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What did deputies do during Parkland shooting? Officials fight to keep footage secret

Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- The public should not see security camera footage that may shed light on what law enforcement officers did during the deadly Parkland school shooting, attorneys for the Broward County School Board and Broward State Attorney's Office argued in state court Tuesday.

Releasing the footage could jeopardize the "integrity" of the video surveillance system at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, putting students at risk, a school board attorney told a three-judge panel at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach. A lawyer representing the Broward state attorney said the footage constituted "criminal investigative information" that should not be disclosed under Florida's broad public records law.

Some Broward Sheriff's Office deputies are said to have taken cover during the Feb. 14 attack by former student Nikolas Cruz that killed 17 people. The exterior camera footage -- sought by nearly a dozen media outlets, including The Miami Herald -- may show what actions deputies took during and shortly after a six-minute shooting spree that left students and staff bleeding to death from grievous wounds.

"The footage is the only objective evidence of what occurred and when," said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, which joined the media in suing for the footage. "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."

The media organizations sued the school board and BSO to compel the release of surveillance footage. A lower court judge ruled in the media's favor in April, saying that releasing the tapes served the public's interest. That prompted an appeal from the school board and from the state attorney, which had intervened in the case seeking to keep the video from becoming public.

In contrast, Veda Coleman-Wright, a spokeswoman for BSO, said Tuesday that the agency has "no objection" to the video being released. BSO was a defendant in the original case but did not appeal the ruling.

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The footage requested by the news media outlets comes from a small number of exterior cameras at Stoneman Douglas. The media did not request interior footage showing Cruz killing students and staff. Members of the state Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission Parkland, set up to improve the security of Florida's schools, have also seen the exterior footage.

In court Tuesday, attorneys for the government repeated the arguments that failed to sway the lower court judge, Jeffrey Levenson, who watched the tapes privately in his chambers.

Eugene Pettis, an attorney for the school board, said a future attacker could watch the exterior footage and figure out where its blind spots were.

"It could put the school's safety in jeopardy," Pettis said.

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