Judge rules Broward School District had no responsibility to warn students about Parkland school shooter

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Judge Patti Englander Henning ruled Monday that the Broward County School District had no responsibility to warn students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School about the danger posed by Nikolas Cruz.  

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The long awaited ruling comes nearly three years after Cruz, then 19-years-old, killed 17 people at the Parkland, Florida high school and wounded 17 others during a rampage with an AR-15 rifle on Valentine’s Day 2018. 

Students are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., during the shooting that took place there in February. (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

According to the Sun Sentinel, Henning said in her ruling that the district cannot be held liable for failing to predict actions that might have happened had various issues been handled differently.

“The District had no control over Cruz,” Henning wrote. “They did not have custody over him. He was not a student in the system and had not been for over a year. In fact, he was refused access to the campus once he left school. Nor did the district have pre-knowledge of a definitive threat by Cruz.”

The judge added that plaintiffs are relying on too many “what if” questions to build a solid legal claim for damages.

“There is no foundation for the argument that if Cruz had been sent to a different program, and if he had been treated as a higher threat years before the incident, and if he had been criminally charged years earlier so he’d have been convicted and could not buy or own a gun, and if he had never been permitted to attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas, then he would not have been on this campus and would never have committed the crime,” Henning said. 

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The ruling is a painful loss for the families of the slain and surviving Parkland victims, who have filed multiple lawsuits against Cruz, the school district, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and on-duty deputies in an effort to hold someone accountable for failure to prevent the massacre from happening. The families alleged that the district allowed the gunman to operate unchecked until it was too late. 

Parents wait for news after a reports of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

The latest decision from Henning comes after an October ruling that the victims of the shooting and their families would have to turn over some records of their mental health treatment since the tragedy. While normally a routine disclosure for cases involving allegations of mental suffering, some representatives of the victims argued it should not have been necessary. 

In addition, the Florida Supreme Court reportedly ruled in September that Broward County School District would be allowed to treat the shooting as a single incident, capping libability at a total of $300,000 to be split among all victims who have filed suit, according to the Sentinel. Any award above the amount would have to be approved by a claims bill passed by the state legislature. 

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Among the plaintiffs suing Cruz and the school district are Andrew Pollack, father of victim Meadow Pollack; Fred Guttenberg, father of victim Jaime Guttenberg; and survivor Anthony Borges, who was shot during the rampage.

“How is a kid supposed to feel safe attending a public school under those conditions?” Alex Arreaza, Borges’ lawyer, told the Sentinel in a statement. “That ruling puts every child in danger. To think that the school board has no obligation to warn us of anyone else like Nikolas Cruz in the system should give all parents a deep concern.”

Meanwhile, David Brill, attorney for the Pollack family, told the Sentinel he was disappointed in the ruling.

“It is simply wrong on the facts and the law,” Brill said. “School boards have a duty to warn their students of the potential danger posed by even unknown third party criminal actors. The school board knew Cruz posed a specific risk to these students and teachers at this school, having identified him as ‘crazy boy’ and the one most likely to return to the school to shoot it up.”

Cruz is currently awaiting trial for 17 murder charges and, if convicted, could face the death penalty. 

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