Appeals Court Orders Release of Parkland Shooting Video

(CN) – The state attorney’s office in Broward County, Florida must release surveillance footage from the Parkland school shooting, an appellate court ruled Wednesday.

The decision by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals affirms a lower court’s ruling directing the state attorney’s office and Broward County School Board to make public more video from surveillance cameras dotted around the outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The state attorney’s office has until Friday afternoon to release the footage. The decision only concerns video from outside the school, not inside the building.

Several media organizations brought the public records lawsuit two weeks after the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 students and staff and injured 17 others.

The media companies sought the footage after the alleged inadequate response to the shooting from the school’s resource officer and arriving sheriff’s deputies provoked outrage nationwide.

But the Broward County Sheriff’s Office declined to release the footage, citing public records exemptions for revealing security systems and evidence in an active investigation. At the time, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters they “may never disclose the video.”

The lawsuit argued Israel already detailed the school deputy’s actions during a press conference and conceded the public needed to know how law enforcement responded to the shooting. In addition, the complaint says, the building where the shooting occurred will be demolished – eliminating the need to keep its security system private.

A Broward County Circuit Civil judge agreed and ordered the release of surveillance footage specified by the media’s complaint. But shortly before receiving that video, reporters learned there were many more cameras than previously thought and asked the judge to force the state attorney’s office to disclose all the available footage. The media companies later narrowed their request to five exterior cameras.

The state attorney’s office, who intervened in the matter, appealed the decision.

In the 15-page ruling, the appellate court found the “minimal revelation of information relating to the security system was outweighed by the public’s need for the information.”

“It is a sad commentary on our times that there must be a full and open public discussion about the type of security system that is appropriate for a large public high school and the appropriate law enforcement response to an active shooter on a high school campus,” Judge Robert Gross wrote in the ruling. “Parents have such a high stake in the ultimate decision that they must have access to camera video footage here at issue and not blindly rely on school board experts to make decisions for them.”

Judge Mark Klingensmith joined Gross in the opinion. Judge Burton Connor agreed the video footage is not exempted by public records law, but wrote a dissent over the lower court’s determination that the disclosure would “minimally” reveal information relating to the school security system. Connor wanted more redaction of the footage, such as the location of each camera.

The state attorney’s office declined comment. The school board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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