By Alejandro Serrano
Originally appeared in the Texas Tribune
A Houston grand jury decided Thursday not to indict rap star Travis Scott for the deaths of 10 people at the 2021 Astroworld Festival when fans collapsed in a massive crowd.
A Houston grand jury decided Thursday not to indict rap star Travis Scott and five others on criminal charges related to the deaths of 10 people at the 2021 Astroworld Festival in Houston when multiple fans collapsed in a massive crowd.
The grand jury’s decision to “no bill” — meaning to not proceed with criminal charges based on the evidence it heard — the six individuals on all counts arrived nearly 20 months after Scott’s Nov. 5, 2021, music festival at NRG Park that injured hundreds. Scott, an artist known for intense concerts, performed for about an hour as some fans pleaded for help.
“In this instance, the grand jury of the 228th district court of Harris County found that no crime did occur,” county District Attorney Kim Ogg told reporters Thursday. “That no single individual was criminally responsible.”
The event drew wide scrutiny as numerous warning signs that preceded it — among them concerns about sufficient event staff, a security gate breach early in the morning on the day of the concert and lapses of communications as revelers suffered — slowly became clear in the days and weeks following the catastrophe.
Scott still faces many lawsuits from hundreds of people who attended and were injured in the disarray. A lawyer representing some of those victims on Thursday vowed to keep seeking accountability.
“While we are incredibly disappointed that Mr. Travis Scott will not be indicted on charges stemming from the senseless tragedies and chaos that occurred at Astroworld, we are undeterred and will continue fighting every day on behalf of the hundreds of injury victims – who simply intended to attend a concert for a night of fun – to ensure responsible parties are held accountable in the ongoing pursuit of justice,” Kevin Haynes said in a statement.
Following the event, Gov. Greg Abbott created a task force to study ways to enhance security at Texas concerts. The task force issued a nine-page report on concert safety in April 2022. Though the report contained factual inaccuracies, it made several recommendations to improve safety including that organizers should establish a unified, on-site command and that there should be stricter permitting processes, among others, for similar events.
On Thursday, Houston police investigators who led the 19-month probe said all 10 deaths, which include two concertgoers younger than 15, occurred in a specific area of about 8,200 square feet near the main stage where Scott performed, according to their review of video footage and witnesses’ accounts.
The detectives said a key factor in the deaths was overpopulation in that specific section of the festival grounds that led to a slow constriction in the area that eventually resulted in fans becoming trapped within the crowd.
They determined, investigators said Thursday, that a key cause for that compaction was that fans had started gathering near the stage hours prior to the main performance in anticipation of seeing Scott, who was headlining his own festival.
The crowd further grew after a performance that preceded Scott’s set ended and concertgoers who had been at a stage across the grounds walked to the already-packed area in front of the main stage.
The Harris County medical examiner had ruled the cause of death for the individuals as compression asphyxia and ruled the manner of death accidents.
Houston police Chief Troy Finner said the department plans to release an over 1,000-page criminal offense report produced by investigators, a move he called unprecedented and an effort to be transparent.
“This incident was very complex,” Finner said. “You can’t stand up here in two minutes and tell everything that happened. To the families, first of all and most importantly, but to the public and everybody else: You can read it and see the challenges that everybody faced that night.”