SAN DIEGO (CNS) - An attorney representing Chabad of California said Friday the organization "feels terrible" for the victims of the 2019 Chabad of Poway shooting but has "no control" over the local synagogue's security, in response to a lawsuit filed against the synagogue and the state Chabad organization for alleged insufficient security measures.
The lawyer who filed the suit last week in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of the family of a young girl wounded in the shooting countered that "it would be surprising" if Chabad of California provided no oversight regarding security measures among other Chabads throughout the state.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Israel Dahan and three of his children alleges security guards should have been hired to safeguard the congregation at the time of the April 27, 2019, shooting and that the synagogue lacked enough fences, gates, barriers and other measures to keep threats out. The lawsuit also alleges Chabad received federal funds intended to be spent on security upgrades in anticipation that the synagogue would likely be a target of anti- semitic attacks, yet the money was not spent.
Noya Dahan, who was 8 at the time of the shooting, was injured along with her uncle, Almog Peretz, and the Chabad's former rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein. Killed in the shooting was 60-year-old congregant Lori Gilbert Kaye, who was shot twice in the synagogue's foyer.
Defendants include Chabad of Poway, Chabad of California, Rabbi Simcha Backman -- who, according to the complaint, oversees security grants for all 207 Chabad organizations across the state -- and the alleged shooter, 21- year-old John Timothy Earnest.
According to the suit, Chabad of Poway applied to a federal grant program in May 2018 to secure funding for security upgrades "because it believed it was at risk of an anti-semitic or terrorist attack on its congregants." The synagogue received an initial portion of grant funding in March 2019, but was made aware about six months earlier that the funding was granted, according to the complaint.
Backman told The Associated Press in 2019, "Obviously, we did not have a chance to start using the funds yet."
The plaintiffs allege that despite the delay in receiving the funds, the synagogue could have begun incurring expenses for security measures, then used the grant funds as reimbursement.
"The delay in receiving federal funds does not excuse Chabad of Poway from its deficient security and for not taking target-hardening measures in advance of the date of the shooting," the complaint says. It also alleges the Chabad had other sources of funds that could have been used to hire security guards.
"Regardless of whether or not Chabad of Poway received federal safety grant funds, Chabad of Poway is responsible for providing a safe and secure premises for its congregants, including plaintiffs and it failed to do so," the suit alleges.
Attorney Douglas Honig, representing Chabad of California, said his clients are part of a separate entity that does not govern how Chabad of Poway implements its security measures. Honig said his clients' organization deals largely with religious and spiritual elements.
He also said the lawsuit is improperly trying to hold Chabad accountable based on the theory that unrelated anti-Semitic incidents meant it should have foreseen something like the shooting.
The complaint alleges that the Chabads of California and Poway should have been aware of the threat of an anti-Semitic attack due to Jewish facilities and institutions historically being threatened with violence. It also references several anti-Semitic hate crimes committed in the surrounding San Diego area in the years prior to the shooting, as well as a 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people.
Douglas Rochen, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said those local anti-semitic incidents were part of the basis for Chabad of Poway's application for the grant.
"Part of why they said in their application that they needed this money is because of the threats in the community." said Rochen, who alleged "it was entirely foreseeable" that such an incident could occur there.
Earnest remains in custody and could face the death penalty in the case filed by state prosecutors, in which he is charged with murder, attempted murder, arson and hate crime allegations. He also faces more than 100 federal counts in a separate prosecution regarding the shooting and could also face capital punishment in that case.
Earnest is also charged with setting fire to the Dar-ul- Arqam Mosque, also known as the Islamic Center of Escondido about a month prior to the shooting.