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Houston police chief backtracks on false story about Astroworld security guard injected with drugs

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner speaks during a news conference on Nov. 6 after eight people died during a music festival the night before. (Michael Wyke/AP)

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner on Wednesday said medical staffers had given investigators incorrect information that a security officer had been drugged at the deadly Astroworld Festival.

The frightful, false account of the guard getting pricked by a needle, blacking out and waking up after an injection of an overdose-reversing treatment was disproved by the guard himself, Finner said after first sharing the story with the public the day after the concert. The unsubstantiated claim about the syringe attack is yet another case of law enforcement sharing unfounded claims about the risk of drug exposure for first responders and others. The story, which critics had called implausible, was investigated as a preliminary theory after eight people died and many more were injured amid a crush of concertgoers rushing to the stage where rapper Travis Scott was performing Friday night.

“I think we need to make sure that we follow the facts and evidence,” Finner said Saturday before bringing up the rumors of someone injecting attendees.

Astroworld concertgoers struggle to make sense of what happened

Following calls for the Houston Police Department to give the case to an independent investigating agency because their officers were providing security for the event, Finner shared few details about the investigation Wednesday, offering a cautious tone in a news conference. Responding to questions about the criminal probe, he said no charges have been ruled out for anyone who may be responsible for the dangerous conditions. He also declined to share why the concert wasn’t stopped earlier.

“I’m not going to discuss timelines because I don’t have all the facts,” he told reporters.

Finner had previously said that medical staff members at the event told responding officers about the guard having a puncture wound in his neck. But days later, he said investigators followed up with the guard and were told that wasn’t the case.

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner on Nov. 10 said the Astroworld Festival security guard had been struck in the head, not injected, before going unconscious. (Video: Reuters)

“His story was not consistent with that,” Finner said. “He says he was struck in his head, he went unconscious, he woke up in the security tent. He says no one injected drugs in him.”

Finner’s remarks came after some media outlets had shared the theory, casting a spotlight on the attention falsehoods can receive when authorities share such statements without confirmation.

“A ‘needle’ wielding assailant suspected of injecting at least one person with a possible opioid may have sparked the panic that killed at least eight people and injured 300 others during a stampede at rapper Travis Scott’s concert in Houston,” the New York Post reported Saturday, attributing the claim to authorities.

In a story on Saturday, The Washington Post mentioned the claim: “Finner urged people not to speculate on potential causes of the tragedy but acknowledged rumors that someone had injected fans with drugs. He said a security officer at the event was reaching over to restrain someone when he felt a prick in his neck and went unconscious. First responders revived him with naloxone, a medicine used to treat suspected opioid overdoses, and noticed a small puncture in the officer’s neck.”

Others who heard the chief share that story in a news conference over the weekend doubted its authenticity. Ben Crump, a high-profile civil rights attorney representing attendees including a 9-year-old in critical condition, dismissed the story as unbelievable in an interview with The Post.

“We think it’s just a distraction,” he said Wednesday before the police chief confirmed the theory was false. “You see from the video what happened: It was just so many people trying to rush in front of the stage that it caused a melee, and people were trampled on.”

With the filing of civil cases and the potential of criminal charges, who or what is to blame is a central question, with some speculating about the use of drugs at the event. This would not be the first time illicit substances have been initially faulted: After 11 people died when the crowd surged at a 1979 performance of the Who, rock-and-roll, drug use and even the victims themselves were condemned.

Reports of random injections, though, are scarce. Other police departments have blamed secondhand exposure to drugs, mainly the synthetic opioid fentanyl, for officers’ health reactions, despite an overwhelming consensus of public health experts who say such a phenomenon is implausible.

A sheriff’s office posted a warning about fentanyl. It spread misinformation instead, experts say.

In August, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department released dramatic body-camera footage showing an officer falling over after allegedly putting his face near a substance that police later said tested positive for fentanyl. He was given naloxone and recovered. The sheriff’s office later admitted the claim was not substantiated by a doctor or blood test.

“If we were misinformed, so be it,” Sheriff Bill Gore told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

In San Diego and Houston, naloxone was credited with saving the lives of the officer and guard.

Houston Police confirmed Wednesday night that medical staff members gave the guard naloxone when he was unconscious, even though they were unsure whether he suffered an overdose. It is a common life-saving tactic to give naloxone to an unconscious person because it has no effect on someone who does not have opioids in their system.