Broward County

Media companies sue state to release witness interviews from Parkland shooting

Ryan Petty, who lost his 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, in the shooting looks on during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting at the BB&T Center on Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Davie.
Ryan Petty, who lost his 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, in the shooting looks on during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting at the BB&T Center on Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Davie. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Transcripts of witness interviews following the deadly massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland should be made public, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Broward Circuit Court on behalf of the Miami Herald and the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

“FDLE [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] and SAO [the Broward State Attorney’s Office] are withholding from Plaintiffs — and the public — records that indisputably should be disclosed,” attorneys representing both media companies wrote in the lawsuit. “Specifically, Plaintiffs have requested witness interview transcripts taken by FDLE, which is claiming exemptions that do not apply, have been waived, or apply only partially.”

Named in the nine-page suit: FDLE; Richard L. Swearingen, the commissioner of FDLE; and Michael Satz, the state attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit.

On Feb. 14, confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student at the school, walked into Building 12 and shot and killed 17 students and staff members. Another 17 students and staff were injured.

Cruz, who is being held in Broward County’s main jail, was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Following the shooting, the Florida Legislature created the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission to investigate the handling of the shooting by law enforcement authorities. Since April, the commission has met six times in Broward County, according to the suit.

Throughout the process, the FDLE has conducted interviews for the commission and for its Executive Investigation, the attorneys wrote in the suit.

While the transcripts and audio files of witness interviews have been handed over to the SAO and other public agencies, the Miami Herald and the Sun Sentinel have not been given a copy of these records despite their requests. The State Attorney’s Office has also disclosed certain transcripts and audio files to Cruz as part of the discovery in the criminal investigation, according to the lawsuit.

“No public records law exemptions exist that would prevent the disclosure of witness transcripts Plaintiffs have requested, or portions thereof,” attorneys representing the media companies said.

The attorneys are requesting an expedited hearing and attorneys’ fees.

“We strongly believe that these records are public records and should be released,’’ said Aminda Marqués González, executive editor of the Miami Herald. “They will shed more light on the tragedy at Parkland.”

Two weeks after the shooting, the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel and CNN sued the Broward Sheriff’s Office and School Board of Broward County to force the release of surveillance video from outside of the building. In July, an appeals court ruled the video must be released.

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