Commission chair and Pinellas County sheriff Bob Gualtieri
After multiple days of testimony, questioning and follow-up, the commission created to assess what led to the school shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14 has ruled that shooter Nikolas Cruz’s involvement with a school-based discipline diversion program had no effect on his ability to buy weapons.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission’s discussion of the program known as PROMISE carried over from the commission’s last meeting in June. It was the first item on the agenda Tuesday so that the commission could move on to discussing other topics, including behavioral threat assessments and Cruz’s contact with mental health services.
“The PROMISE program didn’t fail for Cruz,” Pinellas County Sheriff and commission chair Bob Gualtieri told reporters. “It would never in any way, shape, form, would’ve affected his ability to buy that AR-15, to buy the shotguns, to buy anything else, to possess them.”
He added, “It’s completely irrelevant, it’s a rabbit hole, it’s a red herring, it’s immaterial, and that’s why we’re taking it off the table and the community needs to know that that has nothing to do with what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14.”
Cruz was referred to the program, known as PROMISE, in 2013, the first year the program began in the Broward County school district. Gualtieri told commission members on Tuesday that Cruz, then a student at Westglades Middle School, damaged the faucet of a sink in the boys’ bathroom.
The incident was reported to a campus monitor, who determined that Cruz’s actions warranted a referral to the three-day program. Gualtieri said Cruz was assigned to report to Pine Ridge Education Center on Nov. 26, just before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Gualtieri said signs point to Cruz’s showing up to Pine Ridge that day, but that could not be verified. While there are records of other students transported to Pine Ridge that day, a requirement of the PROMISE program, there is no record of Cruz on the bus. Intake documents for Cruz were completed, but the staff member who administered them could not recall the interaction.
Cruz was required to report back to the program on Dec. 2, but records show he was not at Pine Ridge or Westglades that day, Gualtieri said. He cautioned that that could not be verified either as Cruz’s teacher at Pine Ridge is deceased. Information also conflicts regarding whether Cruz was present at Westglades on Dec. 3 because the attendance system used by the school district defaults to present unless manually changed.
Records confirm, however, that Cruz was back at Westglades Dec. 4 but without forms that show he completed the PROMISE program. He later transferred to an alternative school.
Commission member Max Schachter, the father of 14-year-old Alex Schachter, who was among those killed that day, said Cruz committed another act of vandalism previously, but PROMISE was not in place then.
Regardless, Gualtieri said that if maximum penalties were imposed on Cruz, such as being taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center and charged with a first-time misdemeanor, Cruz would have likely faced community service or a comparable punishment, which wouldn’t have stopped him from killing 17 and wounding another 17 in February.
“Even if you assume that he should’ve received the maximum of everything, it is irrelevant, it’s immaterial to what happened on Feb. 14 and it wouldn’t have changed the outcome one bit,” he said.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd suggested that PROMISE, which he says gives students several chances and restarts every year, “needs a lot of oversight” by communities or committees in Broward County, not by the commission.
“Quite frankly I don’t think this event in and of itself breaking a handle on a faucet had anything to do at all with the mass shooting,” he said.
Gualtieri said more needs to be determined about Cruz’s life. He said educational records received by the commission begin when Cruz started preschool.
“There are indicators of behavioral issues in preschool where he wouldn’t get along with kids, where he was fighting, when there were anger issues,” Gualtieri said.
He also called Cruz’s deceased mother, Lynda Cruz, an “enabler” who contributed to these events “significantly.”
“He [Cruz] wanted to buy a gun, and the counselors from the school said, ‘You shouldn’t have a gun,’ and the mother said, ‘I don’t care, if you want a gun, you can have a gun,’ “ Gualtieri said.
The commission did, however, unanimously pass four resolutions to make juvenile pre-arrest diversion programs consistent throughout the state. They include barring school systems from creating their own programs separate from the county, requiring all diversion program participation data be reported to the Department of Juvenile Justice so it can be equally accessed, encouraging state attorneys to consult with each other to share consistent standards, and supporting a law enforcement officer’s right to refer a child to a diversion program under their own discretion.