Live Nation has failed in its first attempt to sink a series of lawsuits over the backstage stabbing death of rapper Drakeo the Ruler at the Once Upon A Time in L.A. music festival in downtown Los Angeles.
A Los Angeles judge sided with Drakeo’s brother in a key ruling Wednesday, saying Devante Caldwell doesn’t have to show a “prior similar” attack happened at the venue where his brother was fatally stabbed in December 2021 to proceed with his negligence, premises liability, and emotional distress claims filed against Live Nation and other defendants last year.
“The ruling represents the court’s recognition of Live Nation’s and the other defendants’ role in the injustice suffered by Drakeo, his family, and friends. We are one step closer to providing justice and closure to this horrific experience,” Caldwell’s lawyer Jovan Blacknell said in a Thursday statement to Rolling Stone.
Live Nation had claimed in court filings that state law dictated it should be immunized from any liability in the deadly backstage attack that also targeted Caldwell and members of the brothers’ Stinc Team rap collective. The concert promoter argued the ambush was “unforeseeable” because no prior “violent mob” of 50 to 100 people had ever “produced knives” and fatally wounded someone at the Banc of California Stadium in L.A.’s Exposition Park, where Drakeo was stabbed.
In other words, Live Nation claimed it owed no “duty” to Drakeo, his entourage, or his survivors because it had no reason to suspect “third-party criminal conduct” would unfold that night and end the rising rapper’s life at age 28.
“Courts have held that violent criminal acts are not foreseeable if a plaintiff fails to allege prior similar acts at the same location,” lawyers for Live Nation argued.
But the judge now overseeing not only Devante Caldwell’s lawsuit but similar complaints from Drakeo’s mother, Darrylene Corniel, and his son Caiden Caldwell clearly disagreed, ruling that Devante and his Stinc Team co-plaintiffs pleaded sufficient “facts” to move forward to trial.
“Although the occurrence of a mob/gang attack may have occurred for the first time, defendants may nevertheless be held liable if the facts show that the danger was foreseeable and/or preventable,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco wrote in her ruling obtained by Rolling Stone.
“The fact that defendants knew security would be needed for the event supports the finding that the performing artists’ safety was a concern for defendants and foreseeable to defendants,” the judge found.
She said the allegations from Drakeo’s brother that not all vehicles entering the premises were searched, that searches were inadequate, and that no security was present in the all-access VIP area backstage could be enough to show defendants engaged in negligent acts “sufficiently likely to result in the kind of harm the plaintiffs suffered.”
“Plaintiffs also point out that even if the mob/gang attack was not foreseeable, defendants owed an affirmative duty to act and stop the attack once the attack began, yet no one intervened to stop the attack,” the judge wrote.
“Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that defendants breached a duty in failing to act in stopping the mob/gang attack once it began,” she ruled before also upholding Caldwell’s claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that defendants acted with reckless disregard for the probability of causing emotional distress by virtue of failing to provide adequate security, failing to intervene during the attack, and preventing plaintiffs from reaching a place of safety,” the judge wrote.
Representatives for Live Nation did not respond Rolling Stone‘s multiple requests for comment.
Judge Orozco is expected to issue a related ruling as early as Friday on Live Nation’s similar challenge – known as a demurrer – to Corniel’s separate lawsuit alleging wrongful death, negligence, and premises liability.
Drakeo, born Darrell Caldwell, was stabbed in the neck by an unidentified assailant shortly before he was due to take the stage on Dec. 18, 2021, authorities previously said. No arrests have been announced in the case.
“(Drakeo) was stabbed in the neck and his brother, plaintiff Devante Caldwell, witnessed the fatal knife wound and saw his brother suffer blood loss,” Judge Orozco wrote in her ruling, citing Devante’s complaint. “Since the mob was not searched, and no security stopped them, their identities were never verified, and the attackers disappeared into anonymity.”
According to his relatives’ lawsuits, Drakeo was targeted by various gang members in Los Angeles because he “refused to actively participate in gang activity,” refused to “choose” a side, and was acquitted of charges he was involved in the murder of a member of the Bloods gang.
“Despite being exonerated of having had any involvement whatsoever with the murder of the Bloods gang member, it had been widely known to the public via social media, and otherwise that certain members of the Bloods gang had rejected the acquittal and sought to exact ‘street justice’ against Darrell,” the complaint filed by Drakeo’s mom states. “This was evidenced by heated exchanges between Darrell and alleged members of the Bloods where they were feuding via social media.”
Corniel’s lawsuit claims Live Nation, C3 Presents, and fellow promoter defendants Bobby Dee Presents and even Snopp Dogg’s LLC “knew or should have known that the location of the music festival in South Central Los Angeles, a haven for gang activity, featuring artists who are either members of or affiliated with gangs, would attract gang members and related gang feuds to the premises.”
The long list of performers at the Once Upon A Time in L.A. festival included Al Green, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and YG.
Drakeo’s career was just beginning to flourish when his life was cut short. Following his acquittal in the murder case that had trapped him behind bars for nearly three years, he released two full-length albums and collaborated with Drake on the 2021 single “Talk to Me.”