A grand jury on Thursday declined to indict Travis Scott and five others on criminal charges stemming from the deadly Astroworld tragedy in 2021. The Houston, TX festival left ten attendees dead following a fatal crowd surge that occurred while Scott performed his headlining set.
Among those charged were Houston rapper Scott, festival manager Brent Silberstein, and four others with Live Nation and Scoremore, who produced the event. Held at NRG Park on November 5th, 2021, Astroworld left thousands injured when fans rushed to the front of the stage during Scott’s performance—crushing those toward the front of the crowd.
In a press conference following the grand jury’s decision last week, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner announced that his department plans to release the entire 1,200-page offense report documenting their findings. Though he would not elaborate at the time on what he thinks went wrong at Astroworld, he was confident that his report would speak for itself.
“I want everyone to dig in — it’s a big book,” Finner said. He did not say when they would publish the report.
A grand jury indictment would have merely marked the first step toward bringing criminal charges against Scott and others involved. While the burden of proof is lower to secure an indictment—just probable cause, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt like in a criminal trial—prosecutors faced other challenges. As District Attorney Kim Ogg explained in a press conference following the hearing, prosecutors had difficulty deciding what, if any, charges could be brought against Scott and festival organizers. Ultimately, they brought forward charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Still, prosecutors held charges of child endangerment as an ace in the hole, as two of the victims who died at Astroworld were under 14.
“For criminally negligent homicide, you still have to find that somebody in that person’s position would have known, that a reasonable person in their job would have known of the risk and that it was a substantial and unjustifiable risk,” Sandra Guerra Thompson, a criminal law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, told the Houston Chronicle.
The other issue in this case was the sheer magnitude of the event. Considering how many people were involved in the planning of Astroworld from the security firm to Live Nation all the way to Scott himself, it’s difficult to prove who knew what when.
“The challenge in these cases is always that there are so many people involved in planning events like this and managing them and operating them directly,” Thompson continued.
One thing Scott’s personal attorney Kent Schaffer emphasized in the defense packet he presented to the grand jury was how little Scott could see from the stage. Scott faced widespread criticism in the aftermath of Astroworld for not stopping the concert when it became clear—even to those streaming the set at home on Apple Music—that something was wrong in the audience. According to Schaffer, Scott was effectively blinded by the lights on stage.
“No matter where he was on the stage, lights were coming straight at him,” Schaffer said. “When you’re up on a lit stage like that, and the crowd is dark, you can’t see what’s going on.”
With the grand jury declining to indict Scott and the other co-defendants, the only remaining option for the victims and their families is to pursue civil action. Following Astroworld, a litany of lawsuits were filed by over 4,900 attendees who claimed they were injured as well as the families of the ten who died. A judge in Houston has used a process known as multidistrict litigation to consolidate the large volume of cases. That judge also issued a gag order preventing attorneys, victims, families, and defendants in those cases from speaking to the media. The next setting in the Astroworld civil litigation is in August. Two of the families have settled their suits with Scott and Live Nation out of court for undisclosed amounts.
The victims who died as a result of the concert were Mirza Baig, 27; Rodolfo Pena, 23; Madison Dubiski, 23; Bharti Shahani, 22; Franco Patino, 21; Axel Acosta, 21; Jacob Jurinek, 20; Brianna Rodriguez, 16; John Hilgert, 14; and Ezra Blount, 9.