Our partner, Mike Rollin, was a Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy during the shooting at Columbine High School. While he was not dispatched to the shooting, he was always haunted by the tragedy.
Twenty years later, he was out of law enforcement but did respond to the tragic May 2019 shooting at STEM High School Highlands Ranch. This time as a parent—to pick up his son. “I’ve been a combat medic and I was a cop for 8 years, and I’ve never been more terrified,” Mike said. “I’m thankful every day that our son wasn’t physically harmed but I’m heartbroken for those who were.”
After STEM, Mike determined to use his law license to work on gun violence prevention and school safety issues. He reached out to the Giffords Law Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence and asked what he could do. Giffords told him of a group of parents and grandparents of students in Evanston, Wyoming who were concerned about a newly-adopted school policy that allowed teachers to carry concealed firearms in school. Mike agreed to look into it.
Viscerally, arming school staff might seem like rational response school shootings, but studies and experience show that it can be far more dangerous to students, staff, and responding law enforcement officers than beneficial. Indeed, during the STEM shooting, a security guard shot at a responding police officer. The bullet passed through a classroom wall and struck a student.
Applying his military and law enforcement experience, Mike identified several factors making the school district’s policy especially dangerous—ranging from lack of training and proficiency testing to over-penetrating ammunition. Another problem with the policy was that it violated Wyoming law by not assuring that firearms instructors were qualified.
Mike and co-counsel in Evanston challenged the rule in Wyoming state court. Earlier this year, they won summary judgment for lack of instructor qualifications. The school district immediately added instructor qualifications and reinstated the policy.
Mike took several of the district court rulings to the Wyoming Supreme Court, including on the issue that the district court’s ruling invalidated the entire policy ab initio, such that if the school district wanted to reinstate the policy, it would have to start the rulemaking process all over again.
Mike argued the appeal in November, and on December 16, 2020, the Wyoming Supreme Court agreed, unanimously holding that the reinstated rule was null and void.
As Mike has explained to the Wyoming courts, ensuring school safety is a complex issue, and school administrators should look to experts in an array of fields to craft appropriate, thoughtful policies. Mike, his clients, and their subject matter experts have offered their help in developing a comprehensive school safety program. So far, the school district has declined.
Several related articles are linked below.