More than two dozen survivors and families of slain victims of last year’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, have filed at least 20 lawsuits against the school district and sheriff’s office over alleged efforts to block compensation and negligence that led to the deadly incident.
“What we’ve learned is that the massacre that happened in Parkland isn’t something that simply happened,” attorney Todd Michaels said at a press conference Wednesday. “It is the result of rampant failures on the part of the people who have a duty and responsibility to keep our children safe.”
Attorneys representing some of the families said the decision to sue came after discovering that the Broward County Public Schools district allegedly hired lobbyists to block claims bills in the state legislature that would have provided millions of dollars in damages to those affected by the deadly February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“Actions speak louder than words, and the victims and victims’ families have been very patient,” said Michaels, whose law firm represents one survivor and the families of two victims. “It has become clear that the school board has no intention of taking responsibility the families have asked for, so the patience of these families and survivors who have waited to officially file their lawsuits has ended.”
Bills meant to create a taxpayer-backed Parkland victims fund to avoid going to court have not received a hearing in the Florida Legislature, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
The school district declined to comment on pending litigation, but denied any allegations of lobbying against a compensation fund.
“Broward County Public Schools has been working to secure a victims compensation fund for the families of the MSD tragedy since last year,” district spokeswoman Kathy Koch told HuffPost. “BCPS retained GrayRobinson to assist the District in its advocacy efforts and support of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Victims Compensation Fund. At no time has the District or GrayRobinson lobbied against the compensation fund.”
Koch said the school board placed the item on its legislative platform in February for the 2019 legislative session. But the session ends May 3, and the bills likely won’t pass before then.
“We’re at the end of our rope. It’s been over a year now with no relief for these families,” attorney Bob Kelley said Wednesday.
The plaintiffs also alleged in the lawsuits that the school district and sheriff’s office failed to keep students and teachers safe when the confessed shooting suspect, Nikolas Cruz, displayed warning signs that he would open violence onto the school community. Cruz, 20, potentially faces the death penalty in the shooting that left 17 people dead and more than a dozen injured.
The lawsuits argue that sheriff’s deputies did not follow school active-shooter policy, which is that “the officers’ first priority is to stop the killing. Officers must go directly to the sounds of the gunfire and attempt to neutralize the attacker.” The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request seeking comment.
Much of the scrutiny over the sheriff’s office centers around Scot Peterson, the disgraced former BSO school resource officer who remained outside the school building on the day of the shooting. Video released after the shooting showed Peterson, who was armed, hiding behind a concrete wall as the gunman killed 14 students and three staff members. Peterson retired after the tragedy and has maintained that he was not sure of Cruz’s location.
Peterson is named as a respondent in the lawsuits, along with former campus security monitor Andrew Medina. An investigation showed Medina saw Cruz walk into the school with a large bag, but did not confront him or call for a lockdown. He was fired over his inaction last summer. His attorney Joseph DiRuzzo told the Miami Herald that he is “confident that any lawsuit related to the Parkland shooting lacks merit.”
The lawsuits also named Henderson Behavioral Health, a local clinic that treated the gunman as a patient since 2009. The plaintiffs said Henderson should have warned the district and community that Cruz was dangerous.
Mitchell Dworet, whose son Nicholas died in the shooting and son Alexander survived being shot, said Wednesday that he wants accountability from the district.
“This is a life sentence for me, every day, for 14 months,” Dworet said. “The first thing they [the district] are responsible for is the safety of our children. They failed. They failed me that day.”
View one of the lawsuits obtained by the Miami Herald below:
This has been updated with comment from Broward County Public Schools.