December 16, 2018
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Broward sheriff’s office launches internal investigations amid questions after Parkland massacre

Michael Laughlin | Sun Sentinel| TNS
Michael Laughlin | Sun Sentinel| TNS
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel speaks before the start of a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center, in Sunrise, Fla.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating allegations that multiple deputies failed to enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after the shooting rampage there, adding to the mounting internal probes examining both the department’s response to the attack and its prior interactions with the suspected shooter.

Authorities have faced criticism about the series of unheeded warning signs that preceded the Feb. 14 massacre. These warnings about Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old charged with the massacre, included multiple tips saying he could be capable of carrying out a school shooting. The FBI received such a tip in January but never investigated it. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it received two similar warnings, but there is no evidence that either prompted any investigation.

[Despite multiple warning signs and FBI tips, how did Florida shooting happen?]

Officials have also faced difficult questions about what happened after the shooting began inside Stoneman Douglas. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel acknowledged Thursday that an armed deputy, serving as the school resource officer at Stoneman Douglas, got to the scene of the shooting but failed to go inside, violating accepted police protocol. That deputy, Scot Peterson, a three-decade veteran of the sheriff’s office, resigned after being suspended.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has said it is investigating how the agency responded to the gunfire that killed 17 students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas. Among the topics being probed, according to Israel, are allegations made by officers from another department that they saw other Broward sheriff’s deputies – not just Peterson – still waiting outside as the shooting occurred.

The sheriff told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday that his office is investigating the allegations and if they find “that our deputies made mistakes and didn’t go in, I’ll handle it like I always have.” His office did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.

[Armed sheriff’s deputy stayed outside Florida school while mass killing took place]

According to a CNN report, Coral Springs police officers who arrived at Stoneman Douglas said that in addition to Peterson, they found at least three other sheriff’s deputies still outside the building.

The Coral Springs police released a statement saying it was “aware of media reports” but was not going to make statements “regarding these allegations as it is still an open and active investigation being handled by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.”

“Our police department has continued to work alongside the Broward Sheriff’s Office to assist in any investigation pertaining to this incident,” Coral Springs police said in the statement. “The Coral Springs Police Department has a tremendous working relationship with the men and women of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, and while we are being transparent through this investigation, everyone should respect the process.”

Tony Pustizzi, the Coral Springs police chief, did not respond to a message seeking comment on Saturday. He said earlier this week that his department, which is headquartered just miles down the road from Stoneman Douglas and polices a city where many of the school’s students live, will also review its response to the shooting.

[Parkland school cop may not have been only officer who failed to engage shooter]

Officials have said they are reviewing how they handled earlier warnings about Cruz, including the fumbled FBI tip. In January, a woman described by the bureau as close to Cruz contacted the FBI tip line and warned that he could “get into a school and just shoot the place up,” according to a transcript of the call obtained by The Post.

The woman told the FBI that she was worried Cruz was “going to explode,” the transcript showed. “Something is going to happen,” the caller said. She is also quoted as saying she had passed the information along to local police.

The FBI has acknowledged that it made mistakes in handling the warning and said the bureau was investigating both what happened and how it handles tips from the public.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said this week that among the 23 calls it received relating to Cruz or his family over the last decade were two with warnings that the teenager could potentially open fire at a school. Both calls have since prompted internal affairs probes, the sheriff’s office said.

In February 2016, a caller warned that Cruz “planned to shoot up the school.” A deputy spoke to the caller, learned that Cruz had knives and a BB gun, and relayed information from the call to Peterson, the deputy serving as the Stoneman Douglas school resource officer. It remains unclear what Peterson, who has not responded to attempts to reach him, did with the information.

[Trump: School resource officer who stayed outside South Florida school shooting a ‘coward’]

The following year, the sheriff’s office also said it got a call warning that Cruz was collecting guns and knives and could be “a school shooter in the making.” That call, made in November 2017, came less than three months before the Stoneman Douglas massacre. It noted that Cruz, whose mother had died that month, had moved from Parkland, to a home in Palm Beach County.

According to the Broward sheriff’s office, no report was filed on the call, and a deputy interviewed after the Stoneman Douglas shooting said he referred it to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. A spokeswoman for that office told The Washington Post on Friday that they “have NO RECORD of getting this threat.”

The Broward sheriff’s office said it was unable to provide more information about what may have happened after that call because of the ongoing internal probe.

Investigations after mass shootings often reveal multiple things that could have been handled better both during the bloodshed and in the months or years leading up to them. Daniel Oates, who was the police chief in Aurora, Colorado, during the 2012 mass shooting there, said law enforcement officials would scrutinize any missteps, but he cautioned against drawing conclusions until these investigations have been conducted.

“Everyone just needs to remember, that entire community, including those first responders, are all victims, and they’re going to live with this for the rest of their lives, and its very painful,” Oates, who is now the police chief in Miami Beach, said in an interview. “Everyone’s going to ask themselves, ‘Could I have done something differently?’ ”

The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

 


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