When a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire earlier this year, Broward schools and the Sheriff’s Office were under no legal obligation to protect the students, according to a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed a suit filed by 15 students who claimed they were traumatized by the crisis in February. The suit named six defendants, including the Broward school district and the Broward Sheriff’s Office, as well as school deputy Scot Peterson and campus monitor Andrew Medina.
But Bloom said neither entity had a constitutional duty to protect students who were not in custody, the Sentinel reported:
“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.
At the time of the shooting, Peterson was the only armed person in the school building, and he has received intense criticism for not taking action as Cruz entered the building and proceeded to murder 17 people.
Kristoffer R. Budhram of Jacksonville, who represented the students, said in an emailed statement: “We respectfully disagree with Judge Bloom's decision to dismiss our clients' case. This case is about protecting the Constitutional rights of individuals who were the victims of one of the worst mass shootings in this country’s history.
“We are exploring all of our options for ensuring that they get their day in court, including appealing Judge Bloom's decision," Budhram wrote.