Crime

Judge won’t stop release of school report on Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz

Assistant Public Defender Erin Veit, left, talks with school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz in a Broward County courtroom for a hearing in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. Attorneys for Cruz want a judge to prevent release of details of his education records to guarantee a fair trial. Cruz faces the death penalty if convicted of killing 17 people in the Valentine’s Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Assistant Public Defender Erin Veit, left, talks with school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz in a Broward County courtroom for a hearing in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. Attorneys for Cruz want a judge to prevent release of details of his education records to guarantee a fair trial. Cruz faces the death penalty if convicted of killing 17 people in the Valentine’s Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. AP

A judge won’t stop the release of a Broward school district report that analyzes how its teachers and staff handled the troubled years of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz.

Defense lawyers for Cruz on Friday asked the judge to stop release of the lengthy report, saying it was “one sided” and a “whitewash” designed to protect the school district for its mishandling of Cruz’s years as a student leading up to his February rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. They said it could taint a potential jury in the future.

“It’s a disservice to the public to put it out there,” special assistant public defender David Frankel told the judge. “It’s only to absolve the school board of its responsibility.”

But Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled Friday that the 70-plus page report has been largely redacted by another judge in civil court to protect Cruz’s private medical and school records.

“I do find that there is nothing in the redacted report that poses a threat to the administration of justice and the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” she said.

It was unclear Friday when the school board would release the report to the public. A school district employee said offices were closed Friday and the request would be forwarded to the public-records section. The report will also be made available to lawyers for victims and their families suing the school board, lawyers said in court.

Cruz is facing the death penalty for fatally shooting 17 students and staffers at the high school in February. The massacre — the worst campus shooting in Florida history — led to a wave of student activism for gun control and scrutiny on the police response before and after Cruz’s rampage.

Broward’s school board has also been left to grapple with tough questions about whether it did enough to protect fellow students from Cruz, who has a long history of fights, threats toward students and a bizarre fixation on weapons and Nazi imagery.

No trial date has been set for Cruz, 19. Since his arrest hours after the shooting, many of the court hearings have dealt with defense efforts to limit the release of prosecution evidence and records pertaining to Cruz’s background.

Also on Friday, Cruz’s defense lawyers asked Scherer to consider limiting disclosure of Cruz’s mental-health records obtained by subpoena by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which is scheduled to meet again on Aug. 8 and 9.

Florida lawmakers created the commission in the wake of the shooting to probe lapses that led to the shooting, and what may have hampered the response to it. The judge said she will consider the issue.

In related news, one of the defendant’s top defense lawyers blasted the State Attorney’s Office after it emerged that a few of its staffers attended a potluck arranged by members of the grand jury that indicted Cruz. The grand jury met between January and June on a host of cases, and finished its service three weeks before the potluck.

Prosecutors said no state funds were used at the event. “After a grand jury has finished their term and they have been discharged from service, there is nothing inappropriate with former grand jurors inviting staff members from our office to a potluck picnic,” according to an email from the State Attorney’s Office, which was first reported by Broward’s J.A.A.B. Blog.

Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes said in an email: “It is highly inappropriate for homicide attorneys who presented indictments before the Grand Jury to socialize with jury members. It’s shocking that the State Attorney’s Office would lack the professional judgement to recognize that socializing with jury members could potentially compromise the integrity of the Grand Jury’s important work.”

It was unclear, however, if the Broward public defender’s office would bring the matter to the court’s attention.

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