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School shooting’s criminal, civil cases slowly creep forward
February 7, 2019
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre resulted in criminal and civil court cases and the creation of a state investigative panel examining the shooting’s causes. A look at where those stand:
The murder case against 20-year-old Nikolas Cruz is moving slowly and could take years. Defense lawyers are gradually interviewing dozens of prosecution witnesses, and there have been several legal skirmishes over release of Cruz’s medical and school records and attempts to obtain evidence. No trial date has been set, even as prosecutors have pushed to start this year. Cruz’s lawyers have repeatedly said he will plead guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in return for a life prison sentence, but Broward County prosecutors want his guilt and ultimate fate decided by a local jury. They are seeking the death penalty. Meanwhile, Cruz also faces assault and other charges for allegedly attacking a corrections officer in jail.
The Parkland shootings spawned numerous lawsuits, including a negligence case brought by a victim’s family against sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson for failing to confront the gunman. More than 100 notices of intent to sue have been filed against the Broward County school system, again for negligence and similar allegations that officials failed to protect students and staff. Shooting survivors have sued in federal court claiming their civil rights were violated. And survivors and victims’ families alike have sued Cruz, the family he was living with at the time of the shooting, three mental health agencies who evaluated Cruz and the maker of the AR-15 rifle used by the shooter. More lawsuits are likely.
MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS PUBLIC SAFETY COMMISSION
The 15-member commission issued a 458-page report in January after meeting periodically for nine months to investigate the massacre’s causes and examine how future school shootings can be prevented. Its most controversial recommendation: Florida teachers who volunteer, pass background checks and undergo extensive training should be allowed to carry concealed handguns. The members argue that seconds count, and waiting for police to arrive allows shooters time to kill more students. Opponents include the Florida teachers union and the state PTA. They say teachers should not also be security guards, and putting more guns on campuses will make schools more dangerous, not less. The commission found numerous failures in the school system, law enforcement and at Stoneman Douglas. Among them: failure of school officials statewide to examine and fix campus security shortfalls; poor training for Broward County sheriff’s deputies in confronting mass shooters; and failures by Stoneman Douglas security officers that allowed the shooter to enter the campus. The commission is composed of law enforcement, education and mental health professionals and the fathers of two slain children. The panel will continue periodic meetings for the next four years.