Judge declines to exclude former teacher from shootings suit

EVERETT — A former teacher’s evolving story about being warned in time to stop the deadly 2014 shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School will continue to be explored in a Snohomish County wrongful-death lawsuit.

Attorneys appointed to represent Rosemarie Cooper lost a bid Tuesday to have the case against her dismissed. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Cindy Larsen ruled that at this stage, those pressing the lawsuit can pursue multiple theories about what Cooper knew and did, and even argue conflicting facts, while they seek to represent their clients.

It was a decision based on court rules and case law, but hovering in the background are big questions centered on Cooper’s credibility, including reasons to doubt her claim that a student tipped her off ahead of the gunfire.

“Which is something that I cannot decide today, but appears to be alleged, at any rate,” the judge said.

The lawsuit was brought by lawyers for the families of the five teens killed or wounded when freshman Jaylen Fryberg opened fire in a lunchroom and then killed himself using a handgun he’d smuggled into school in a backpack.

The case is based largely on Cooper’s still-uncorroborated assertion that a student warned her about what was going to happen two days earlier and that she’d reported the threat to high school staff.

The lawsuit initially was filed against the Marysville School District, Cooper and Fryberg’s family.

In a tactical move, attorney Lincoln Beauregard of Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma recently decided to drop the school district as a defendant. It still is on the hook, however, because it is required by law to provide Cooper with legal representation.

Cooper’s attorneys in mid-March filed pleadings seeking dismissal for her as well. They argued that if the assertions in the lawsuit are correct, Cooper reported a threat of violence or harm in good faith and is immune from liability under state law.

Beauregard countered by filing new pleadings that suggest Cooper may have received the warning, but told nobody at all.

One of Cooper’s attorneys, Mark Beard from the Seattle office of the Lane Powell law firm, said Beauregard was trying to have it both ways, asserting opposing theories and conflicting facts.

Case law is clear that is allowed, Larsen ruled, at least for now.

That means barring some pre-trial resolution of the case, Cooper’s claims likely will be subject to even closer scrutiny.

The Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, a group of seasoned homicide detectives from throughout the county, examined Cooper’s warning claims as part of their investigation into the school shootings.

They found her story at odds with the evidence, records show.

She came to the detectives’ attention when the school district heard she’d told friends at a church supper about having been warned.

When questioned by investigators, the substitute teacher claimed that a couple days before the shootings, students in a freshman literature class were “whooping and hollering” over what she thought were messages on their smartphones. She said one boy approached her and said there was going to be a shooting at the school. Cooper claimed she took that information to people working in the office and also left a note.

Investigators interviewed school staff. They not only denied receiving a warning, they said the person Cooper claimed to have told did not match the description of anyone who worked at the school. The detectives had a janitor sift through trash bins looking for Cooper’s note, without success. The student who Cooper claimed warned her denied that ever happened. Instead, he told detectives, he’d apologized for how rowdy the class had been that day. Classmates had been making fun of Cooper by sharing altered photos of her on their phones, he said.

When confronted with that information, Cooper told investigators she has a poor memory, and probably was confused about what happened.

When records from the SMART investigation were released, however, she doubled down on her original story, telling reporters she’d been yelled at and bullied into recanting.

Detectives released recordings of their interview with Cooper. They contained no yelling or abuse.

The pleadings Beauregard filed this month document Cooper apparently telling a different story about having been warned.

It happened in July while she was seeking help for depression and anxiety over the lawsuit. Beauregard obtained the medical reports under court discovery rules. He made them public by filing them as exhibits attached to his pleadings.

Cooper allegedly described being full of guilt for not alerting others at the school after claiming she was shown a text message or “post” regarding the shooter’s plans.

Cooper reportedly “is filled with regret that she did not specifically report what she heard, feeling if she did, there may have been a different outcome,” one medical report said. She “also reports that she was sure other adults and students knew what the ‘post’ indicated and that she was not the only one with this news.”

If such a text or post existed, it never became part of the SMART investigation. Detectives used court orders to gather up texts and social media messages the shooter sent in the days prior to the killings. While Fryberg did make cryptic references about ending his life — and most of those in private messages to his former girlfriend — he didn’t make clear his plans until minutes before the gunfire, SMART investigators found.

In his pleadings, Beauregard attached portions of the SMART investigation that documented Cooper’s warning claims, but not the paperwork where detectives detailed their reasons to label her story unfounded.

In a footnote in his recent pleadings, Beauregard explained the decision to drop the Marysville School District from the lawsuit was based in part on its lawyers “plotting a defense to try and prove that Ms. Cooper’s entire memory was completely fabricated.”

Beauregard said Cooper’s more recent statements reflect what really happened because “an entire school staff does not forget about being warned of an impending shooting.”

She should not be dismissed from the case, he said.

“Ms. Cooper is liable, liable, liable, for the deaths and injuries at issue in this lawsuit,” Beauregard wrote.

Andrew Fryberg, Zoe Galasso, Gia Soriano and Shaylee Chuckulnaskit were killed in the shootings. Nate Hatch survived a gunshot to the jaw.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews.

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