FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) - With the release of school camera footage recorded during last month's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the media secured an early victory in a battle to maintain access to records surrounding the attack.
The footage, released Thursday per a Broward County circuit judge's order, shows the incident response by now-resigned school resource deputy Scot Peterson, who has been publicly lambasted by Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and President Donald Trump, among others, for not confronting the shooter during the roughly 6-minute massacre that left 17 dead.
Part of a string of courtroom tussles over public records access in the shooting case, CNN and the Sun Sentinel alongside the Miami Herald sued the Broward Sheriff's Office in late February over its decision to withhold the surveillance video. The sheriff's office cited exemptions to Florida public records law for material connected to active investigations and security system plans.
The media outlets argued that the events depicted in the video, namely Peterson's actions, had already been discussed publicly in detail by Sheriff Israel. Since plans have been proposed to tear down the building where the attack transpired, concerns about disclosure of security system details were invalid, the media outlets argued.
The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs this week, and ordered the release of the footage.
Taken from school security cameras, the videos show Peterson racing through the school halls towards Building 1200 in a golf cart with two other men, one minute after shots broke out. He then takes up a position outside the building while the attack is raging on inside. A group of students are seen running on the lawn, before switching directions abruptly and darting away as Peterson comes into view.
A timeline released by the Broward Sheriff's Office indicates that Peterson, the only armed officer on campus at the time, stayed outside during the attack, communicating with dispatchers, requesting road closures and asking for the school and the surrounding area to be locked down.
According to call summaries released by the sheriff, Peterson told police dispatch five minutes deep into the attack, "Do not approach the 12 or 1300 building. Stay at least 500 feet away at this point.”
The Broward Sheriff's Office stated in its timeline that the suspect, 19-year-old expelled student Nikolas Cruz, dropped his AR-15 rifle and left the building at roughly 2:28 pm. Five minutes later (11 minutes after the massacre began) police made their first entry into the building.
Peterson's attorney has called criticism of the deputy unfair and unfounded. He said in a statement that Peterson thought shots were coming from outside, a belief supported by "radio transmissions [which] indicated that there was a gunshot victim in the area of the football field."
The attorney said Peterson did what he was trained to do in outdoor-gunfire situations: take a tactical position and seek cover. He said Sheriff Israel's account condemning Peterson was a "gross oversimplification" of the deputy's response to the shooting.
Sheriff Israel suspended Peterson, a 30-year law enforcement veteran, after the shooting, and said he was "disheartened" and "demoralized" by the deputy's decision not to enter the building.
The sheriff's office has a pending internal investigations into Peterson's actions. It is also reviewing the response (or lack thereof) to prior calls to the sheriff's department in the past two years that warned Cruz was unhinged and may carry out an attack on a school.
Meanwhile, a large contingent of press outlets are seeking status as intervenors in the criminal case for the sake of ensuring court filings remain in public view. The outlets decried an early confidentiality order issued in regards to a defense motion, which purportedly pertained to Cruz's attorneys' access to him in prison.
Cruz's public defender, Melisa McNeill, has asked the court for a protective order to prevent the disclosure of Cruz's medical records, in light of the release of "inmate behavior observation reports" on Cruz to media. McNeil claims the reports were improperly sent to CNN in response to the outlet's public records request.
Cruz is facing the death penalty on 17 counts of first-degree murder. He is also charged with 17 counts of attempted murder.
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