Incompetence, poor training and inaction cost lives in the Valentine’s Day shootings that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, 15 current or former students claim in a new federal lawsuit.
The suit says the 15 suffered “at least, psychological injury and trauma” during the Feb. 14 mass shootings, which left 14 students and three adults dead and 17 other people injured.
None of the 15 plaintiffs was shot, lawyers said Tuesday.
“Law enforcement choked,” Solomon Radner, a Detroit-area lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said Wednesday at a midday news conference at a hotel about a mile north of the school.
He said this lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed in federal court because it alleges constitutional rights were violated and because local courts in Florida cap suits against local governments at $300,000.
“Cops are heroes, and they’re supposed to be heroes,” Radner said.
“This lawsuit should not be misconstrued in any way as a shot at law enforcement,” he said. “This is a shot at specific law-enforcement officers that failed those students.”
Recent graduate Audrey Diaz, one of the plaintiffs, said that on the day of the shooting, she was thinking about prom and graduating, but “some of my friends who were killed that day weren’t able to go to these events.”
Her voice breaking, she said, “We thought we were safe at school and we would always be protected,” adding, “We deserved more from our law enforcement.”
Calling it “a parent’s worst nightmare,“ Audrey’s mother, Iris, said, choking with emotion, “I am outraged at how the defendants in this lawsuit responded to this shooting.”
The suit names as plaintiffs two students who are adults, Audrey Diaz and Giancarlo Mendoza. The remaining 13, who are minors, are listed with a parent or guardian's name but are identified only by their initials: LS, GEM, NV, ET, CMW, CDW, AJT, TM, GB, BAJ, KJSH, RD, and KJM.
Confessed Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz faces a possible death penalty in the 17 first-degree murder counts stemming from the shootings. Cruz also is charged with attempted murder in the shootings of the 17 who survived.
Authorities have said Nikolas and his younger brother, Zachary, moved to the suburban Lantana home of a family friend after their mother died of pneumonia in November 2017, leaving them orphans.
After the friend said Nikolas Cruz could stay only if he got rid of his guns, he moved to a northern Broward home.
He was staying there when, authorities say, he took an Uber to the school, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and a cache of ammunition, and opened fire.
Almost immediately after the mass shooting, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office came under scrutiny after revealing that school resources deputy Scot Peterson, who lives in suburban Boynton Beach, stood outside despite hearing gunfire from within.
This week’s suit — one of several filed in the aftermath of the shootings — says Peterson’s “arbitrary and conscience-shocking actions and inaction directly and predictably caused children to die, get injured, and get traumatized.”
It says Jan Jordan, the Broward sheriff’s commander at the scene, “refused to allow emergency personnel to enter the school, even into the safe areas, to save lives.”
And it says Andrew Medina, a Broward schools guard, recognized Cruz as “a known danger” but did not stop or question him or lock down the school, instead radioing ahead to another monitor.
It says Medina “did nothing, not even say two little words that could have saved lives: ‘code red.’ ” It said Broward had a policy that barred officers from declaring a “code red” unless they saw a gun.
And it says three other unidentified law-enforcement officers, listed as “John Does,” whose identities lawyers don’t know but who they believe were Broward deputies, stood outside the building with Peterson, guns drawn, but also didn’t go in.
It claims that during what it called “eight minutes of hell,” numerous “failures by numerous government actors, including law enforcement, strongly continued to Shooter’s ability to carry out this horrific attack without which this attack could not have happened.”
By the time the building was declared safe for entry, the suit says, “there was no need — everyone had already been brought out by police or was dead. Some of the blood is on Jordan’s hands, as is the trauma that the victims suffered for an unnecessarily prolonged period of time.”
The lawsuit also lists as defendants Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie and Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.
The suit said BSO either has a policy that “allows killers to walk through school killing people without being stopped” or that it has such inadequate training that the agency is incapable of carrying out policies properly.
The suit also says the Broward sheriff’s office received “many dozens of calls” from 2008 to 2017 warning them about Cruz, and “did not even do anything to ensure that Shooter did not live out his sick dream of shooting up the school.”
The suit says Runcie “was aware of the terrible lack of security at the school and yet chose not to fix it.” It says Runcie had been warned many times by many people that Douglas “was a primary target for a school shooting for a number of reasons” and also knew Cruz was a threat.
The lawsuit does not specify why Douglas was seen as a target for a school shooting. Radner also would not say.
The suit also claims authorities, including Peterson, violated the constitutional rights of the student identified as “TM” when they wrongfully detained him the morning of the shooting and improperly searched his belongings.
The suit says Peterson accused the student of selling drugs after finding $200 in his bag, and TM replied the money was to take his girlfriend out after school for a Valentine's Day dinner. Peterson later gave TM back his money.
Radner, the Michigan lawyer in the case, said he came to Florida because he specializes in civil rights cases nationwide and he discovered no one had filed civil rights suits in the Parkland case. He said he was approached by affected families.
Broward County Public Schools and the Broward Sheriff’s office said Tuesday morning they do not comment on active suits. The Broward County Attorney said it had not yet seen the suit.