Miami, FL – A federal judge ruled that the Broward school district and the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) had no legal obligation to protect students from the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Seventeen students and faculty were fatally shot, and another 17 were wounded, on Feb. 14 when a former student went on a killing spree on the high school’s campus.
Local law enforcement’s handling of the shooting has been widely criticized after the incompetent response by BSO.
The incident commander that day, BSO Captain Jan Jordan, recently resigned in disgrace.
The only armed person on the campus at the time of the shooting, BSO School Resource Officer Scot Peterson, retired shortly after the Valentine’s Day shootings, after it was revealed that he hid outside the building where the shooting was taking place rather than attempting to engage the gunman.
For the past several months, a state task force has been investigating the failure of local law enforcement to proactively engage the shooter and follow most-current active-shooter protocols.
A group of 15 students who survived the Parkland school shooting and claimed to have been traumatized filed a lawsuit against the school district and the sheriff’s office, and specifically named former Deputy Peterson and Andrew Medina, an unarmed school security monitor, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The lawsuit placed blame squarely at the feet of the school resource officer.
“His arbitrary and conscience-shocking actions and inactions directly and predictably caused children to die, get injured, and get traumatized,” the lawsuit claimed.
The students’ lawsuit argued that the school district and local law enforcement “either have a policy that allows killers to walk through a school killing people without being stopped. Alternatively, they have such inadequate training that the individuals tasked with carrying out the policies... lack the basic fundamental understandings of what those policies are such that they are incapable of carrying them out.”
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom threw out the lawsuit on Monday, ruling that the named entities were not legally obligated to protect and shield students at a high school from a gunman, The Hill reported.
“The claim arises from the actions of [shooter Nikolas] Cruz, a third party, and not a state actor,” Bloom wrote in her ruling. “Thus, the critical question the Court analyzes is whether defendants had a constitutional duty to protect plaintiffs from the actions of Cruz.”
“As previously stated, for such a duty to exist on the part of defendants, plaintiffs would have to be considered to be in custody,” the judge explained.
She used prisoners or patients of a mental hospital as examples of protected parties who would be considered to be in the custody of the authorities, and therefore, their responsibility to protect, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Bloom’s ruling was in line with established federal case law, but conflicted directly with the recent ruling of a Broward County judge who refused to dismiss a lawsuit against the school resource officer who failed to act.
Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning rejected the argument that former Deputy Peterson had “no legal duty” to protect the students and faculty, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Englander Henning ruled that the former school resource officer was not protected by the “sovereign immunity” which shields public employees from legal action against things done in an official work capacity.
She ruled the lawsuit could go forward based on the fact that Peterson had a duty to the school community and an “obligation to act reasonably” during the active-shooter incident, The Hill reported.
“We don’t think it's even debatable that Peterson had a duty to these students. Peterson’s disclaimer of any legal responsibility is a mirror of his abdication of his responsibility for these kids,” said Joel Perwin, the attorney for the father of one of the students killed at Parkland.
But Peterson’s attorney, Michael Piper, told the Orlando Sentinel that his client planned to appeal Bloom’s ruling.