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Travis Gets Off Scott-Free from Criminal Charges

Travis Scott in concert
By A.J. Firstman on July 20, 2023

You might remember the deadly aftermath of rapper Travis Scott's Astroworld festival in 2021. The sold-out show in Houston resulted in eight deaths and dozens of injuries — and, of course, accompanying legal charges.

Recently, a grand jury in Houston decided not to pursue charges against Scott, nearly 18 months after the incident. The grand jury ultimately issued six "no-bill" decisions, effectively clearing Scott (along with the festival manager, two security planners, two people from event promoter Live Nation, and event production company BWG) from all criminal liability.

The Incident and Ensuing Investigation

The incident itself occurred during Scott's set. The audience, evidently very excited to see Scott perform, pushed one another forward as they tried to get as close to the stage as possible. As the bodies pressed closer and closer together, some members of the audience found themselves trapped and unable to breathe. It didn't take long for the situation to deteriorate. According to investigators, the first 9-1-1 call went out from the audience just five minutes after Scott's performance began. From there, the conditions within the crowd only got worse.

By the time the clock struck 9:30 — less than half an hour after Scott's set began — the Houston police department had already received multiple reports of people being taken to the medical tent, as well as calls concerning a growing number of audience members passed out in front of the stage. The police began shutting down the show just ten minutes later, though Scott continued performing until 10:12 PM.

Eight people died that very night, and two more died in the hospital within the next few days. Among them was a nine-year-old child who got trampled after being separated from his father. The medical examiner's report concluded that all ten had died of compression asphyxiation, meaning that they were crushed and literally squeezed to death by the sheer pressure from the crowd around them. Over 300 other people were treated for injuries sustained as a result of the tragedy. Some 25 of them were hospitalized.

The lead investigator on the case explained the circumstances at a press conference on the same day that the grand jury revealed its decision not to pursue criminal charges:

"Just to be clear, this was not a crowd stampede. This was not a stage rush. This was not a crowd surge. This was a slow compaction or constriction and to this quadrant resulting in collapses within the crowd that covered a very small area and this overall large footprint."

Why Charge Travis?

We already know that Scott will not face criminal charges for the events that took place during his set, though he and other festival organizers are still facing a number of civil suits. But what would have made criminal charges a possibility in the first place?

Well, to be blunt: people died. That tends to come with consequences. And since people don't usually die at concerts, the natural assumption was that someone had to be at fault. It's hard to say exactly what charges would have been levied against Scott and the other organizers, but it's probably fair to assume that they'd include offenses that ranged in severity from some form of negligence all the way to involuntary manslaughter.

There were several contributing factors that may have made criminal charges more likely for Scott than they would be for any other performer in a similar situation. Scott had a habit of encouraging his fans to rush the stage, for one, and he'd already pleaded guilty on two separate occasions to charges in relation to his onstage conduct. The fact that one of the occasions involved Scott's urging the crowd to charge the stage at Lollapalooza in 2015 almost certainly would have factored into prosecutors' attempts to establish a pattern of reckless and negligent behavior.

Videos of the Astroworld Festival incident and of Scott's subsequent apology video (which quickly turned into a meme) likely played a role in the public response to the tragedy. For instance, footage of Scott keeping the performance going after he was made aware of problems and injuries in the crowd may have supported the accusations of negligent conduct on his part, and his arguably tone-deaf apology didn't make the public any more willing to forgive and forget.

But the public response can't always translate into a legal response. Speculation aside, the reality is that proving that Scott and the others involved in the festival committed criminal offenses would have been incredibly difficult given the burden of proof required to make the charges stick.

It remains to be seen how the multitudes of civil suits that Scott is facing will turn out. At least one suit has been settled out of court, so it could be that some of the other outstanding suits will come to a similar conclusion.

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