As word spread that an armed attacker was shooting up a Parkland high school, two members of the Miramar Police Department’s SWAT team responded to the scene.
They had been training in nearby Coral Springs earlier that day and wanted to help end a deadly mass shooting that claimed 17 lives.
But their own commander said he didn’t know they were going. And the Broward Sheriff’s Office — worried about over-crowding a chaotic scene with law enforcement officers — didn’t ask for them to show up. BSO already had its own SWAT team in motion.
Eight days after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the two Miramar officers, Det. Jeffery Gilbert and Det. Carl Schlosser, were temporarily suspended from duty with the SWAT team. They remain on active duty with the department, according to a Miramar police spokeswoman.
“Effective immediately you have been suspended from the SWAT Team until further notice,” wrote Capt. Kevin Nosowicz, the unit’s commander, in a Feb. 22 memo obtained by the Miami Herald through a public records request. “Please make arrangements with the training department to turn in your SWAT-issued rifle.”
The human urge to aid in a disaster is strong. But it can also run counter to police training. Too much response to a mass casualty situation can create confusion and hinder responders, as recent mass shootings have shown, according to Pat Franklin, a retired Miami Beach police detective.
“This is not their area, this is not their jurisdiction,” said Franklin, who consults with law enforcement agencies on internal affairs investigations. “You don’t want to let those guys loose into something that’s chaotic where they might take inappropriate action. It is prudent to have them stand down unless there is a plan.”
The memo told Gilbert and Schlosser that they acted “without the knowledge or authorization from your chain of command” and created an “officer safety situation due to dispatch not knowing your location or activity.”
Reached on their cellphones, Schlosser and Gilbert said they could not comment.
While the Miramar officers were desperate to head to Stoneman Douglas, the first BSO deputies to arrive didn’t rush in to confront the shooter, leading to questions about how well the agency handled its response. Four armed deputies, including school resource officer Scot Peterson, did not immediately enter the building where Cruz slaughtered students and staff, as Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has said is agency policy. A BSO captain also issued an order to form a perimeter while many deputies thought the shooting was still going on, according to a partial dispatch log obtained by the Herald. (It had, in fact, ended minutes earlier and BSO has defended the captain’s actions.)
A third Miramar SWAT team member, Officer Kevin Gonzalez, was also temporarily suspended for his “direct connection” to online posts criticizing Miramar police after the shooting. A source familiar with the posts said they questioned why Miramar’s SWAT team was not sent to confront shooter Nikolas Cruz, and that they may have been made by Gonzalez’s girlfriend.
“These posts were found to have a negative connotation to our city and the Miramar Police Department,” stated a memo informing Gonzalez of his suspension.
Gonzalez also declined to comment.
After the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting last year, which left five people dead, an after-action report noted confusion caused by a massive influx of law enforcement officers, some of whom left their cars parked on roadways, blocking access.
The report recommended a unified command structure and better communication between agencies.
Tania Rues, a public information officer for Miramar police, said her department did dispatch several uniformed officers and a victim advocate to “assist” BSO deputies at Stoneman Douglas. But she said BSO did not need Miramar’s SWAT team on the scene.
“Miramar Police command staff placed our SWAT team on stand-by pending a request for additional assistance from BSO,” Rues wrote in an email. “[BSO] did not make a request for Miramar’s SWAT team based on their need at the time.”
BSO confirmed Wednesday that Miramar SWAT was “not needed” at the scene as members of BSO’s SWAT team, as well as SWAT personnel from at least 10 other agencies, had responded.
Miami Herald staff writer Julie Brown contributed to this report.