Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Levenson pried loose video footage of how the Broward Sheriff’s Office initially responded during the first minutes of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which 17 people were killed and 17 others were injured. The BSO refused to release it.
We applaud Monday’s ruling. We always thought that Sheriff Scott Israel had only a tenuous grip on what is public record. Levenson, fortunately, agreed.
The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel and other news outlets recently sued to get the BSO to release the video footage in its possession. Bolstering Israel, the Broward County School District, too, argued against making the footage public.
Israel had refused to release the video, claiming that it would compromise investigations and reveal security details. We disagreed. In our March 4 editorial, “If Sheriff Israel is the ‘amazing’ leader he says he is, he will release videos of his deputies’ actions during Parkland shooting,” the Editorial Board argued that security plans obviously went off the rails during the shooting and that there were no details left to compromise.
Though the sheriff had described what the footage showed — that one of his deputies, a school resource officer, remained outside the school’s Building 12 as Nikolas Cruz, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, went on a murderous rampage inside — it fell far short of what the public has every right to see.
Broward prosecutors’ defense of withholding the video, fell short, too. Levenson wisely countered that they did not prove how the footage, which solely is of the exterior of the school building, could hamper any ongoing investigation.
And when the school district argued, that the videos could reveal too much about school security cameras, Levenson wisely countered that, “Potential harm to the current security system, minimal at best, is outweighed by the strong public interest in disclosure.”
The Broward State Attorney’s Office said on Monday that it will not appeal Levenson’s ruling. Good. The Broward School District should come to a similar conclusion. Its argument about school security is extremely weak. It would be a waste of time and taxpayer money to try to sway a higher court. Plus, the district has felt the heat of the international spotlight since the afternoon of Valentine’s Day. An appeal would beg the question: What’s the district trying to hide?
The videos are scheduled to be released at noon Thursday at the earliest.
And, how fortuitous — the judge’s ruling came during Sunshine Week, during which the public’s right to know what government is doing on its behalf is celebrated. If Floridians didn’t find it relevant before, Judge Levenson’s ruling resolutely drove home the point.