Fifteen survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School filed suit in federal court Wednesday against Broward County, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, Sheriff Scott Israel and law enforcement officers who responded to the scene.
The plaintiffs allege the sheriff’s office, school and county officials failed in their duty to protect students against the rampage by confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, who carried out one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. The Feb. 14 shooting at the school in Parkland left 17 dead.
During a press conference held late Wednesday morning, Audrey Diaz, a recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate, addressed the media. Diaz was a senior at the time of the shooting.
“What happened that day shouldn’t have happened,” she said.
Accompanied by three attorneys and her mother, Iris, the former Stoneman Douglas student did not mince words when discussing the alleged culpability of the BSO and Broward County in the tragedy that befell her and fellow classmates.
“I hope this lawsuit sends a message to everyone, including law officials,” Diaz said.
Her attorneys are Jacksonville personal injury lawyer Kristoffer R. Budhram, Solomon M. Radner of Excolo Law in Michigan, and Conrad Benedetto of the Law Offices of Conrad J. Benedetto in Philadelphia.
The plaintiff list includes Diaz, former schoolmate Giancarlo Mendoza and 13 minors, represented by their parents in the litigation.
The plaintiffs and their attorneys allege that there were numerous points at which the attack and loss of life that followed could have been curbed. According to Radner, the deaths were eminently preventable, had school officials and law enforcement officers acted in accordance with their job descriptions.
“This lawsuit should not be misconstrued in any way as a shot at law enforcement. That’s not what this is,” Radner said during the press conference. “This is a shot at specific law enforcement officials who failed the students on that particular day.”
Nadine Drew of the Public Information Office for Broward County Schools said: “The district does not comment on potential, pending or open litigation.”
Broward County did not immediately respond to a request for comment by press time. The Broward Sheriff’s Office declined to comment.
The lawsuit alleges negligence on the part of Israel, Capt. Jan Jordan, school resource officer Scot Peterson, three unnamed BSO officers and school monitor Andrew Medina. It alleges BSO officers and the school district acted “wantonly, with deliberate indifference, arbitrarily, and in a manner that shocks the conscience of the court in a constitutional sense.”
Peterson became the focus of national scrutiny after video showed he remained outside while the shooter walked through the school building with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. He shouldered criticism from his boss, after Israel said the deputy should have rushed into the building to confront and kill Cruz. Peterson retired, instead of accepting an unpaid suspension. But the Sun-Sentinel later reported he continues to receive a more than $8,700 monthly state pension.
The new suit paints Peterson as an officer who confronted an innocent student before the massacre, but failed to act during a real emergency. It alleges Peterson conducted an unlawful search and seizure just before the shooting. According to the complaint, Peterson and his employer violated a student’s Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure during a protracted confrontation, and the school resource officer accused the student of selling drugs.
The new complaint follows lawsuits by Parkland shooting survivor Anthony Borges and Andrew Pollack, the father of one of the victims. It marks the first time the events at Stoneman Douglas have been framed as a violation of civil rights, necessitating the need for the case to be heard in federal—rather than state—court. It alleges five counts of violation of federal civil rights law 42 U.S.C. §1983.