus O'Meara, says he's pleased with the settlement. Without it, O'Meara says it could have been more costly to the district.
"The district was facing, very probably, multiple claims in federal, state and tribal court by several families of students and others who were killed or injured in the shooting," he said. "Those claims would almost have certainly involved the school district in protracted and expensive lawsuits and appeals for the next several years."
Attorneys for the families say the settlement is good news. Minneapolis attorney Philip Sieff represents 11 of the 21 families involved.
If we determine through the course of our investigation that there are other parties that we believe to be responsible, we will pursue those parties, likely through civil litigation.Minneapolis attorney Philip Sieff
"This money isn't going to heal the grief, isn't going to heal wounds," Sieff said. "But it is some measure of justice and compensation for the families."
Sieff says the settlement affects only claims the families have against the school district. He says it does not preclude them from pursuing law suits against other parties related to the shootings.
"Our investigation into the circumstances of the shooting continues," Sieff explained. "And if we determine through the course of our investigation that there are other parties that we believe to be responsible, we will pursue those parties, likely through civil litigation."
School officials say the settlement is the end of a chapter for families of shooting victims. Red Lake School Board Chairman Arnold Pemberton says he's glad the district will be able to provide some compensation to families who have suffered.
"It means that we can be at ease and start getting this thing settled and hopefully it will please the people and families that were involved in it and lost their kids and stuff," Pemberton said. "A few of them that I talked to, they were wishing they'd get it over with so they could get back to their normal way of living and go along with it."
A federal judge will decide how to divide up the settlement money among families. Attorneys say the judge will be guided by state and federal laws regarding compensation.
Some family members say no amount of money will compensate them for the loss of their loved ones. Frances "Chunky" Brun is the father of Derrick Brun, the security guard who was the first to be killed at the high school. "Chunky" Brun and his wife were signers of the settlement agreement, but because his family received compensation through Derrick's employee insurance and benefits, the Brun family will not share in the million dollars.
Brun says he still partially blames the school district for his son's death.
"My son should have never died," Brun says bluntly. "There was many things that could have been done to prevent it, including the school taking the proper action to adequately arm security people, even though it would have been a little more costly for the insurance. I think my son may be alive, plus the others who were just outright assassinated in the school on March 21."
Attorneys say the timing of the settlement announcement had nothing to do with Wednesday's tribal election on the Red Lake reservation. In the race for the chairman's seat, incumbent Buck Jourdain edged past his challenger, tribal Secretary Judy Roy. Roy got the most votes in on-reservation voting. But after absentee votes were counted late Wednesday night, Jourdain edged past Roy by just 71 votes.