Astroworld Festival tragedy: Could Travis Scott be held criminally responsible?

Houston police launch criminal probe into mass-casualty event at Travis Scott ‘Astroworld’ festival

The mass-casualty event killed 8, injured over 300: ‘The Big Sunday Show’ discusses

As loved ones and the public mourn the loss of eight people who died in the devastating events at Friday night’s Astroworld Festival in Houston, questions loom as to whether the concert’s founder and headliner, Travis Scott, could be held criminal responsible. 

Houston officials on Monday announced the identities of the eight people who died Friday night after fans at the Astroworld music festival surged toward the stage during a performance by Scott, a Grammy-nominated rapper who founded the event. Police continue to probe the circumstances of the tragedy.

Those who died ranged in age from 14 to 27, Houston authorities said. They have been identified as: Mirza Danish Baig, Rodolfo Pena, Madison Dubiski, Franco Patino, Axel Acosta Avila, Jacob Jurinek, Brianna Rodriguez, and the youngest victim, John Hilgert.

A visitor writes a note at a memorial outside of the canceled Astroworld festival at NRG Park on November 7, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)
(Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

Approximately 50,000 people attended Friday’s concert. More than 300 people were treated at a field hospital at the concert.

City officials said they were still investigating what caused the pandemonium at the sold-out event. Speaking to Fox News by phone on Monday, longtime New York-based attorney Julie Rendelman said while criminal charges against Scott might be possible, they’re unlikely.  

“At this point, criminally charging would be a huge stretch,” Rendelman said. 

Houston Police Department (HPD) Chief Troy Finner announced in a statement on Monday afternoon that he met with Scott and the head of his security before Friday’s main event. Finner said he had expressed his “concerns regarding public safety and that in my 31 years of law enforcement experience I have never seen a time with more challenges facing citizens of all ages.” 

“I asked Travis Scott and his team to work with HPD for all events over the weekend and to be mindful of his team’s social media messaging on any unscheduled events,” Finner continued. “The meeting was brief and respectful, and a chance for me to share my public safety concerns as chief of police.” 

Finner said the criminal investigation is ongoing. On Sunday, The New York Times cited a “person with knowledge of the chief’s account” in reporting that Finner had met with Scott on Friday to share his “concerns about the energy in the crowd.” 

Speaking to the reports regarding Finner’s concerns, Rendelman said even if Scott was made aware of the police chief’s concerns, “I’m not sure that that would bring us to the level of him having some foreseeability that this tragedy would happen versus something much more mild occurring.” 

Rapper Travis Scott was performing on stage when what authorities are calling a "mass casualty incident" occurred.
(Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage)

Pushing and shoving in the crowd is allegedly normal at his shows, and Scott has often encouraged fans to bypass security and rush the stage, according to The Associated Press. 

On Sunday, lawyers for a man injured during the concert’s events filed the first of what were expected to be several lawsuits stemming from the tragedy. Lawyers for Manuel Souza filed the complaint in state court in Houston against Scott, Live Nation Entertainment and others accused them of being responsible. 

The lawsuit describes how Scott’s previous social media activity shows he “recklessly encouraged fans to breach the barriers and otherwise actively encouraged a culture of violence.”  

The complaint points to a tweet from May, which has since been deleted, when Scott was responding to tweets from fans upset that the concert had sold out. 

A man cries at a memorial for the victims of the Astroworld music festival in Houston on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Robert Bumsted)

“NAW AND WE STILL SNEAKING THE WILD ONES IN,” he allegedly tweeted in response.

In response to news of the lawsuit, Howard Hershenhorn, Souza’s attorney, told Buzzfeed News: “Make no mistake about it, his desire for chaos caused this horrific tragedy.” 

Several lawsuits have since been filed against Scott and Live Nation, among others. 

In a statement provided to Fox News in response to the lawsuit, Live Nation said the company continues “to support and assist local authorities in their ongoing investigation so that both the fans who attended and their families can get the answers they want and deserve, and we will address all legal matters at the appropriate time.”

Scott, who was born Jacques Bermon Webster II, founded his festival in 2018 on the heels of his chart-topping album “Astroworld,” which was led by the infectious song “Sicko Mode.”

An ambulance is seen in the crowd during the Astroworld music festival in Houston, November 5, 2021 in this still image obtained from a social media video on November 6, 2021. Courtesy of Twitter @ONACASELLA /via REUTERS
(Courtesy of Twitter @ONACASELLA /via REUTERS)

He has pledged to cover funeral costs for all victims who died as a result of Friday’s events. He is also offering to cover the cost of mental counseling through BetterHelp.

Scott has been criminally charged in the past for allegedly encouraging dangerous behavior at shows, according to the AP. 

In 2017, Scott was arrested after he encouraged fans to bypass security and rush the stage, leaving a security guard, a police officer and several others injured during a concert in Arkansas, the AP reported. 

In a separate incident, he was sentenced to one year of court supervision after pleading guilty to reckless conduct charges stemming from a 2015 incident in Chicago at the Lollapalooza music festival.

At the time, Chicago officials said Scott encouraged fans to vault security barricades. However, no one was injured.

A pedestrian cross Main Street in front of a sign announcing the cancellation of Astroworld on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Houston.  (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Speaking to Fox News on Monday, Rendelman, also a former prosecutor, said she’s “not sure that his prior acts could bring us to the level of criminal charges here.”

Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney Rachel Fiset said she believes law enforcement is in the midst of a “massive investigation that encompasses Travis Scott,” event promoter Live Nation Entertainment, the venue, the members of the venue’s security team and the crowd “to determine how this catastrophic incident happened.” 

If investigators determine that Scott “acted in a way that he knew he was creating an unjustifiable risk,” Fiset said in an email to Fox News, “he could be charged with a crime in Texas.” 

She cited Scott’s previous arrests for encouraging such behavior in arguing that those criminal charges “will be considered in any type of liability, as will the prior injuries of concertgoers and security guards that have occurred at his concerts.”

When asked if Scott bore any responsibility to stop the show, Fiset said the question boiled down to “what Scott knew at the time and what he did in response.”

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    The site of the Astroworld Festival in Houston is seen from the air Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (Image: KRIV) (KRIV)

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    The site of the Astroworld Festival in Houston is seen from the air Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (Image: KRIV) (KRIV)

“If he knew mass injuries and deaths were occurring and he continued to perform despite this fact, without doing all he could to stop the show, then he could be found to create unjustifiable risk to his concertgoers, or worse,” she said. 

Philip Dube, a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles County, described the legal implications from Friday’s tragedy “numerous and complicated.” 

Even if “malfeasance and violent brawls” could have been predicted, Dube said, “the question becomes how much more anyone could have done to prevent or minimize the death toll and number of injured without simply cancelling the event in the first place.”

“Short of having insight into every attendee’s proclivity for violence and pugnacious personality,” he continued, “there was no reasonable way to foresee such a tragedy.”

Unless Scott is found to have done something to instigate or encourage the crowd surge, his presence on stage and performing at the time of the stampede “does not expose him to criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter,” Dube said. 

“By all accounts,” Dube said, “there is little to no support for the claim that he was criminally negligent in any way.”

Fox News’ Michael Lee and Madelin Fuerste and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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