Brother of Parkland school shooter allowed to leave jail after latest arrest

Zachary Cruz, 18, brother of the teenager who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, sits in court after he was arrested for trespassing at the school in March.
Zachary Cruz, 18, brother of the teenager who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, sits in court after he was arrested for trespassing at the school in March. Miami Herald File

After serving three days in jail for violating his probation, the brother of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz got out of jail.

Zachary Cruz, 18, admitted Thursday that he drove without a valid license, violating his probation for the March trespassing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High — the campus attacked by his older brother one month earlier.

Prosecutors agreed to allow Zachary Cruz back out on supervision because of the time he spent in jail this week. “I’m pleased. This was our goal: to get him out of jail as quickly as possible,” his defense lawyer, Mark Lowry, said after the hearing.

Broward County Judge Melinda Kirsch Brown gave him a gentle warning. “Please do what you know is right and make wise choices,” she said during a brief hearing on Thursday afternoon.

Cruz was allowed to leave jail hours after civil lawyers representing the teen filed a federal lawsuit going after the Broward Sheriff’s Office, prosecutors and the courts for his treatment earlier in the case. His brother is facing the death penalty for killing 17 people and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14, a case that has drawn worldwide attention and sparked renewed activism for gun control.

Zachary and Nikolas Cruz were adopted as young children. Their adoptive father died over a decade ago, and their mother struggled to raise the boys who had a history of violent outbursts, mental health treatment and running away. Their mother, Lynda Cruz, died last fall and Zachary went to live with a family friend.

Days after the Parkland shooting — with the glare of the world on their lives — Zachary was involuntarily committed for a psychiatric evaluation in February. In March, he was arrested for trespassing at the school his brother attacked, telling an officer he “wanted to take it all in.”

After his arrest on the misdemeanor, he paid the standard $25 bond for that charge. But according to his lawyers, the jail refused to allow him out, while prosecutors went to court to secure a staggeringly high $500,000 bond. Prosecutors painted an alarming picture of Zachary Cruz as having an unhealthy fixation on his brother, even talking about starting a fan club for him.

Lawsuit alleges Zachary Cruz, brother of confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz, was treated unfairly after his arrest for trespassing, solely because of his brother's actions.

While he was jailed, Zachary Cruz was also involuntarily committed for a psychiatric evaluation days after the shooting. After days in a mental-health facility, he was returned to Broward's jail, where he was subjected to 24-hours-a-day bright lights and a weighted suicide vest, according to the lawsuit filed by the civil rights firm Nexus Derechos Humanos

"Because Cruz's brother committed a heinous act that only a severely mentally disturbed person could commit, [authorities] decided that Zachary Cruz must be just as mentally disturbed — despite all signs saying that he is not," according to the federal lawsuit.

Zachary Cruz accepted six months of probation, which barred him from coming within a mile of the high school — or any campus where he was not a student. His lawyers on Thursday insisted he was treated unfairly, solely because of his brother.

"You can't treat and trample somebody's constitutional rights because they're related to an individual who committed a heinous act," said Mario Williams, Nexus' chief of civil rights. "It'd be the equivalent of saying if you're Jeffrey Dahmer's brother, you can't live in an apartment because they might be storing people's body parts in the refrigerator."

This week, BSO said he had violated probation by driving without a valid driver's license in Lake Worth, as well as coming within 25 feet of a high school in that city, according to BSO. Prosecutors admitted that they could not prove the second allegation, and stressed that he needed to stay away from cars unless he has a license.

"Never drive without a valid license," Judge Brown said. "I tell everyone, neither can I so we're in the same boat."