Animation breaks down cops’ response to Parkland massacre
The Broward Sheriff’s Office placed a second deputy on restricted duty two weeks after a state public safety commission revealed widespread failures in how the law enforcement agency responded to Florida’s deadliest school shooting, a BSO spokeswoman confirmed Friday.
The deputy, Edward Eason, did not immediately enter the high school campus where a gunman killed 17 people on Feb. 14, state investigators told members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. And the investigators said body-camera footage and audio recordings contradicted Eason’s reasons for staying outside.
Eason arrived in the area of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland roughly three-and-a-half minutes after former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire. Cruz had already shot all of the 34 people who were killed or wounded. Many were in desperate need of first aid.
Although Cruz kept firing rounds inside Stoneman Douglas’ freshman building for another two minutes, Eason did not head toward the gunfire, according to investigators. Instead, he drove his cruiser from the north end of campus where deputies were gathering to its west side. Then he took time to put on his bulletproof vest and adjust his body camera, investigators said.
Eason, an 18-year BSO veteran assigned to the Parkland district, later told state investigators that he was not sure where the gunfire was coming from. But investigators said body-camera footage showed Eason had pointed to the freshman building and told civilians that shots had been fired there. That conversation happened soon after Cruz stopped firing, dropped his rifle and fled. The shooting lasted for roughly six minutes.
BSO informed Eason on Friday that he was being placed on restricted duty, according to a memo the agency shared with the Miami Herald. “Based on the information provided at this month’s MSD Safety Commission meeting, Sheriff Scott Israel requested an internal review of Eason’s actions from February 14,” BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright wrote in an email.
Restricted duty means that Eason, who could not be reached for comment, must surrender his badge and gun. He could face a suspension or termination after BSO examines his conduct.
Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, said in an interview Friday that Eason and other deputies were being “scapegoated” by Israel.
“We’re already filing a grievance on it,” Bell said. “They’re trying to make up another charge. The deputies are being made the fall guys.”
BSO’s response to the shooting was beset by mistakes, according to evidence heard by the commission. A total of eight deputies were on campus in time to hear gunfire but did not immediately enter the freshman building. Israel has defended the agency against charges of systemic problems, saying only individual errors were made and that they would be dealt with.
That process now appears to have started. Soon after the Stoneman Douglas commission meetings, Jan Jordan, the captain in charge of BSO’s response, resigned. And another of the deputies who failed to act, BSO Sgt. Brian Miller, was placed on restricted duty.
The sheriff “is only going after the deputies and the sergeants, but he allowed Capt. Jordan to resign,” Bell said. “There is no accountability of any member of the command staff.”
Shortly after the shooting, Israel held a news conference and lambasted BSO Deputy Scot Peterson, the school’s resource officer. Peterson was on campus when the shooting started but took cover and never confronted Cruz. He resigned in disgrace although he has defended his actions.
The Stoneman Douglas commission, which was established earlier this year to investigate the Parkland massacre and make recommendations to improve school safety, heard various reasons why BSO fell short. Among them were radio failures, a patchwork 911 system and a lack of recent active-shooter training.
Coral Springs Police Department officers arrived on scene after BSO deputies but were able to immediately identify the freshman building as the site of the shooting and go inside. Stoneman Douglas’ athletic director, Chris Hixon, was still alive when officers found him but died on the way to the hospital. His wife, Debbie Hixon, said that he might have lived had BSO deputies gone in sooner.
Ryan Petty, a commission member whose daughter Alaina was killed in the shooting, said he believes Israel should resign.
“The commission saw clear evidence that the response between BSO and Coral Springs was different, and I hold Sheriff Israel responsible for the response that day,” Petty said in an interview this week. “It is on the sheriff to make sure the policies are right, the training is right and the deputies are ready to go.”
Petty said he was particularly upset that BSO’s active-shooter policy states that deputies “may,” rather than “shall,” proceed into an active-shooter scene. Petty said that gave deputies license to stay outside. Israel told the commission that his agency trains deputies to confront active shooters unless doing so would be suicidal, and that he personally inserted the word “may” into BSO’s policy to prevent deputies from being forced to enter certain-death situations.
Investigators did not say if Eason cited that policy when they interviewed him.
He told them he went to the west side of campus because he believed shots were being fired at the football field, which is on the west side, and that he was worried about children at neighboring Westglades Middle School, which lies to the west of Stoneman Douglas. But evidence also contradicted those claims, investigators said. Eason was already on the west side when another deputy said shots may have been fired at the football field. And they said Eason’s radio transmissions show he thought another deputy was locking down the middle school.
Eason had already been singled out by BSO for not filing a written report when a woman called police two years before the massacre to allege that Cruz had made a school shooting threat on social media. The agency said it would hand Eason a three-day suspension.