Roughly five months have passed since Florida’s deadly Parkland school shooting, and the public has yet to see exterior video surveillance footage that may shed light on the actions of law enforcement.
On Tuesday during a hearing before the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, a school board attorney and a lawyer representing the Broward state attorney argued against releasing the videos, The Miami Herald reported.
The school board attorney reportedly said releasing footage from the Feb. 14 attack, which authorities say was carried out by former student Nikolas Cruz, would jeopardize the “integrity” of security at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The state attorney’s lawyer argued that the footage is “criminal investigative information” and therefore exempt from public records laws.
A coalition of nearly a dozen media outlets, including CNN, The South Florida Sun Sentinel and The Miami Herald, filed suit against the school board and Broward County Sheriff’s Office in late February after they were denied access to the exterior recordings. The lawsuit asked the court to compel the defendants to release the surveillance footage.
Sheriff’s deputies have been under intense scrutiny for their response to the shooting after officers from the Coral Springs Police Department ― who were also dispatched to the school and the first to gain entry ― alleged that deputies took cover outside the building.
The media consortium lawsuit argues that the videos may reveal what actions responding deputies took. The gunman killed 17 people and wounded more than a dozen. Authorities did not enter the school until more than 10 minutes after the first shots were fired.
“First, there is a strong public interest in having the public — and more specifically Florida citizens — fully evaluate how first responders and police reacted during the most critical phases of this terrible tragedy,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed on Feb. 26 by Dana J. McElroy of Thomas & LoCicero.
The lawsuit adds: “Disclosing this video footage from exterior cameras (not the interior where the shooting occurred), lies at the core of understanding exactly how events unfolded and will provide critical insight into the propriety of the government’s response.”
In March, a judge ordered the release of four redacted video clips that show former Broward County sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson standing behind a concrete wall during the mass shooting, The Sun Sentinel reported. Peterson resigned after an investigation by the sheriff’s office found that he’d failed to engage the shooter.
President Donald Trump heaped scorn on Peterson and theorized that he was either a “coward” or “didn’t react properly under pressure.”
“When it came time to get in there and do something, he didn’t have the courage or something happened,” Trump said after the release of the videos, according to USA Today. “But he certainly did a poor job. There’s no question about that. That’s a case where somebody was outside, they’re trained, they didn’t act properly or under pressure or they were a coward. It was a real shock to the police department.”
While officials did not appeal the judge’s decision to release the four video clips, they are challenging the release of additional videos.
The news organizations’ lawsuit requests only video clips from exterior cameras that captured law enforcement’s response, according to The Miami Herald. The suit does not seek the release of video from interior cameras.
“The footage is the only objective evidence of what occurred and when,” Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said Tuesday, according to The Miami Herald. “The whole purpose of our open government laws is oversight and accountability. Access to the video footage allows us to hold those accountable who may not have done their jobs.”
It’s unclear when a ruling on the videos will be issued.
Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole.