FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) – Attorneys for suspected Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz lost a bid to block the release of a county-commissioned report on his tumultuous time in the local school system.
In the latest development in a battle for public records tied to the Feb. 2018 massacre, Judge Elizabeth Scherer refused to halt the release of the county-commissioned report on the shooting and the 19-year-old alleged killer.
According to Superintendent Robert Runcie, the report was completed by a private consulting agency for the Broward County School Board. It was meant to review Broward schools’ violence-prevention protocols and document Cruz’s troubling behavior while attending local schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the massacre.
Cruz is facing the death penalty for allegedly murdering 17 victims with an AR-15 rifle at Stoneman Douglas this past Valentine’s Day, roughly a year after he was booted out of the school for severe behavioral issues. His public defenders have waged an aggressive battle to control the flow of information about his past to the public.
The dispute over the school-board-commissioned report was first tackled in civil court. The board filed for declaratory relief to resolve whether the report could be disclosed publicly, and what material contained within it was exempt from disclosure under federal and state privacy laws.
The Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel intervened, arguing that there was no legal basis to stop the release of non-exempted portions of the report.
“Not only will the disclosure not impede Cruz’s fair trial rights, but this Court is also prohibited from reading public policy considerations into the Florida Public Records Act that have not specifically been adopted by the [state] Legislature through an express exemption,” the media outlets argued in the civil proceedings.
The civil court judge last week ordered the release of the document with heavy redactions. Those redactions were made so that the released material would comply with statutory restrictions on the disclosure of special-needs student records, other educational documents, and medical information.
On the heels of the civil court’s order, Cruz’s public defenders unsuccessfully pushed Judge Scherer in the criminal case to block the release altogether, including non-exempt portions.
“The remedies previously relied upon by courts to limit the impact of adverse pretrial [media] coverage — including granting motions to continue or changing venue — are insufficient and antiquated in light of the national attention of this case and the rise of digital media accessible to every potential juror in the State of Florida,” the public defenders argued.
Friday morning, Judge Scherer sided in favor of releasing the redacted document. The media is awaiting the material.
Last week, the judge also ordered public disclosure of post-shooting statements Cruz made to police, though she allowed for a delay in the release pending potential appellate review. Florida law generally restricts public disclosure of direct confession statements prior to criminal-case disposition, but the judge found that much of what Cruz said to police does not fall under that restriction.
Already available public records show that Cruz exhibited disturbing behavior both inside and outside the school setting. According to records from a state welfare agency, Cruz drew a Nazi symbol on his backpack, was reported to have drank gasoline, displayed suicidal behaviors and cut himself after a breakup with his girlfriend. School documents obtained by the Miami Herald showed that he bounced between traditional and alternative schools, and was disciplined for fighting, aggressive behavior and profanity-laced tirades. The Herald reported that he was, at pre-school age, classified as developmentally disabled.
Cruz’s peers, including a student interviewed by Courthouse News in the aftermath of the shooting, indicated that he had engaged in acts of animal cruelty and was preoccupied with guns, which he brandished on his social media accounts.
Both the FBI and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office received explicit warnings that Cruz was planning a school shooting. In Nov. 2017, roughly two months before the massacre, the sheriff’s office received a call warning that Cruz was collecting guns and knives and “believes he could be a school shooter in the making,” sheriff’s records state. The FBI in Jan. 2018 received a tip on its hotline, warning of Cruz’s “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts,” as the FBI described it.
No legal action was taken.