Orlando, FL – One of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the 31 Orlando police officers who responded to the Pulse nightclub terror attack is a former Eatonville police officer who was dispatched to assist them.
Former Eatonville Officer Omar Delgado was one of the first officers to run into the Pulse nightclub during the June 12, 2016 massacre.
His department, in a nearby suburb, dispatched him to assist Orlando police when the shooting first began.
The lawsuit filed on Thursday against the city of Orlando and 31 Orlando police officers who responded to the Pulse nightclub terrorist attack has alleged that responding officers failed in their duties and violated the civil rights of surviving victims.
It is very unusual for an officer to sue other officers from another department who responded to the same incident.
Delgado told Blue Lives Matter that he had joined in the lawsuit by survivors and family members of people killed because he was irreparably damaged by what he witnessed at the scene that night.
“I was a trained police officer from a police department outside of Orlando who responded to the Pulse shooting. I was inside of the club while shots were being fired,” Delgado told Blue Lives Matter. “My oath to serve and protect those Pulse patrons was hindered by the command in place.”
He said he believed lives were lost because the Orlando officers weren’t properly trained. However, he also accused the other officers on the scene of not following their training at the active shooting scene.
“Though I did what I could to save the lives of those patrons, I do not think there was a clear and defined plan in place to quickly neutralize the shooter. That, in my opinion, is evidence that Orlando failed to properly train its officers on how to respond to an active shooting,” Delgado explained.
“Active shooter training since Columbine was taught to find the threat and take it out. Too many people’s lives were lost because of how long it took to finally take the threat out,” he said.
The lawsuit appears to be trying to draw from the failed response of Broward County Sheriff's Office to the Parkland school shooting, when deputies did not confront the active shooter.
However, the Pulse terror attack was different, in that it transitioned from being an active shooting to a barricaded gunman with hostages.
After the initial gunfight, the gunman took hostages and stopped shooting.
“When the shooting stops, it’s time to make contact and attempt to negotiate a peaceful surrender,” Former DC Metro Transit Police SWAT Commander William Malone explained.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said that the officers were fully prepared to re-engage if the terrorist had started shooting again.
“Established practice is that you try to negotiate a peaceful surrender, and that is what Orlando police tried to do during the Pulse incident,” Malone said.
Hostage negotiations lasted for hours with no shots fired until SWAT breached the wall with a BearCat and took the terrorist out.
Defendants in the lawsuit included the city, the police department, and 31 individual officers who were present at the terror attack, which left 49 dead and 50 more wounded.
The only officer specifically named in the suit was Orlando Police Officer Adam Gruler, who was working an off-duty security detail at the club on June 12, 2016 when a gunman opened fire inside it, murdering 49 people and wounding 50 more.
Delgado said he believed Officer Gruler could have stopped the gunman’s shooting spree at multiple points.
“If he was at his post, he could have taken him out. Or even better, he would not have walked in and come back because he also saw that there was no law enforcement officer at the door. By him leaving his post, he let the shooter walk in,” Delgado said.
“Then you can hear him on his radio advising that there are shots fired at Pulse. Then you hear him again shots are still being fired - need help. When he should have engaged the shooter,” he said.
“That's how they were trained but he did not do what he was trained to do,” Delgado blamed Officer Gruler.
However, Officer Gruler did engage in a gun battle with the shooter, but then retreated and called for assistance because he was outgunned by the killer’s SIG Sauer MCX rifle, CNN reported.
Two more officers arrived and they re-engaged the terrorist in a gunfight. During the gunfight, the terrorist retreated into the club and barricaded himself with hostages.
Then-Officer Delgado was one of the first officers to arrive on the scene; however, he told Blue Lives Matter he did not fire his weapon at the scene.
Orlando PD has estimated that the gunman fired more than 200 rounds in five minutes, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The lawsuit listed 30 more unidentified Orlando police officers as defendants, who it alleged remained outside the nightclub during the shooting.
Delgado said they’re still investigating which officers, if any, stayed outside Pulse and did not go in. When they are identified, their names will be added to the lawsuit, he explained.
They’re also investigating which officers may have detained survivors outside the club, he said.
“I don’t know how anyone could say police detained anyone unlawfully that night,” Malone said. “Those people were witnesses to a felony that was ongoing.”
“There are three reasons to detain witnesses at a scene like Pulse,” the former SWAT commander explained. “First, to obtain intel about what has occurred and what may be happening inside. Second, there’s always a possibility that there may be more than one person involved, and police want to stop that person from walking away like the shooter was able to do recently at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.”
“And third, there will always be people who will claim to have been there that were not –for one nefarious purpose or another. So it’s important to have a record of who was actually present at the scene,” he said.
The former Eatonville officer criticized the Orlando police’s handling of the scene, but also admitted that he had no radio communication with Orlando PD so he really didn’t know what was going on during the incident.
“I did not know what was going on in the other room where [the shooter] was barricaded, or even knew he was,” Delgado explained.
“I did not have a working radio. I did not find out til later that he was in the bathroom,” he said.
Delgado was initially heralded as a hero by the Eatonville Police Department and the community for running into the nightclub and pulling out a seriously-wounded survivor, but later he had a very difficult time returning to work.
The department sent him for a series of psychological evaluations and kept trying to put him back on the street before he felt ready, he said. He told one evaluator that he wouldn’t be able to respond to another Pulse-type incident.
Delgado said he was traumatized by simply having to put on the same style of uniform that he’d worn at Pulse.
He said he was still suffering from flashbacks and nightmares when he had an altercation as he was making an arrest. So the department sent him to a special PTSD program at the University of Central Florida.
Delgado said he was surprised when he was terminated by his department in January, six months before his 10th anniversary on the force.
“I honestly didn’t realize they were going to let me go. If I was going to do eight months working admin, why not keep me on another six months to let me get to 10 years when my retirement would be vested?” he asked. “At that time, my psychiatrist was still working with me, and I believed I might make it back on duty.”
His doctor has since told him that he’ll never be a functional first responder again, Delgado told Blue Lives Matter.
“I hope one of the legacies of the Pulse shooting is that cities like Orlando realize that terrorist attacks can happen in cities of their size, and that their law enforcement officers must be trained to handle such attacks,” Delgado said.
Blue Lives Matter reached out to the Orlando Fraternal Order of Police for comment but had not received a response at publication time.