Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and the revelations of multiple failures on various levels on the part of those in positions of responsibility that day and in the months before the incident, fifteen students filed a lawsuit against the school district and the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.
Those named in the lawsuit include former school resource Deputy Scot Peterson, Broward Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jan Jordan, former MSD baseball coach and security guard Andrew Medina, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and three unidentified BSO deputies referred to as John Does 1-3.
The current and now former students who sued claimed severe psychological injury and trauma. You might have thought that given the sterling performances of people like Runcie, Peterson, Jordan and Israel, they’d have a good case that those in whom they place their trust had utterly failed to do their jobs. All of the defendants had multiple warnings that Nikolas Cruz was a danger to himself and others.
The lawsuit argued that the Sheriff’s Office and School Board “either have a policy that allows killers to walk through a school killing people without being stopped. Alternatively, they have such inadequate training that the individuals tasked with carrying out the polices … lack the basic fundamental understandings of what those policies are such that they are incapable of carrying them out.”
Both of those assertions may, in fact, be true. However…
A federal judge says Broward schools and the Sheriff’s Office had no legal duty to protect students during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
While that may seem surprising, the ruling in the Parkland students’ suit is consistent with previous case law. In Castle Rock v. Gonzales and the earlier DeShaney v. Winnebago County, the Supreme Court held that police and other public employees have no constitutional duty to protect the public from harm.
In her Parkland lawsuit ruling, US District Judge Beth Bloom wrote:
“The claim arises from the actions of [shooter Nikolas] Cruz, a third party, and not a state actor,” she wrote in a ruling Dec. 12. “Thus, the critical question the Court analyzes is whether defendants had a constitutional duty to protect plaintiffs from the actions of Cruz.
“As previously stated, for such a duty to exist on the part of defendants, plaintiffs would have to be considered to be in custody” — for example, as prisoners or patients of a mental hospital, she wrote.
As so many have pointed out over the years, individuals are their own first responders. Even the most dedicated police officers — those who don’t wait outside a building while a killer is shooting children inside — can’t respond to a situation quickly enough to save your life if you’re confronted by someone with a firearm.
That realization is no doubt a big part of why the Parkland commission that investigated the shooting recently voted 13-1 to recommend arming teachers and administrators in pubic schools. It’s the only rational way to protect students in “gun-free” zones. And the only thing those who fight against such policies and bury their heads in the hoplophobic sand accomplish is to endanger more innocent lives.