The Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, Florida, has ruled that outdoor footage from the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School must be released.
As Reason previously reported, media outlets believe the footage will show what Broward County sheriff's deputies were doing outside the school as the incident unfolded. Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed that Scot Peterson, the deputy who was the school's resource officer at the time, did not enter the school to confront the shooter. After this revelation, plus news that Peterson would receive a lifetime pension of $8,702 a month, Coral Springs police officers told CNN three additional sheriff's deputies remained outside the school, hidden behind their vehicles, when they arrived at the scene. While it was not immediately clear whether the shooter was still in the building when the deputies arrived, the Coral Springs cops were upset that they did not join them inside the school.
On Wednesday, the appeals court ruled in favor of the news organizations seeking access to the video, saying the Broward County Sheriff's Office (BSO) must release it by Friday. "It is a sad commentary on our times that there must be a full and open public discussion about (1) the type of security system that is appropriate for a large public high school and (2) the appropriate law enforcement response to an active shooter on a high school campus," Judge Robert Gross wrote in the ruling.
Gross said parents also had a right to "have access" to the footage and "not blindly rely on school board experts to make decisions for them." He criticized law enforcement officials, writing, "The media showed the need for the public to actually witness the events as they unfolded because the narrative provided by 'the authorities' is confusing and has shifted and changed over time." BSO initially resisted requests for the footage but ultimately decided not to join the school board and the state attorney's office in appealing a previous ruling in favor of the media.
Judge Burton Conner dissented, echoing the school district's argument that the footage could expose details of the high school's security system, a claim that Dana McElroy, an attorney for the news organizations, had rebutted by noting Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie's promise to improve that system. Still, Conner agreed that "the public has the right to know" so it can evaluate the law enforcement response.
"The footage is the only objective evidence of what occurred and when," said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, which joined the media outlets in the lawsuit, in an interview with 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."