Broward County

Can public see more video of police response to Parkland shooting? A judge will decide.

School shooter Nikolas Cruz makes a video appearance in a Broward County courtroom before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica.
School shooter Nikolas Cruz makes a video appearance in a Broward County courtroom before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica. Sun Sentinel

How many cops stood outside the Parkland high school building where a gunman attacked students and staff instead of going in to confront the shooter and possibly save lives?

Three government agencies — and the families of some of the 17 people who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — are fighting the news media’s request to view surveillance video that might shed light on that question. At a hearing in Broward Circuit Court Wednesday afternoon, lawyers for the Broward County school board and Broward State Attorney’s Office argued that releasing video footage from exterior cameras mounted on school buildings could jeopardize the prosecution of shooter Nikolas Cruz and put Stoneman Douglas students at further risk.

“None of this should ever be publicized,” said Eugene Pettis, an attorney for the school board, raising concerns that the release of surveillance footage would expose blind spots in the district’s security camera system.

“This is criminal investigative information,” said Broward Assistant State Attorney Joel Silvershein, who argued the footage was therefore exempt from disclosure to the media.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office said it will not release the tapes without a court order. The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel, CNN and other news organizations are suing the sheriff’s office and school board to compel the video’s release. The media has already successfully sought footage in court of the first law enforcement officer to respond, Stoneman Douglas school resource officer Scot Peterson.

Judge Jeffrey Levenson, who is hearing the case, said Wednesday he would review the additional footage privately in his chambers before deciding if it should be released.

Police did not enter Stoneman Douglas’ freshman building until 11 minutes after Cruz started shooting, although they began arriving on the scene almost immediately.

It is not clear if the delay cost the lives of some students who may have been wounded. Police are generally trained to locate and confront an active shooter at once and provide first-aid to victims.

“We’re entitled to know whether law enforcement did the right thing,” Jim McGuire, an attorney representing the news media, told the court Wednesday.

The news organizations have requested to see only clips that would show the response of law enforcement to the deadly and chaotic situation on Feb. 14. They are not seeking any video from cameras inside the building that might contain images of victims or students.

Deadly rampage

Gregg Rossman, an attorney representing the widow of Stoneman Douglas Athletic Director Chris Hixon, had earlier said that additional video would further “traumatize” the families of victims.

But in court Wednesday, he said his client, Debbie Hixon, would be “willing to accept” the release of redacted tapes that did not show students or victims. Several relatives of the dead have filed affidavits with the court over the past weeks stating they were opposed to the disclosure of images showing the “brutal murder or the graphic crime scene images” of their loved ones.

Students are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooter opened fire on the campus. Mike Stocker AP

Florida law allows government surveillance footage to be released if a judge deems it for “a good cause.”

Levenson last month cited “strong public interest” to order the release of some video depicting Peterson.

The video showed him standing outside the freshman building for four minutes while the shooting was taking place. At least three other BSO deputies who showed up soon after also did not enter the building, according to sources familiar with law enforcement’s response. Coral Springs Police Department officers were first to enter the building at 2:32 p.m. By then, Cruz had fled.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel criticized Peterson at a February news conference but did not address the actions of other deputies who responded. Peterson resigned, although he has defended his conduct.

The news media is requesting footage from approximately five or six of the campus’ 70 cameras. If Levenson agrees the video should be released, it could take as long as a month for them to be provided to news organizations and the public.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas