Broward County

What were sheriff’s deputies doing outside Parkland school? Media sue to see the video.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Sun Sentinel

The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and CNN are suing the Broward Sheriff’s Office and School Board of Broward County to force the release of surveillance video showing the police response to a mass shooting in which 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The media companies, which requested exterior recordings of the campus under state law and were denied access, say the video is of “extreme public interest” given the scrutiny of how police handled the Feb. 14 shooting by former student Nikolas Cruz. The attack has sparked a national gun debate and a firestorm over whether Broward sheriff’s deputies cost lives by responding poorly.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting that the school resource officer stationed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was suspended without pay after he learned the deputy never went into the building when the shooting began.

The school board says it turned over its recordings and server to BSO investigators after being served with a search warrant and no longer has the records. The sheriff’s office has argued that the requested recordings — which do not include footage taken from the interior of the freshman building where Cruz did his killing — are exempt from Florida’s broad public records laws because they reveal security plans and are part of active criminal and internal affairs investigations.

“We’re not going to disclose the video at this time,” Sheriff Scott Israel said last week during a news conference in which he acknowledged that a deputy assigned to the school waited outside the building where Cruz killed 17 people and wounded 15 others, and never tried to stop the attack. “We may never disclose the video, depending on the prosecution [of Cruz] and the criminal case.”

Deputy Scot Peterson resigned last week rather than be suspended without pay, but broke his silence Monday to say that Israel has miscast his response to the shooting. Peterson’s reaction, as well as that of four or five other deputies who were seen waiting outside the school when Coral Springs police arrived, have been harshly criticized, including by President Donald Trump.

The media outlets are asking a judge to compel BSO to provide copies of all non-exempt portions of the video and allow them to review the video to help determine whether any of BSO’s cited exemptions apply. The complaint also contends that the school board is obligated under state law to have kept its original recordings and server.

“First, there is a strong public interest in having the public — and more specifically Florida citizens — fully evaluate how first responders and police reacted during the most critical phases of this terrible tragedy. Even Sheriff Israel has conceded that this is information the public needs to know,” states the lawsuit, filed Monday by Dana J. McElroy of Thomas & LoCicero. “Disclosing this video footage from exterior cameras (not the interior where the shooting occurred), lies at the core of understanding exactly how events unfolded and will provide critical insight into the propriety of the government’s response.”

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