LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Unified School District has won the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the father of a 17-year-old North Hollywood High School basketball player who alleged the district knew the decedent had tried to take his life once before and had shown signs of wanting to do so again the day of his 2019 suicide.
Luc Richard Elie, father of the late Xavier Patterson, brought the negligence suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, also naming as defendants LAUSD psychologist Samuel Mark Schwarzmer, North Hollywood High Principal Ricardo Rosales and Carrie Schwartz, then an assistant principal at the school.
Judge Daniel Crowley signed a judgment on Jan. 17 in favor of the LAUSD and the individual defendants, reflecting his Dec. 9 finding in an LAUSD motion to dismiss the case that Patterson’s suicide was not foreseeable by the district.
“In California, suicide has historically been viewed as an intervening event that always breaks the chain of causation, thereby precluding any tort liability for a suicide,” Crowley wrote.
The lawsuit did not provide evidence of a “special relationship” between Patterson and the defendants that would have given rise to an obligation on their part to prevent him from taking his life, the judge found.
“In sum, the (lawsuit) describes a troubled young man who came to the defendants as such,” Crowley wrote.
According to the suit, the LAUSD in February 2018 issued a policy on suicide prevention and intervention that stated the district is “committed to providing a safe, civil, and secure school environment. It is the district’s charge to respond appropriately to a student expressing or exhibiting suicidal ideation/behavior and to follow-up in the aftermath of a death by suicide. This policy is applicable to all schools, district and school-related activities and in all areas within the district’s jurisdiction.”
Patterson transferred to North Hollywood High in the fall of 2017 and suffered at the time from emotional issues, including impulsive behavior, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, all of which made it difficult for him to be successful in school, according to the suit brought in August 2021.
Patterson became suicidal in April 2018 and went to a freeway, where an attempt to take his own life was thwarted by Los Angeles Police Department officers, the suit stated.
Patterson was placed in the custody of his father and stepmother and agreed to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in which he was hospitalized for days, the suit stated.
Elie provided the LAUSD with information about his son’s mental health caregivers, but the district never requested any of the teen’s mental health records or interacted with the student’s private mental health team, the suit stated.
Patterson finished the remaining semester, enrolled in summer school and then began the new school year in fall 2018. He was supposed to undergo 90 minutes of counseling each month with Schwarzmer, but an unsupervised intern often did the assessment, according to the suit.
“Near the end of the fall semester, Xavier was showing signs of depression and difficulty coping,” the suit states.
On Feb. 7, 2019, Patterson became agitated in his Spanish class and the teacher asked him to call his father at the end of class so the three could discuss his behavior, the suit stated. Elie said he would deal with any punishment when his son came home, the suit stated.
Rosales asked Patterson if he wanted a pass because he was going to be late to his next class, but the teen left his cell phone with the principal and walked away, the suit states.
Schwarzmer claims he at one point called the school police and told them he was concerned Patterson may be going to the freeway. Neither the LAUSD crisis team nor the suicide/threat risk assessment team were activated, the suit states. Patterson returned during sixth period and Schwarzmer spoke with him for about 20 minutes, but he did not assess his risk and neither he nor Schwartz called 911, the suit states.
Schwarzmer called Elie and Patterson’s stepmother, but did not give sufficient details of what had happened with the teen, the suit alleges. LAUSD police who followed Patterson home never interacted with him, according to the suit.
Patterson placed a sentimental hat on the ground outside of his apartment and then left, according to the suit, which further states his body was found later that evening on top of a building and his father and stepmother were told before they arrived that it was a suicide.