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The Parkland tragedy lives on in court as building demolition approaches

Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

One last lawsuit. At least for now.

The families of the slain and injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have waited six years to close out all the unfinished business that came after a gunman turned the hallways of the freshman building into his personal killing field.

They sat through two criminal trials, neither ending the way they wanted. They settled two major lawsuits — one against the FBI for its failure to follow up on warning signs that the gunman was about to go on a shooting rampage, the other against the school district for its inability to recognize the risk the gunman posed.

The last lawsuit stemming from the 2018 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas has no scheduled start date. There are 52 plaintiffs, representing the families of the 17 students and staff who were killed, the 17 injured, and 18 families of students who were terrorized and psychologically traumatized but not physically wounded.

The defendants are the Broward Sheriff’s Office and three men working at the school who, according to the plaintiffs, could have done more to stop the shooter and save lives.

Four months ago, Broward Circuit Judge Carol Lisa Phillips rejected a motion to dismiss the case against School Resource Officer Scot Peterson and campus monitors Andrew Medina and David Taylor. That decision is under appeal.

“BSO is still the only agency that failed our families that has yet to have any accountability for what happened and has refused any meaningful conversation with the families since the shooting,” said Fred Guttenberg, father of slain victim Jaime Guttenberg. “The school district and FBI accepted responsibility years ago.”

As of right now, no hearings are set on the case. It’s possible the building where the shooting happened will be demolished before the parties are back in the same room. Plaintiffs’ lawyers say they want the case to continue while an appeals court reviews Phillips’ ruling. But no motion has been filed and no date has been set for Phillips to consider it.

It’s not clear why the Broward Sheriff’s Office didn’t settle the case at the same time the Broward School Board did. State law requires the Legislature to authorize any legal settlements over $300,000. For the Parkland plaintiffs, that would have meant $300,000 split 52 ways, averaging $5,769 per person.


But the school district sidestepped the law by characterizing the shooting as a civil rights infraction, which permitted them to authorize a $26 million payment whose distribution could take the severity of the injuries into account.

Records in the remaining civil case show no indication that the Broward Sheriff’s Office is even considering this approach. If the plaintiffs prevail and a jury awards more than $300,000, it will be up to the state Legislature to authorize the larger payment through what’s known as a claims bill.

In a statement posted on the agency’s website, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said deputies are “better trained and more prepared, leveraging technology, utilizing resources and consistently readying our first responders to protect our schools.”

The agency’s Threat Management Unit has investigated more than 4,000 potential incidents and made 300 arrests since 2019, and its “Real Time Crime Center” uses school cameras to provide live feeds to first responders reporting to schools, according to Tony’s statement.

Neither has been tested in real life on the level of the Parkland shooting.

The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, is serving 34 consecutive life sentences in state prison. Peterson, the armed deputy who was on site when the shooting began and criticized for not entering the 1200 building to find the gunman, was found not guilty of child neglect charges. He is retired and living out of state.

School district officials have said they are planning to demolish the massacre site when the school year ends. The last day of classes is June 10.


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