A Florida judge has threatened to hold a newspaper in contempt of court after it published confidential information about Parkland, Florida, school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz that had been redacted by the Broward County School Board but in a way that could still be viewed.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer branded the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s actions as “shameful” during a court hearing on Wednesday but stopped short of legally punishing it and its reporters for publishing new details of Cruz’s educational background.
Those details were to be kept private under the state’s public records laws and were blackened out electronically by the school board. Reporters at the paper, crediting a tip from the public on social media, found that they could easily remove the bars blocking the redacted content, leading to the publishing of the details on Aug. 4, the Sun Sentinel reported.
According to the Sun Sentinel’s findings, the new information revealed mistakes by school officials in their handling of Cruz before February’s shooting at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, that left 17 people dead.
The school board last week requested that Scherer hold the Sun Sentinel and reporters Brittany Wallman and Paula McMahon in contempt of court for publishing the information. Such a charge is punishable by a fine or jail time.
Scherer disparaged the reporters and the newspaper’s lawyer, accusing them of having been aware through previous court hearings that the redacted details were exempt from disclosure but said she would make a decision later.
Addressing the Sun Sentinel’s attorney Dana McElroy, Scherer accused the reporters of manipulating the content of the documents in an unethical way that could harm Cruz’s right to a fair trial.
“There’s no law broken here, your honor,” McElroy replied. “Our position is that what we did was lawful.”
McElroy argued that it was the school board’s fault for allowing the redacted information to be easily read by anyone viewing the documents on the district’s website. Scherer cast doubt on the level of ease to remove the black bars.