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School district failed to stop ‘escalating’ fights that led to shooting deaths of two Hunter High students, lawsuit alleges

Tivani Lopati, 14, and Paul Tahi, 15, were shot and killed by a classmate in 2022.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) More that a hundred people gather at the candlelight vigil of Hunter High football players Paul Tahi , 15, Tivani Lopati, 14, and Ephraim Asiata, 15, on Friday, Jan 14, 2022, in West Valley City, near Hunter High School along 1400 South at Mountain View Corridor. Paul Tahi and Tivani Lopati were killed in a shooting, while Ephraim Asiata survived after multiple surgeries.

Nearly two years after two Hunter High School football players were shot and killed by a classmate, their families are suing Granite School District and administrators for wrongful death and discrimination.

Tivani Lopati, 14, and Paul Tahi, 15 — who were killed on Jan. 13, 2022 — were part of a “mostly Polynesian” group of students who had been fighting with a “mostly Hispanic” group at the school during the course of the school year, the lawsuit filed this week in federal court states.

School administrators were made aware of the “violent and escalating dispute,” but did not do enough to address the situation, the lawsuit claims.

“Because the school administration and the school district police had failed to properly address and deescalate the situation, one student felt the need to bring a gun to school on the day of the shooting for his own safety and protection,” the lawsuit states.

Tahi and Lopati were shot during a lunch hour. A third student, Ephraim Asiata, was also shot. He was hospitalized for weeks and needed several organ transplants, but survived.

The parents of Lopati and Tahi say the school district’s lack of action after it was made aware of the “racially-charged harassment [and] discrimination toward Polynesian students” violates the 14th Amendment, the lawsuit states. The parents say the school district denied their sons equal protection of the laws based on their race, the lawsuit states.

The fighting between the Polynesian and Hispanic groups went on for months before the shooting, the lawsuit claims.

The parents told Hunter High School staff and the Granite School District police about fights, the lawsuit says. That included telling administrators about students, “being jumped and/or beaten up on and off school grounds.”

The lawsuit claims that the school district “had a duty” to respond to the racial discrimination reports, but was “deliberately indifferent.”

“The deprivation of equal protection to Paul Tahi and Tivani Lopati proximately caused and culminated in Paul Tahi’s and Tivani Lopati’s murders,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also claims that the district did not do enough to train staff about, “race-based discrimination, treatment based on racial stereotypes, and responses to reports and known incidents of racially-charged discrimination, harassment, and violence.”

In a statement, Granite School District said it “was not made aware of this filing and has not had opportunity to review it. Regardless, we are unable to comment on pending litigation.”