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Dave Sanders

Columbine "coverup"
Victim's lawyer charges sheriff's department with hiding details of high school massacre.

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By Dave Cullen

April 21, 2000 |  One day after filing a federal lawsuit against the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, the lead lawyer representing the family of slain Columbine High School teacher Dave Sanders charged the department with a coverup Thursday, alleging that officials have kept details of exactly what went on last April 20 from victims' families and the public.

"On at least one particular item, I affirmatively believe they were involved in a coverup," Peter Grenier said. "Absolutely, yes. A human being directly told us that," he said. "A human being affirmatively demonstrated a coverup."

He said the department has been extremely uncooperative, forcing the family to hire private detectives. "Our case is based on a lot of lengthy, expensive private investigation," he said. "No one from the sheriff's office would tell us anything."

The Sanders lawsuit contained a host of major new allegations, including claims that a sharpshooter had Dylan Klebold in his sights in the library, but his supervisors wouldn't allow him to act. It also contends the sharpshooter saw Klebold and Eric Harris commit suicide, and thus officers were aware the pair were dead three hours before Sanders died, but failed to rescue him.

Because of confidentiality agreements, Grenier said he was unable to be specific about the identity of the sharpshooter, the item covered up or the witness to it. "It will all come out in discovery," he said.

Earlier this week a judicial ruling granted the 15 families who were preparing lawsuits access to the sheriff's long-delayed "Final Report," but Grenier says the ruling came far too late to inform his filing. Neither the Sanders family nor its legal team has seen the report or the other newly available material. He expects to discover additional surprises within that data. "I hope to God there's something useful," he said.

Many victims' families have expressed anger about the long delay in releasing the final report on the Columbine investigation. Brian Rohrbough, father of Daniel Rohrbough, recently lamented on NBC News that he feared he would have to sue the sheriff's office to learn how his son died.

Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, said the various lawsuits may well achieve their stated goal of bringing new evidence to the public. "If this gets far enough that they do discovery, more information about this may come to light," he said.

However, the families may be facing an uphill battle, he said, stressing that he had not read the suits and was offering a preliminary reaction based on knowing key points.

"It's going to be difficult," Kamin said. "It's going to be tough to ask a jury to say we know better than a SWAT team how to handle this situation."

. Next page | "Dave Sanders was literally the last wounded person police got to"

Photograph by AP/Wide World

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