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December 4, 2023

Lawsuit: Garlic Fest should use DHS safety guide

Lawsuit claims Garlic Festival ignored Homeland Security guide

Organizers of the Gilroy Garlic Festival did not follow a lengthy list of recommendations from U.S. authorities on how to properly secure large outdoor public gatherings, according to a lawsuit filed by five victims of the July 28 mass shooting at Christmas Hill Park.

Attorneys for the five shooting survivors have accused the Garlic Festival Association of failing to implement the Department of Homeland Security’s “Protective Measures Guide for the U.S. Outdoor Venues Industry.” The guide is a 70-page list of suggestions for owners and operators of both permanent outdoor entertainment facilities (such as amusement parks and fairgrounds) and one-time or annual outdoor gatherings (such as festivals, parades and concerts) that occur in public spaces.

The Garlic Festival Association in a statement declined to say whether it implemented the DHS guide cited in the Nov. 12 lawsuit, because of the pending litigation. The association also continued to decline to answer questions about the festival’s security plan.

“The July shooting was sudden, unanticipated, unforeseeable and immediately contained by heroic Gilroy Police Department officers,” Garlic Festival Executive Director Brian Bowe said in a statement on behalf of the association. “The shooter used military style weapons and tactics, and is being investigated as a domestic terrorist. Any public discussion of security specifics will not occur because to do so will undermine those protocols.”

The statement continued, “We look forward to a safe and successful #Gilroy42 next July. We will continue our mission of raising money for more than 150 charities in our community.”

Guidelines on the web

DHS produces a series of protective measures guides “that provide an overview of best practices and protective measures” designed to assist organizers in planning and managing security at facilities and events, reads a version of the outdoor venues guide found on the internet. The guide is not available to the public from DHS, and the department did not respond to numerous questions and requests for comment.

An electronic version of the protective measures guide for outdoor venues can be found on the privately run website publicintelligence.net. The “About” section of the site describes it as an “international, collaborative research project aimed at aggregating the collective work of independent researchers around the globe who wish to defend the public’s right to access information.”

The DHS guide found on publicintelligence.net was last updated in 2011. DHS did not respond to requests to verify the guide’s authenticity.

The guide’s purpose is “to provide venue owners and operators with information that can be used to maintain a safe environment for patrons and employees,” reads the document.

“The measures provide suggestions for successful planning, organizing, coordinating, communicating, operating, and training activities to augment the overall security posture at outdoor venues,” the 2011 guide continues. The measures are not requirements.

The guide lists detailed recommended security measures for all types of potential terrorist attacks on outdoor gatherings, including active shooters as well as bombings, chemical/biological attacks, vehicle-borne explosives, cybercrime and airplane attacks. It also covers recommended safety measures for natural disasters.

For each scenario, the DHS guide lists potential key vulnerabilities and likely terrorist objectives. It advises organizers to properly train, hire and coordinate security staff; coordinate with public agencies such as police, DHS and other authorities to develop a detailed security plan; identify a chain of command and evacuation plan in the event of an incident; and conduct risk assessments and security audits of venues prior to scheduled public events.

“Protective measures include equipment, personnel, training, and procedures designed to protect an event or facility against threats and mitigate the effects of an attack,” reads the guide.

The chain link fence

The Nov. 12 lawsuit filed by the July 28 victims lists dozens of suggested security and safety measures that Garlic Festival organizers allegedly failed to implement; many of these are listed specifically in the 2011 DHS guide. Many of the allegations in the lawsuit focus on the effectiveness of a chain link fence surrounding Christmas Hill Park, and festival staff’s attentiveness and ability to monitor the fence for breaches.

Numerous bulleted points in the 2011 DHS guide offer suggestions for perimeter fencing, and advise event staff to regularly monitor those barriers during festival hours.

Police and FBI investigators have said the July 28 shooter entered the festival unauthorized, through a hole he cut in the perimeter fence at Christmas Hill Park. The shooter opened fire on the crowd with an AK-47 style rifle, killing three people and injuring at least 14.

Gilroy police officers ran toward the shooter as soon as shots rang out, and struck him numerous times with rounds from their service weapons, according to authorities. The shooter shot and killed himself as officers approached—about a minute after he started firing.

The FBI continues to investigate the shooting, which they have labeled an act of domestic terrorism. Investigators have not identified the shooter’s motive.

The Nov. 12 lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court by Wendy Towner, Francisco Aguilera, Nick McFarland, Justin Bates and Brynn Ota-Matthews—all of whom suffered gunshot wounds during the July 28 massacre. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the festival association, as well as First Alarm and Security Control—a private security firm hired by the association to provide additional security at the Garlic Festival.

“Defendants failed to coordinate security staff operations with local law enforcement and state and federal agencies such as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Terrorism Task Force,” reads one of the lawsuit’s allegations. 

Michael Moore
Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

Please leave a comment


  1. BS! Don’t blame the G Fest. It is a very, very sad situation. If you get shot in the street, are you going to sue the city because they didn’t follow some guideline? Slip and fall lawyers are sick. Total sympathy for the victims. The only person that should be responsible is the shooter. The Garlic Festival is also a victim.
    Even a police state won’t stop a sick person. It’s time to just remember loved ones, and live on. Lawyers are not going to bring anything good back to anybody.


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