Feb 15, 2018; Parkland, FL, USA; A small makeshift memorial is seen under the Sawgrass Expressway across from the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following Wednesday's mass casualty school shooting.

Credit: Xavier Mascarenas/TCPalm via USA TODAY NETWORK

Police 'choked' in Parkland shooting, lawyer says, announcing lawsuit

July 12, 2018 - 12:20 pm

By Eliott C. McLaughlin and Keith Allen, CNN

(CNN) -- Parkland, Florida, parents and students filed suit Wednesday against Broward County, the sheriff, his deputies and the school superintendent in connection with the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Two students and 13 minor students' mothers are plaintiffs in the case, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, to be determined by a jury.

Yet while attorney Solomon Radner focused on the shooting during a Wednesday news conference, four of the five counts in the lawsuit deal with an incident in which embattled ex-school resource officer Scot Peterson questioned, searched and seized money from a student he suspected of selling drugs.

The seizure occurred on Valentine's Day, hours before the shooting, but that and Peterson's involvement are the only apparent connections to the shooting.

The rest of the suit alleges Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and Broward Sheriff Scott Israel failed to protect students and claims Peterson and five other deputies' inaction or poor training led to more students being traumatized, injured or killed.

Three of the deputies are identified as John Does one, two and three, and Radner said they were armed, trained and on campus when the shooting began.

"The law enforcement choked that day," Radner said during a news conference. "They caused people to die, and they will have to face the music."

CNN's phone call and emails seeking comment from the county attorney's office were not immediately returned.

Peterson

Many of the allegations in the suit target Peterson, who has been decried as a coward for his response when the shooting erupted. He has said he followed procedure and was unsure from where the gunshots emanated.

The lawsuit claims Peterson was known in law enforcement circles as "Rod" -- meaning retired on duty -- because of his "lackadaisical" approach to his job.

"His job duties required him to run towards danger at risk of life and limb, and not to run away from danger for the sole purpose of [self-preservation]. His arbitrary and conscience-shocking actions and inactions directly and predictably caused children to die, get injured and get traumatized," the lawsuit says.

Peterson and the three John Does stood outside the school while kids were being gunned down inside, according to the lawsuit. It also says that two Coral Springs policemen rushed past the deputies, "who were hiding to keep themselves safe at the expense of the safety of the students," and were told the shooter was on the third floor.

The lawsuit alleges this indicates Peterson knew where the shooter was, contrary to his statements.

Andrew Medina

Another school guard, Andrew Medina, is accused of failing to stop or engage the shooter, despite the gunman being previously identified as a "recognized threat."

"Specifically, he failed to stop shooter, question him, or lock down the school, even though he saw shooter walk past him and he recognized shooter to be a known danger to the school," the lawsuit says. "He instead radioed ahead to warn fellow monitor David Taylor that a suspicious kid was headed his way."

Medina also failed to call in a code to prompt the school's lockdown, which would have made it difficult for the gunman to kill as many people as he did, the lawsuit claims.

"Medina claimed he was ordered to not call a code unless he actually saw a gun," according to one of the sections of the lawsuit that questions the training of officers involved in the response. "Medina did, however, have enough time to text other security officers about who the suspicious person was -- again instead of approaching shooter or calling a code."

Capt. Jan Jordan

The law enforcement officer in charge of the shooting scene was Jordan, the lawsuit says, accusing her of failing to set up a command post and preventing other emergency responders from entering the school.

Coral Springs Deputy Fire Chief Michael McNally asked Jordan six times if he could send his medics into the school and was rebuffed each time, even after certain rooms had been searched and deemed safe, the lawsuit says.

A Margate police officer and SWAT operator later decided to enter the school after informing Jordan there was no time to wait, according to the lawsuit.

"The Broward County Sheriff's Office policy on active shooters indicates responding deputies may enter the building to preserve life without permission," the lawsuit says. "The policy does not list staging yet Jordan chose to stage, in violation of policy, due either to her grossly inadequate training or her deliberate indifference."

Runcie and Israel

According to the lawsuit, Superintendent Runcie had been warned that school safety was "not up to par," particularly in regard to preventing school shootings, but failed to take measures to prevent such an incident.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Israel's office received "many dozens" of calls between 2008 and 2017 about the gunman, including two 2017 calls warning the gunman had posted threatening messages on social media, was collecting weapons and could be "a school shooter in the making," the suit says.

Israel and Runcie are accused of either providing inadequate training or maintaining "a policy that allows killers to walk through a school killing people without being stopped."

The seizure

Four of the five counts outlined in the suit deal with an incident that occurred before the shooting. Three of the counts are alleged Fourth Amendment violations: unlawful detention, search and seizure of money.

The morning of the shooting, the lawsuit says, a student identified only as T.M. was pulled out of weight-training class and taken to the office, where Peterson searched him and took $200 from his backpack. Peterson accused the teen of selling drugs, but T.M. told Peterson the money was for an after-school Valentine's Day dinner with his girlfriend.

Peterson called the teen's mother, Crystal Lugo, who backed her son's story, according to the lawsuit, but Peterson accused her of lying to protect her son.

"Peterson asserted that T.M. is not manly enough to own up to what he did and that he doesn't like students like T.M. because they look good on paper but are actually really bad kids," the lawsuit alleges.

T.M. got his money back but was sent to in-school suspension for having late passes in his bag, against school policy, the lawsuit says.

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