Florida Newspaper Faces Contempt for School Shooter Report

(CN) – A Florida newspaper is facing a possible contempt charge after publishing details that were meant to be redacted in a report about a school district’s examination of the Parkland school shooting suspect.

This Feb. 19, 2018 file photo shows school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz appearing in court for a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File)

A Broward County judge ordered the Broward County School Board to release the report on suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz to the South Florida Sun Sentinel in response to a public records request. Before its release, the school board redacted large portions of the document that could have violated state and federal laws protecting disabled students’ privacy.

After posting the PDF document on the Sun Sentinel website last Friday, a reader discovered that by copying and pasting the redacted words into another computer file, the blacked out portions were readable. The newspaper then updated its story with the redacted information.

On Monday, the school board filed a petition for contempt against the newspaper and two reporters, Brittany Wallman and Paula McMahon.

The petition states the newspaper “readily acknowledged that certain information contained in the report was protected under Florida and federal laws.”

“The Sun Sentinel and its named reporters clearly had knowledge of, and violated, the written and oral pronouncements made by Judge Henning and Judge Scherer,” the petition states. “They conceded the information was protected and confidential. And they knew that the public defender had taken the position that its disclosure would not only violate confidentiality provisions, but that it would impact Nikolas Cruz’s constitutional right to a fair trial. Yet they intentionally disclosed the information.”

Contempt can result in fines, jail time or both.

The 70-page report was prepared by a consultant in the weeks after the deadly Feb. 14 school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and staff.

The report reveals Cruz, the alleged shooter, showed signs of anti-social behavior as early as 3 years old when he was removed from a pre-kindergarten program.

Cruz’s aggressiveness continued throughout his school career, according to the report.

In eighth grade, the school district reportedly placed him in a special education campus to deal with his outbursts, but removed him to Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School the next year in an effort to reintegrate him into normal classes.

Over the next two years, Cruz’s behavior worsened until he was forced to leave the school. His mother later tried to re-enroll him in the special education school, but officials did not immediately act on the request.

Sun Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson defended the paper’s actions, because the events leading up to the shooting are of “the utmost importance to our community.”

“We feel strongly that we didn’t break the law and have no regrets for publishing the school district’s history with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter,” she said in a Sun Sentinel story on the matter.

Anderson also questioned if school board members should have been consulted on the decision to file the contempt petition.

Lead counsel for the school board, Barbara Myrick, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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