The Broward Sheriff’s Office must release surveillance footage showing the actions of law enforcement officers responding to the Parkland school shooting, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.
Several media organizations, including the Miami Herald, had sued to compel the release of school security camera footage soon after the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The footage may shed light on what law enforcement officers did as Nikolas Cruz gunned down students and staff in the freshman building before fleeing campus.
Some BSO deputies responding to the scene took cover instead of rushing into the building to confront the shooter and save lives, according to Coral Springs Police Department officers who were also present. The BSO deputies said in reports that they could not locate where exactly the shooting was taking place.
A lower court judge watched the tapes and ruled in April that the footage should be released. But the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Broward County School Board appealed that decision, saying such a disclosure could threaten Cruz’s prosecution and reveal crucial information about the school’s security system. On Wednesday, the Fourth District Court of Appeal said the benefit to the public in being able to judge the actions of its law enforcement officers outweighed those arguments and upheld the lower court ruling.
“Reviewing the footage would allow the public to witness and evaluate: 1) when first responders arrived on campus; 2) where the first responders went when they arrived on campus; and 3) what the first responders did when they arrived on campus,” Judge Robert Gross wrote. “The footage itself would reveal if the first responders rushed into [the freshman building] to confront the active shooter, formed a perimeter, or hid in stairwells and behind their vehicles for an unreasonable length of time.”
The ruling said BSO must comply with the court’s order within 48 hours.
BSO has said it has no objection to the footage — which comes from five exterior cameras — being released. The media did not ask to see footage from inside the freshman building that would show the deaths of students and staff.
Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, executive editor of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, called the ruling a victory for transparency.
“We are pleased that the appellate court agreed that the release of this footage is in the public interest,” she said in a statement.
The media had previously won the release of footage showing the school’s resource officer, former BSO deputy Scot Peterson, taking cover as the six-minute shooting unfolded. Peterson resigned in disgrace. At a February press conference, BSO Sheriff Scott Israel said Peterson should have gone into the building.
“I am devastated,” Israel said. “Sick to my stomach.”