It’s imperative that Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel release video recordings of what his deputies did, and didn’t do, outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School while Nikolas Cruz was on a killing spree inside.
First, Israel himself has said that the public needs to know this information. He’s right, and he should accommodate the people on whose behalf he and his deputies work. This is an extraordinary case in which his department bears a large share of responsibility for Cruz getting as far as he did without interference. Warning signs about Cruz’s dangerous mental state had come to the department’s attention over at least a decade.
Instead, Israel refuses to release the recordings, arguing that they are exempt from the state’s public record laws. He says that they reveal security plans and are part of ongoing investigations.
Reveal security plans? Nonsense. By the sheriff’s own admission, whatever security plans the Broward Sheriff’s Office had in place failed horribly when Cruz killed 17 people and injured 15. On Feb. 22, Israel disclosed the shocking information that school resource officer Scot Peterson stood outside for four minutes while the Cruz was inside, firing an AR-15.
Israel said that Peterson should have charged inside, confronted the gunman and killed him. Tough talk for the cameras, but several other deputies apparently did not go into the building, either.
Peterson resigned and, speaking through his lawyer last week, defended his actions. He said that he was not a coward and that he thought the shots were coming from outside.
Last week, the Herald obtained documents that show a BSO captain ordered deputies to form a perimeter, possibly after the shooting was over, and not telling them to rush into the building. This contradicts what Israel said was the protocol.
No, what the videos would reveal are not “security plans,” as the sheriff claims. Rather they will reveal that there was probably confusion over the plan, or flawed communication of said plan.
It’s obvious that, whatever the plan, it was hopelessly bungled that awful afternoon of Feb. 14. What in the world could the release of the video recordings possibly compromise now?
This is not just about who is to blame for whatever failures, or who needs to fall on a sword. The public needs to know that, should there be a “next time” — and words can’t convey how fervently we hope that there is not — this department knows what’s it’s doing.
Israel is under fire, from the public, from Republicans in the Legislature and from the media. The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and CNN rightly have sued the BSO and Broward County School Board to pry loose surveillance video from the exterior of the school, showing the police response to the shooting. (The School Board says it has turned over its video to the BSO.) The media companies argue that the video recordings are of “extreme public interest.” And they are, absolutely. In addition, The Herald Sun-Sentinel and CNN want to determine for themselves whether the exemptions that the BSO cited to withhold the videos apply.
This is one of the starkest recent examples as to why Florida’s progressive government-in-the-sunshine laws exist, and why Floridians must insist that state lawmakers stop rapidly chipping away at their right to know how public agencies are conducting the public’s business. For instance, some agencies now impose sky-high fees for people to access information.
Sheriff Israel, in a tone-deaf comment on CNN Sunday after the shooting, downplayed his deputies’ actions and played up his own “amazing leadership.”
We’re not persuaded. Amaze us, Sheriff Israel: Be that leader, release the videos.
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