HOUSTON (AP) – The deaths of eight people in a fan crash at a music festival led to calls for an independent external investigation instead of one by the Houston Police, who, along with firefighters, has played a key role in crowd control. and other security measures at the show.
Crowd safety experts say an investigation by neutral foreigners into the tragedy during Friday night’s performance by rapper Travis Scott could help the city avoid potential conflicts of interest and promote transparency.
Houston Police Department spokeswoman Jodi Silva declined to say whether the department’s close involvement in the event created a conflict or whether it was considering turning the investigation over to an outside body. Such decisions are often made in the context of investigations such as police shootings.
“All the information we have at the moment has been posted on Twitter,” said Silva.
The police department’s investigation would be separate from any independent investigation ordered by County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County’s top elected official, according to Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesperson for the county judge’s office. Hidalgo has not decided who will conduct such an independent review or how it will be done, Lemaître said on Monday.
“She wants to know if it could have been avoided in any way,” said Lemaître. “It’s also entirely possible that it wasn’t preventable for some reason, and that’s something we’d like to know as well.”
Key questions remain unanswered after the Astroworld festival at Harris County-owned NRG Park. Some implicate what Houston police and firefighters did before, during, and after a crowd rushed to the scene, killing eight people and injuring many more, with more than 300 people treated there and at the scene. less 13 others hospitalized. Other questions relate to the actions of event organizers.
Houston Police and Fire officials said part of their investigation will be to examine whether the concert promoter and other festival officials have adhered to the plans that have been submitted for the event.
Astroworld organizers have set out safety and emergency medical response protocols for the festival in plans filed with Harris County. The 56-page plan, obtained by the Associated Press, says any decision to evacuate the event would be made by the festival director after consulting others, including the director of security. These plans must be reviewed by Houston Police officials.
Christopher Slobogin, director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt University, said an independent criminal investigation could be beneficial in avoiding any potential conflict of interest, but acknowledged that this case is different from typical situations where authorities are faced with decisions about whether to walk away from a case.
“The real crime was probably not committed directly by the fire department or the police,” he said. “But at least for the sake of appearance, if an independent body did the investigation, I think it would be the best practice.”
Officials said a private company was primarily responsible for ensuring festival security, but Houston police were also assigned to the event. The plan says medical care at the festival was provided by ParaDocs, a private company based in New York City.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told a press conference on Saturday that injuries and the size of the crowd “quickly overwhelmed” private companies providing security and medical services. Peña said that although the medical operations plan did not require firefighters to have units pre-positioned around the festival, those units were in place “in case this incident escalates.”
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said in a statement Monday that he had a “brief and respectful” meeting with Scott and the rapper’s security chief on Friday before his performance. The chief said he asked them to work with the police department.
“I have expressed my concerns about public safety and that in my 31 years of law enforcement experience, I have never seen a moment with so many challenges faced by citizens of all ages. , including a global pandemic and social tensions across the country, ”Finner said.
G. Keith Still, visiting professor of crowd science at Suffolk University in the UK, said his independent investigations into similar tragedies typically begin by assessing the security clearance process of an event, including how a permit was issued and whether the event organizer adhered to the permit. conditions.
“The police can sometimes get too caught up in trying to take eyewitness testimony,” he said. “With 50,000 potential eyewitnesses, by the time they are done with it all, they are left with a huge and confused mass.”
Houston police and firefighters said their investigation will include examining a video taken by concert promoter Live Nation, as well as dozens of clips of people at the show. Officials also plan to review the event’s security plan and determine whether its organizers have properly followed permit requirements.
Steven Adelman, vice president of industry group Event Safety Alliance, said in an email that he saw no problem with public safety officials allowing an independent investigation into the Houston tragedy.
“I hope and assume that the investigation will be conducted by an outside person who is not subject to the influence of the agencies involved in Astroworld. This is not an uncommon scenario in complex situations like this.” wrote Adelman, whose organization was formed after a scene collapsed that killed seven people at Indiana State Fair in 2011.
Adelman said private forensic analysis experts independently investigated the Indiana stage collapse, examining the stage’s roof engineering and crowd management.
“A good example of what I hope we’ll see here,” Adelman said of the Houston investigation.
Finner defended the length of time it took for the concert to be canceled after the first signs of unrest. The police chief said his service immediately informed concert organizers after noticing that attendees were “going down”. The event was canceled 40 minutes later after discussions with firefighters and park officials.
“You can’t just close when you have 50,000 – over 50,000 – individuals, okay? Finner said. “We have to worry about riots – riots – when you have such a young group. “
Peña said city officials limited attendance to 50,000, although the venue could have accommodated 200,000 based on fire codes.
“It was the crowd control at the location of the stage that was the problem, especially as the crowd started to pour into the stage,” said Peña.
Live Nation said in a statement that it is working with local authorities “so that the fans who attended and their families can get the answers they want and deserve, and we will deal with all legal issues in a timely manner.”
Hidalgo County Judge tweeted on Saturday that she “called for an objective and independent investigation into what happened.” She also said her office was grateful for the work done by police and firefighters.
“It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unforeseeable events, of circumstances that could not have been avoided,” Hidalgo said. “But until we figure it out, I’ll ask the tough questions.”
Hidalgo’s office is not a law enforcement agency and does not have authority over criminal investigations.