Independent Probe of Astroworld Deaths Could Avoid Conflict of Interest With Police

Some groups are calling for an independent investigation free of potential conflict of interest with the police after a crowd crushed eight fans at Astroworld music festival in Houston.

The Associated Press reported that while the event coordinators hired a private security company, the Houston Police Department was also involved with crowd control and other safety duties at the Travis Scott show on November 5th.

Houston Police Department Spokeswoman Jodi Silva declined to comment to the AP about whether they were considering handing the investigation to a private agency.

"All of the information we have available to put out at this time has been placed out on Twitter," Silva said.

Some experts, such as Vanderbilt University criminal justice program director Christopher Slobogin, think that an outside investigation would be best practice and assure more transparency.

"The actual crime was probably not committed directly by the fire department or the police department," Slobogin said to the AP. "But at least for appearance purposes, if an independent body did the investigation I think that would be the better practice."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Astroworld, Travis Scott, memorial
Stacey Sarmiento places flowers at a memorial in Houston on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021 in memory of her friend, Rudy Pena, who died in a crush of people at the Astroworld music festival on Friday. Robert Bumsted/AP Photo

The police department's probe would be separate from any independent investigation ordered by County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County's top elected official, according to Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the county judge's office. Hidalgo hasn't decided who would conduct such an independent review or how it would be done, Lemaitre said Monday.

"She wants to know if this could have been prevented in any way," Lemaitre said. "It's also entirely possible that it was not preventable for whatever reason, and that's something we would like to know, as well."

Officials with the Houston police and fire departments have said that part of their investigation will include reviewing whether the concert promoter and others behind the festival adhered to the plans that were submitted for the event.

Astroworld's organizers laid out security and emergency medical response protocols for the festival in plans filed with Harris County. The 56-page plan, obtained by The Associated Press, says any decision to evacuate the event would be made by the festival director after consultation with other individuals, including the security director. Such plans have to be reviewed by Houston police officials.

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said during a news conference Saturday that the injuries and size of the crowd "quickly overwhelmed" the private companies providing security and medical services. Peña said even though the medical operations plan did not require the fire department to have units pre-positioned around the festival, those units were in place "in case this incident escalated."

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said in a statement on Monday that he had a "brief and respectful" meeting with Scott and the rapper's head of security on Friday before his performance. The chief said he asked them to work with the police department.

"I expressed my concerns regarding public safety and that in my 31 years in law enforcement experience I have never seen a time with more challenges facing citizens of all ages, to include a global pandemic and social tension throughout the nation," Finner said.

Houston police and fire officials said their investigation will include reviewing video taken by concert promoter Live Nation, as well as dozens of clips from people at the show. Officials also planned to review the event's security plan and determine whether its organizers properly followed permit requirements.

Finner has defended how long it took for the concert to be called off after the first signs of trouble. The police chief said his department immediately notified concert organizers after noticing that attendees were "going down." The event was called off 40 minutes later after discussions that included the fire department and park officials.

"You cannot just close when you've got 50,000 — over 50,000 — individuals, OK?" Finner said. "We have to worry about rioting — riots — when you have a group that's that young."

Peña said city officials limited the attendance to 50,000 even though the venue could have held 200,000 based on fire codes.

"It was the crowd control at the point of the stage that was the issue, especially as the crowd began to surge toward the stage," Peña said.

County Judge Hidalgo tweeted on Saturday that she was "calling for an objective and independent investigation into what happened." She also said her office was grateful for the work done by the police and fire departments.

"It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unpredictable events, of circumstances coming together that couldn't possibly have been avoided," Hidalgo said. "But until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions."

Hidalgo's office isn't a law-enforcement agency and doesn't have authority over criminal investigations.

Troy Finner, Houston Police, Astroworld
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner, right, speaks next to Mayor Sylvester Turner, left, during a news conference, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Houston, after several people died and scores were injured during a music festival the night before. Michael Wyke/AP Photo