In an unusual move, the Florida Department of Children & Families will release 22 pages, generally kept confidential due to privacy concerns, pertaining to a 2016 case involving Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old school shooter charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder.
DCF attorney John Jackson successfully petitioned a court to order the release, acknowledging that other agencies have released information. He said in his opening statement: “We don’t want to be the only party at the table looking like we have something to hide.”
Jackson confirmed news media reports that DCF did have contact with Cruz. But he maintained that the case in question was “run of the mill” and that it was handled appropriately by the agency. The DCF case, opened on Sept. 28, 2016, classified Cruz as a “vulnerable adult” victim with multiple mental health concerns, including severe depression, ADHD and autism. According to the court, the report said Cruz was taking medication for one or more of these disorders.
Cruz’s caretaker and adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, was the accused abuser. She was later found to be providing adequate support for the teen. The case was closed on Nov. 12, 2016. Jackson did not confirm whether DCF is in possession of other reports from when Cruz was underage, but said the documents ordered for release Monday were the only ones from when he was an adult.
Under Florida law, DCF cannot release the records without a court order, over concerns of patient privacy. In light of the charges of 17 counts of murder, Jackson called Cruz’s right to privacy “nearly none.” Judge Charles Greene, who presided over the hearing, agreed, saying through his actions Cruz waived his rights to privacy. After just over half an hour of statements, Green upheld the petition.
“If there are shortcomings within the Department [of Children & Families], the public has a right to know.”
There were no objections to the release of this report from any party, including the public defenders assigned to Cruz’s case
“There were multiple red flags that were missed,” said Gordon Weeks, the public defender assigned to Cruz’s case, said after the hearing. He said he hoped the documents would continue to demonstrate “that there was a systematic break” and that numerous agencies failed Cruz by ignoring “the many cries for help from this child.”
The hearing was attended by representatives of DCF, the state attorney’s office and two public defenders, as well as members of the news media — all awaiting anything that could help ascribe some logic to the unthinkable, a murderous rampage that ended the lives of so many young people.