Houston police investigating the 2021 Astroworld concert disaster determined that a contract between Travis Scott and Apple required him to finish his set in order to receive a $4.5 million payment, according to a report released last week.
The police report does not speculate whether the promise of a payout led Scott to prolong the concert, which continued for 37 minutes after officials declared it a mass casualty event.
While a grand jury declined charges against Scott last month, one expert said the contract could play a role in the swarm of lawsuits targeting the rapper, Apple and other companies.
“It could be very important,” said Steve Herman, a plaintiff’s attorney who is not involved in the case. “He’s never going to admit that that was his motivation, but if there’s other circumstantial evidence from which ultimately a jury can infer that that was a motivation in not stopping the concert, even though he knew people were getting crushed, that’s pretty powerful stuff.”
Herman, who sat on a plaintiffs’ steering committee in the BP oil spill litigation, said much will depend on the context. As early as October 2022, one law firm told detectives that more than 285,000 documents had been turned over during discovery.
Herman said lawyers will try to find out why the language was in the contract – and whether Scott knew about it.
“There’s a good chance he didn’t even read the contract,” Herman said. “It could be important evidence, but it could also be completely irrelevant. You would have to know a lot more about why that provision was in there.”
From the night Astroworld descended into chaos, officials and victims’ families have sought to discover why the concert continued well after fans were being taken to a medical tent with mortal injuries.
Scott, a superstar native of Houston, has maintained from the start that he had no idea that fans were dying. Two audio engineers disputed that account in the police report released last week, telling detectives they heard an associate telling Scott that concertgoers were dying.
Detectives spent hours questioning Scott and others about what happened during his concert.
Late in the investigation, they appear to have learned about the contract between Scott and Apple, which livestreamed the event.
That contract was separate from the agreement between Scott and Live Nation, the concert promoter and operator that came under scrutiny after Astroworld.
“According to documents produced in the civil litigation, Travis Scott had five stipulations to fulfill in order to receive $4.5 million from Apple per contract. Of those five acts, one was to complete the show,” investigators wrote.
Apple was brought on “last minute” as Scott faced rising bills from the distinctive “mountain” stage where he performed his headlining set, the police report says, in a glossary buried on its 1,096th page.
Police appear to have received that information months after their Nov. 7, 2021, interview of Scott, which occurred two days after the concert.
The report does not include a copy of the contract itself.
Scott’s criminal defense attorney, Kent Schaffer, said he did not recall the police ever asking about the Apple contract.
It is unclear whether the grand jury that declined to charge Scott and five others knew about the contract. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has said she is barred from disclosing what was presented to the grand jury.
Money played no role in when the concert was stopped, nor could it have, Schaffer said. He said Scott simply had no idea fans were being injured.
In videos of the concert, fans can be heard chanting at Scott to “stop the show,” and the performer at one point acknowledged an ambulance cart that got trapped in the crowd. Scott told police, however, that he was in a “trance” on stage.
Schaffer also rejected the idea that the concert’s slow-motion ending, whatever the reason behind it, played a role in the 10 deaths.
“My understanding is that the major injuries that occurred were all within the first 20 minutes or so of the concert. The mass casualty event was not declared until almost 20 minutes later, which would have been around 9:40,” Schaffer said. “Neither Travis or anyone on his team were given options as to when to close the show. At all times, HPD, and a host of others affiliated with the production companies, had the ability to decide when the concert would end.”
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
A high-ranking Apple executive who was on-site the night of the concert, however, told police the company had no authority to halt the show.
Bebhinn Gleeson, a global senior director at Apple, told detectives the company continued to livestream the concert because it was waiting for more information from producers. Her company’s decision on whether to shut off the livestream was distinct from the producers’ decision to stop the show, she said.
She also rejected the idea that money played a part in Apple’s thinking on the night of the concert.
In a summary of the interview, detectives said Gleeson told them “they did not make any decision to keep the livestream going for financial reasons … they do not think like that.”
Despite denials from Scott and Apple, plaintiffs’ attorneys in the hundreds of pending Astroworld lawsuits could try to use the contract to show Scott disregarded the risk of continuing the show.
“In the end, maybe something like this could be very, very trivial and small. But the test for me is, when you bring this up at a cocktail party, how does the person respond?” said Peter Reilly, a law professor at Texas A&M University. “I think most people, their eyes would open and say, ‘Wow.’”
With a trial date set for May 2024, the litigation is at an early stage. Plaintiffs and defendants, who are under a gag order from the judge overseeing the case, have yet to reveal their arguments in written filings.