The press wants access to footage that might show what Broward County sheriff's deputies were doing during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this year. Broward County officials would rather not give it to them. After a judge ruled in the media's favor, the school board and the state attorney appealed the ruling. Yesterday the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, Florida, heard oral arguments in the case.
The battle began when the sheriff confirmed that the school's resource officer, Scot Peterson, did not go inside of the school to confront the shooter. (Peterson eventually resigned from the department with a $8,702.35-a-month lifetime pension.) Then members of the Coral Springs Police Department claimed to CNN that three more sheriff's deputies remained outside the school and hidden behind their vehicles when they arrived on the scene. It was not clear whether the shooter was in fact still in the building when the officers arrived, but the Coral Springs cops were upset either way that the deputies did not join them inside the school.
Hoping to explain the deputies' behavior, several media organizations sued for the exterior footage. Officials resisted the request, claiming that releasing the footage could facilitate future attacks by revealing blind spots in the school's surveillance system.
Attorney Dana McElroy, representing the plaintiffs, points out that Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie has promised to improve school surveillance. So even if someone somewhere really is plotting a second attack, whatever info he might glean from the video would be outdated.
"The footage is the only objective evidence of what occurred and when," Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation, which has joined the media side of the lawsuit, tells the Miami Herald. "The whole purpose of our open government laws is oversight and accountability. Access to the video footage allows us to hold those accountable who may not have done their jobs."
Though the sheriff's office fought the initial lawsuit, it did not join the school board and the state attorney in the appeal. Spokesperson Veda Coleman-Wright has said the office has no objection to publicizing the footage.