Spencer Hight went on a shooting spree in September 2017. He got drunk at the Local Public House in Plano, Tex., a bar a few blocks away from his ex-wife’s home, then stumbled through her door, heavily armed with a pistol, a semiautomatic rifle and a knife, police say.
His ex, Meredith Hight, was hosting a Dallas Cowboys viewing party with some mutual friends, some of whom stood in their wedding. Hight shot and killed eight of those people and seriously injured another. He did it to exact revenge on his ex-wife, authorities say. He was then shot and killed by police at the scene.
Last week, police arrested and charged Lindsey Glass, the bartender who served Hight that night, nearly one year and eight months ago.
In 2018, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission issued a report concluding that Glass violated the "Sale to Certain Persons” law by serving Hight, whose blood alcohol level was four times the state’s legal limit when he drove to his ex-wife’s house, according to NBC Dallas Fort Worth.
Under the Texas law, a person is guilty of the offense if he or she negligently “sells an alcoholic beverage to an habitual drunkard or an intoxicated or insane person.” The misdemeanor carries up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $500, or both.
“Hight committed an American nightmare,” Scott Palmer, an attorney for Glass, said during an interview Monday. “He was hellbent on committing this heinous act,” and to blame a bartender more than a year later, he said, is not justice but a stretch to hold someone accountable.
According to ABC affiliate WFAA, a lawsuit filed by the victims’ families alleged that Glass told a colleague, Timothy Brandt Banks, that Hight was “drunk and being weird” and that Hight had brandished a gun inside the bar. When Banks escorted Hight to the parking lot, court documents said, Banks asked him to leave his weapons behind and said he should let Banks drive him home because he wasn’t sober.
The lawsuit continued: “Hight told Banks he was having problems with his estranged wife and had something to do ‘tonight.’ Banks told Hight he should do them when he is sober to which Hight responded that he ‘couldn’t do the things he needs to do tonight without being this intoxicated,’" WFAA reported.
Although it’s undisputed that Glass served Hight liquor, she took actions that were not legally required of her that night, too. Filings say that Glass tried to persuade Hight not to drive (he didn’t listen), called the owner of the Local Public House to ask whether she should call the police (he said not to) and then followed Hight to the house, though she left before the shooting began.
“There are allegations Hight foreshadowed what he would do and Lindsey Glass felt something was wrong,” Palmer told The Washington Post. “Lindsey is the person who called 911. Not only did she know Spencer, but she was friends with Meredith and was supposed to be at the party that evening,” he said, noting that the detectives commended Glass for saving lives that day.
Attorney Daniel Garrigan, who represents four of the eight shooting victims, said he was surprised it had taken this long for the police department to file a criminal case against Glass.
“Clearly what she did was improper. Had she called the police or cut this person off from having more alcohol, these people might well be alive,” he told The Post. “When you’ve got a case where the acts of omissions of the bar resulted in eight deaths, I don’t think holding them accountable is inappropriate."
However, according to legal experts, Garrigan misstates the law.
Under the Texas statute, which Palmer and Garrigan both said is rarely applied, Glass had an affirmative duty not to serve liquor to someone who she should have known was intoxicated. What actions Hight took after that are not relevant. Whether Hight murdered eight people in a drunken stupor should have no bearing on Glass’s case.
The issue is whether Glass served an insane or intoxicated person.
“It comes down to whether a reasonable person in the same situation as Glass would have known Hight was intoxicated," said Kenneth Williams, a criminal law professor at South Texas College of Law at Houston. The answer is a question of fact that ends with the passing of alcohol from the bartender to the bar patron.
There’s always the danger of bad cases making bad law. This case certainly raises the concern, according to George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley, and because the shooter was killed, there’s a temptation to assign responsibility to someone among the living.
“It’s easy to take a horrific criminal act and associate it with an earlier crime,” such as overserving alcohol, he said. “Glass may have had reason to know he was intoxicated; however, the charges seem to be an outgrowth of the homicide as opposed to the overserving of alcohol violation.”
Tuesday’s charges could be interpreted as an 11th-hour effort by Plano police to hold someone accountable or a sign that criminal law is trending in the direction of criminal affirmative duties. It’s important to understand where society sets the lines of criminality, Turley said, because these cases blur them in a potentially dangerous way.
Some of the filings alleged that Glass had reason to suspect that Hight was going to do something criminal, though he never said it explicitly. Still, there was no legal requirement that she call the police. No law required Glass to reach out to the owner of the bar or to follow someone she thought would be a danger to others.
But, her attorney says, Glass did.
“As bartender did she have an affirmative duty to act or affirmative duty to intervene? – likely no, but like the old saying goes ‘see something, say something’ – that is precisely what Lindsey did,” her attorney, Palmer, wrote in an email, calling her decision to follow Hight to the party an “act of heroism” that saved lives.