Houston police say there is no need for outside polls into Astroworld’s deaths

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Houston Police Chief Troy Finner refused Wednesday to hand over a criminal investigation to an outside agency at Travis Scott’s deadly Astroworld festival, although he and other local officials have faced criticism about them ties to the hometown rapper.

During a briefing at police headquarters in downtown Houston, Finner said he is expected to meet with local FBI officials on Friday on the investigation, but “to be clear, the murder of HPD is investigating this case. We are taking the case.” initiative “and” those who are to be held accountable will be held accountable “.

“We are nowhere to be found right now,” Finner added. “I am not against independent investigation when it is justified. At the moment it is not justified. “

The critics were asking for an independent investigation in the Friday festival after the death of eight people – aged 14 to 27 – and dozens of injured in the fray. Two remained hospitalized in critical condition. More than a dozen lawsuits they were presented by victims who claimed to have committed wrongdoing.

“How does a police department investigate itself?” said Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the family of a 21-year-old man who what among those killed.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner – who gave Scott the key to the city in 2019 – said over the weekend that he knew Scott’s sister, mother, and grandmother, but that he wasn’t close to Scott. (Turner did not respond to requests for interviews on Wednesday.) Finner visited Scott and his security chief in Scott’s trailer before the concert to discuss public safety issues.

Finner told the briefing that he didn’t know Scott well and had only met the rapper twice, even before the gig. “It’s not close,” he said.

Finner said he met Scott before the gig because “I’m the kind of boss who likes to talk to people.”

“I had no reason to believe it wouldn’t be safe,” he said.

Houston police had 530 officers at Astroworld, up from 170 when the festival started three years ago, Finner said. Asked whether it was appropriate for the Houston police to investigate colleagues providing off-duty security at Astroworld, Finner said, “Why isn’t it? We investigate ourselves all the time. I am proud of what we do here in Houston. … It is up to my agency to conduct the investigation. “

Houston police launched criminal and drug homicide investigations over the weekend. Finner said investigators worked “around the clock,” checking forensic evidence, interviewing concert attendees, and reviewing hours of video shot from above and from the ground. Autopsies were still underway on Wednesday. Finner said an early report that a security guard had been stung in the neck with a needle was not true. Concert organizers and contractors said they are cooperating with the investigation and police have received documents from Astroworld security, Finner said, but “I’m not comfortable with what they’re giving us,” adding, “I’m not. only good records. “

republican gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday that he has created a Texas Concert Safety Task Force, which includes an as-yet-to-be-defined list of “security experts, law enforcement, firefighters, state agencies, music industry leaders” to hold roundtables and produce a report. The group “will analyze concert safety and develop ways to improve safety at live music events in Texas … to ensure the tragedy at the Astroworld Festival never happens again.”

In addition to the task force and the criminal investigation, Lina Hidalgo, chief executive of Harris County of Houston, said she was considering hiring an outside group to investigate Astroworld, “something independent and objective and that can help us improve.”

One of his main questions: “Was this tragedy the result of circumstances beyond the control of the people involved?”

The companies that provided security and medical assistance to Astroworld presented extended plans to the police ahead of the concert and said they were cooperating with the investigation.

“We are confident that the facts will show that the care we provided followed the appropriate protocols and operating procedures that were in place,” said Juda Engelmayer, spokesperson for ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., which provided medical services to Astroworld, adding that staff were prepared for the large crowd with ample medical supplies and respected local officials, placing 911 emergency calls.

But Houston fire chief Samuel Peña said the concert’s medical staff were “quickly overwhelmed.”

“When it started to get to the point where patients were critical, unconscious, called for cardiac arrest, I’m just glad we were pre-positioned,” Peña said, noting that he had 10 to 15 firefighters stationed at the concert. including accident and shift commanders.

“We went ahead and took that extra step. We just wanted to have units in the area to make sure we were there quickly, “he said.

But it’s unclear why first responders didn’t stop the concert sooner, said Buzbee, a Republican who forced Turner into a ballot for mayor in 2019 but ultimately lost. He said he spoke to more than 100 spectators he intends to represent and obtained radio traffic from the Houston Police and Fire Department to assemble a timeline showing that Houston officials knew Astroworld’s security was was compromised within minutes of the doors opening on Friday. They declared a “mass event” until 9:38 pm and Scott – scheduled to perform until 11pm – continued to perform until just after 10pm.

At 9:15 am on Friday, Houston police could be heard on the radio preparing to open Astroworld, Buzbee said. At 9:23 am, police radioed that people had breached the concert’s main gate, bypassing a COVID-19 checkpoint, he said.

“At 10:02, they noticed that there was damage to the fences and there was no control over the place. By 10:05, the crowd had violated the goods line, “he said,” moving like a crowd. “

Houston firefighters radioed that they were not in control of the participants, Buzbee said, and at 11 am, officials said on the radio that more than 100 people had jumped the fence. Concert goers reported seeing groups of people wandering around the gardens without the bracelets signing the purchase of tickets.

“Basically they are pushing over fences and barriers without checking their tickets, without checking anything,” Buzbee said. “They should have stopped him. And the question will be, for the strong powers: why didn’t you do it? “

Finner declined to discuss the timing, saying it was too early in the investigation. But he said police were aware in advance that people would try to vault over fences to gain entry, which became a problem as soon as the merchandise tents opened and were overrun, but which the police brought the situation “under control”. He said he didn’t stop the event because “I don’t think it’s fair for those people who paid a lot of money to get in.”

“The supreme authority to end the show is through the production and the entertainer,” he said.

Buzbee insisted that records show hours earlier the crowd was “just as bad, if not worse”, with some onlookers being medically transported “well before Travis Scott took the stage.”

“Even the boss knew. This is why he spoke to Travis Scott, because it was a very delicate situation. That morning they had asked for riot gear. They had used the term ‘mob’ several times. Why did they let the show go on? ”Buzbee said.

Buzbee said he has no plans to sue the city or county in connection with Astroworld “for now”.

She said her two teenage children attended the first Astroworld in 2018 but chose not to return after feeling insecure in the crowd. He said that Scott, who was called to call “play ball” at the Astros’ last home game of the World Series, “pretty much does what he wants here. I’m sure there was a lot of pressure not to quit despite what he was up to. happening “.

“Scott has a great reputation in this city as a young guy who did well, he has a national reputation, he bought a $ 23 million house in Los Angeles, but I think people will give him a second look once this. it will be out, ”Buzbee said of the timeline that led to the death of his clients’ son, Axel Acosta, 21, a student at Western Washington University. “It will be a very damning story.”

Concert goer Xavier Rosales said he and his girlfriend watched the crowd climb Acosta before he died.

“We could see him trying to get out. You could see panic on his face, ”said Rosales, a University of Houston student.

Rosales, 25, said she saw Acosta fall into the mass of people near the front of the crowd.

“He was trying to get up, he was screaming for help. There was nothing we could do: there was too much pressure, everyone was pressing on each other, “said Rosales.” He was really panicking, really strong. It’s a face I won’t forget. “

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