Two victims of November's mass shooting and standoff at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood have filed a lawsuit against the organization, saying it should have done more to prevent the attack.
Samantha Wagner survived a gunshot, which shattered the bone of her upper arm in the Nov. 27 attack. She had arrived at the clinic's parking lot with her friend, Jennifer Markovsky, who was killed. Attorneys filed the lawsuit Friday on behalf of Wagner as well as Ashley Stewart, the widow of Ke'Arre Stewart. He was fatally shot near the Planned Parenthood entrance and is also survived by their young daughter.
After an hours-long standoff, police arrested 58-year-old Robert Dear. He is accused of the murder of Markovsky, Stewart, and police officer Garrett Swasey as well as dozens of other crimes, including attempted murder. In addition to the three killed, nine others were injured. Earlier this month, his trial was paused after a judge found him mentally incompetent and ordered treatment at a state mental hospital.
In the new lawsuit, Wagner and Stewart say Planned Parenthood should also be held responsible. Their complaint noted that the women's health clinics are the target of constant threats, and in more than 300 cases, have been the sites of acts of violence. Since the 1990s, the level of violence has been escalating, the complaint said.
"[The clinic] in fact did not provide a safe and secure environment, nor did it provide any warnings of the very real threat and dangers that face people whom they invite and encourage to attend its clinic," the complaint said.
There were no security guards at the clinic at the time of the attack, the complaint added, in spite of almost weekly public protests. No fence offered a secure entrance, and no one was actively monitoring for suspicious activity, the complaint said.
"[Planned Parenthood] knew or should have known of the dangers and risks of the kind or similar kind that occurred on November 27, 2015 at the [clinic] that were cased by its failures as noted above," the complaint said. "Such dangers and risks were foreseeable."
In a statement, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said the attack had a tremendous impact on staff and the community they serve.
"Although we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, we believe that our health centers throughout the Rocky Mountain region are both safe and inviting for our patients and our staff who care for them," the statement said. "The safety of our patients, staff, and facilities is, and always has been, a priority for us."
In the days after the shooting, Planned Parenthood leaders described their staff's quick response to the situation. After a staff member heard the first gunshot, employees called 911, ushered everyone inside the clinic into a back room, and silenced cell phones, regional president and CEO Vicki Cowart told BuzzFeed News at the time.
"That probably saved many lives,” Cowart said.
Planned Parenthood also provided access to its security cameras and floor plan to police, who used the information to evacuate survivors and eventually arrest Dear.
Though protesters regularly gathered on the sidewalk outside the clinic, Planned Parenthood and city officials have said they were not aware of any specific threats of violence ever being made against the Colorado Springs facility.
Claudia Koerner is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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