AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two and a half years after 19-year-old UT student Harrison Brown was killed in stabbing spree on the UT Austin campus, his family tells KXAN they have reached a settlement in their civil lawsuit against the former UT student accused of carrying out the stabbing — as well as that student’s family.
An attorney for Brown’s family explained that this settlement had been reached a few weeks ago.
Back in May of 2017, UT student Kendrex White was accused of carrying out the stabbing attack on May 1, 2017, in which three of his fellow students were injured and Harrison Brown was killed.
Two months after the stabbing spree, a grand jury indicted White on one count of first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
In a criminal case in December of 2018, a judge found White “not guilty by reason of insanity” in the deadly stabbing spree. During that trial, mental health experts suggested that White has schizoaffective disorder. During the trial, experts testified that White’s symptoms included hallucinations, hearing voices, thinking he’s being buried alive and believing he is Jesus Christ. These experts also noted that there is no cure for the disorder and that many people burn out on the typically-prescribed medications.
After that ruling, White was sent to the North Texas State Hospital — the only maximum-security mental health facility in the state. White is now 23-years-old and attorney Jana Ortega who represented White in the criminal case says he is still at the same hospital.
“He continues to work on his mental health but it is a very slow and onerous process due to the depth and severity of his illness,” Ortega said of White in his email.
In May of 2019, Harrison Brown’s mother, Lori Brown, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Kendrex White, White’s parents, and various medical caregivers who worked with White in the months before the attack.
“I pray that Kendrex continues to receive care and that he just needs to be in a place where he can never harm anybody in society ever again,” Brown said to KXAN Tuesday.
Brown said her attorney, Sean Breen of Howry Breen & Herman LLP, was able to prove that because White was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” that his parents were still responsible for him.
Breen explained that this lawsuit was settled out of court and that the actual amount of money settled upon is confidential. But Brown assures KXAN that she would have accepted a single dollar just to know White and his family were held responsible for her son’s death.
“When the criminal case went the route it did with Mr. White and being found ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’, the Brown family really wanted to feel a sense of justice that they hadn’t felt from that criminal case,” Breen explained. “Given the importance of the case, given the importance of Harrison to Lori, it was the least we could do to help the family get some measure of justice. And we feel really really good that we’ve been able to do that recently.”
Breen added that while White’s medical providers were listed on the initial lawsuit, Texas law made it so that Lori Brown couldn’t take legal action against those providers.
“Originally, we focused on the White family and once we achieved our accountability with that family and fully settled the case, it no longer became necessary or desirable for Lori to prosecute the case against any of the doctors and that case has been resolved,” Breen explained.
Breen added that this settlement leaned on existing precedent in Texas civil law.
A history of symptoms
The original civil lawsuit claims the defendants “should have known” White had a history of negative symptoms, including paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations, and that they “did not take reasonable actions to prevent Kendrex from harming others.”
“This wrongful death of Harrison Brown should never have occurred,” the lawsuit stated.
During the criminal trial back in 2018, witness testimony spelled out concerns for White’s mental health in the months prior to the stabbing. Testimony detailed how White’s mother grew concerned about strange behavior he was having, then took him to a hospital in Kileen. Doctors there picked up on White’s mental illness, gave him medications, and kept him hospitalized for nine days.
The lawsuit states that after White’s release from the Killeen hospital, his parents drove him back to Austin to return to college. White’s parents testified that they made trips to check on him in Austin. White’s friends testified that they tried to help and even suggested he go to counseling.
Five days before the attack, White’s mother called APD with concerns that her son was suicidal. The police took White to UMC Brackenridge in Austin and after three-and-a-half hours, he was sent in a taxi back home. White’s defense attorney said she was not sure why White was ultimately discharged from UMC, but she did say that medical staff attributed the stress he was under to the pressures of college.
The lawsuit filed by Lori Brown stated: “A person with a serious mental illness is not absolved from civil responsibility for acts they commit simply because they are mentally ill. The mental illness doesn’t absolve the mentally-ill actor and it doesn’t absolve those who should be caring for and controlling that actor.”
Lori Brown’s response
Harrison Brown had a very close relationship with his mother, who described to KXAN back in 2017 how Harrison handed his phone to a stranger passing by, telling that stranger to call his mother as he was dying.
Lori Brown hasn’t spoken out publically since filing this civil suit, but now that “this chapter is closed,” she felt comfortable sharing some of her thoughts with KXAN.
She pursued the suit to seek justice for her son and to make sure that White and his family were held responsible for Harrison’s death.
“I had so many regrets with the criminal lawsuit that I just, I didn’t have anything to lose and I didn’t want to have any more regrets,” Brown explained. “And I feel like this has been a huge victory for Harrison.”
While Brown feels that some justice has been done with her son, she clarified, “There are no winners in this situation.”
She added that throughout these legal proceedings, “It appeared that [Harrison] had more rights in the civil courts than he did in the criminal court system. “
Lori Brown explained that she was unsuccessful in suing White’s medical providers — one doctor in Killeen and another in Austin — but that she was able to work out a settlement with White and his family.
“I believe all parents need to be aware of this,” she said.
“I just feel like, I feel it’s important because of all the mental health issues in Austin especially, on a university campus, I feel like, things need to be taken seriously,” she continued. “Parents need to know, that they may be held responsible for whatever actions their child may do.”
Brown hopes this legal action helps the general public — and especially parents — to realize the importance of “mental health and recognizing and just how serious, how bad things can go so quickly.”
While Brown continues to cope with her own grief, she adds that she feels for White’s parents too. “I’m sure that it’s horrible that he is where he is, but he needed to take responsibility for what he did,” she said.
Since Harrison’s death, Lori Brown has been front and center in the efforts to preserve Harrison’s memory and story.
“This chapter is closed,” she said. “But as a mother, I feel like, I have fought and I’ve done everything that I could do for Harrison.”
“Now, I can focus on changing legislation, working with legislation on safety issues, I want to get involved in the Stop the Bleed campaign — making it mandatory for university employees to attend,” she said.
Currently, Stop the Bleed is only available at UT as an optional class that anyone on campus can access — not a requirement.
Lori’s husband and Harrison’s father, Dr. Kurt Brown, died of ALS about a month after Harrison was killed. Lori Brown says she also hopes to become more active in fundraising for ALS awareness.
“Now I can focus my energies into a different direction and do some positive things,” she said.