Catholic Charities of Omaha Employee Files Lawsuit After Unannounced Active Shooter Drill Leaves her Injured
Sandra Lopez, an employee of the Catholic Charities of Omaha, Nebraska, has filed a lawsuit against her employer after she says she suffered emotional and physical injuries during an unannounced active shooting drill.
Lopez alleges that company administrators did not warn her or other employees that an active shooter drill would be taking place on May 19th, 2022. The lawsuit alleges that an administrator who knew the drill was going to occur yelled out during the drill, “it is a shooting” as Lopez and the administrator fled the organization's headquarters.
The drill was overseen by John Channels, a man hired on by Catholic Charities to stage the event. According to reports, Channels was charged with five counts of making terroristic threats and one weapon count last August. Despite being hired to stage the drill, he was not named in the lawsuit.
Denise Bartels, the executive director of Catholic Charities of Omaha, has not issued a direct response to the lawsuit but shared that Channels had misrepresented himself and his skill set when he was hired for the job. In planning the drill, Channels did not adhere to the agreed-upon procedures and he did not follow up with law enforcement officials to alert them about the drill. Channels told the organization that law enforcement would be present during the active shooter drill, but that was not the case. Additionally, Omaha Police shared that they were never told the active shooter drill would be taking place.
Lopez describes the chaotic event, saying that she first heard three loud bangs coming from outside the office suite where she worked. An administrator who was in the hallway shouted for employees to evacuate the building while Channles was allegedly standing outside the window holding a semi-automatic handgun as he fired shots into the air. Lopez describes hearing what she thought were gunshots and also describes seeing an employee on the ground outside of the building, implying to her that the employee was either severely wounded or dead.
Lopez recounts that the experience caused her to “fear for her life” in response to what was happening, Lopez ran to a nearby coffee shop where she called her son, Stephen Lopez, who arrived on the scene to pick her up. Only after Stephen Lopez alerted the organization's chief of operations, John Hurter, did he learn that the event his mother endured was a shooting drill and not a real active shooter scenario. Stephen Lopez asked Hurter why employees were not told about the drill to which Hurter allegedly responded, “we wanted to see how people reacted.”
The lawsuit explains, “The conduct of Catholic Charities caused Sandra Lopez emotional distress so severe that no reasonable person should be expected to endure it. In not informing employees of the drill, Lopez suffered injuries as a result.”
Heather Veik, an attorney representing the organization, has since filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. A hearing for the motion is scheduled for March 14th. As part of the motion to dismiss, Veik shares that the lawsuit should be handled in worker's compensation court, not in Douglas County District court.
Lopez's attorney, Thomas White, countered, “That is the question in this case, would a jury believe that they intentionally harmed her,” adding, “We believe that’s what they intended and we’ll see what the results are.”