By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — Attorneys for some of those killed and injured during last year’s deadly Astroworld music festival alleged in court on Monday that rapper Travis Scott has violated a gag order issued in lawsuits they have filed in an effort to influence possible jurors and rebuild his reputation ahead of a potential trial.
At issue is an announcement Scott made earlier this month about Project HEAL, a $5 million initiative that includes funding for an effort to address safety challenges for festivals and large-scale events. Houston police and federal officials have been investigating whether Scott, concert promoter Live Nation and others had put in place sufficient safety measures.
“My team and I created Project HEAL to take much needed action towards supporting real solutions that make all events the safest spaces they can possibly be. I will always honor the victims of the Astroworld tragedy who remain in my heart forever,” Scott wrote earlier this month on Instagram after the initiative was announced.
But Bob Hilliard, one of the attorneys representing the family of 9-year-old Ezra Blount, the youngest person to die from injuries during the festival, said during a court hearing Monday that Scott used the power of his social media presence to address concert safety, one of the issues being debated by the lawsuits.
State District Judge Kristen Hawkins has previously said that lawyers could tell the media about factual issues that happen in court, but she didn’t want attorneys or others to make their cases in the court of public opinion and possibly influence the jury pool.
Scott’s actions “did affect and dent the power of your order,” Hilliard told Hawkins, who’s overseeing the nearly 500 lawsuits filed after 10 people died and hundreds of others were injured during a massive crowd surge at the Nov. 5 concert headlined by Scott.
Stephen Brody, one of Scott’s attorneys, said the rapper’s announcement about the initiative, which included funding for scholarships, didn’t violate the gag order. Scott’s attorneys have argued any efforts to prevent him from speaking on this or any other issue would be a violation of his constitutional right of free expression.
Such charitable efforts have “been a constant in his life” and “to suggest somehow that speaking about those charitable initiatives … runs afoul of the publicity order … is certainly not something that would withstand scrutiny,” Brody said.
During the hearing, attorneys for ABC News also told Hawkins they believed the gag order was preventing reporters from being able to sufficiently report about the lawsuits as some attorneys were hesitant to even speak about factual issues discussed in court or in documents.
Other attorneys in the case told Hawkins they were working to find an agreement on modifying the gag order and could have a resolution to these different concerns and could be presented to her in a couple of weeks.
“I look forward to seeing what proposals you come up with,” Hawkins said.
Those who died in the concert ranged in age from 9 to 27 years old. Roughly 300 people were injured and treated at the scene, and 25 were taken to hospitals. Those killed died from compression asphyxia.