The Other No-Show In State's Parkland Shooting Investigation: The FBI

Nov 20, 2018

The former school cop who hid rather than confronting the gunman during the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland high school isn't the only one who's been ducking requests to appear before a state investigative commission.

Former Broward Sheriff's Office Deputy Scot Peterson was a no-show at last week's meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, defying a subpoena from the group that includes parents of slain students. Later in the agenda, there was a 45-minute time slot reserved for an update about the Federal Bureau of Investigation's mishandling of two tips warning that confessed killer Nikolas Cruz might shoot up a school. But there wasn't much to report.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the panel, has been pushing for a representative of the FBI to appear before the commission for months. Over the summer, he said he expected someone to testify in September or October after agents had completed an internal investigation into the botched tips. But then, according to Gualtieri, agency officials said they wouldn't be sending someone after all. Instead, they had mailed a packet of information for the panel to review.

Gualtieri was told the packet was sent on Nov. 9. By last Friday — a week later — it had not yet arrived.

Asked for an update this week, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which oversees the commission, wrote in an email: "To our knowledge, the commission has not received anything from the FBI."

Michael Leverock, an FBI special agent who focuses on public affairs for the Miami field office, declined to confirm whether the packet had ever been sent, writing in an email: "Unfortunately, given [that] the case is still ongoing, no information can be provided at this time." He did not respond to a follow-up email asking whether he meant he could not provide information to the commission or to the public.

"I don't know what this confusion is here as far as receiving this information in this packet," Gualtieri told reporters during a break on Friday. "I, like the rest of the commission, [am] anxious to know what's in it so we can find out what happened. … Hopefully, we'll get some insight into what happened and decide how to proceed from there."

Another sheriff and member of the commission, Polk County's Grady Judd, said the FBI's unwillingness to testify could mean the results of the internal investigation don't reflect well on the agency.

"If they had done everything perfectly they would have been up here with a band," Judd said during Friday's meeting.

The commission plans to meet one more time before the Jan. 1 deadline for its report to the governor and Legislature with recommendations for policy changes designed to prevent another massacre.

The group has published a draft report with suggested changes and will discuss them in more detail during meetings on Dec. 12-13. The recommendations are listed in order of their difficulty: first, changes that could be made immediately and without investment; then, ones that require some funding; further, ones that require a significant investment or a new law.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • "Hard corners": In the draft report, the commission recommends marking off so-called "hard corners" in every classroom and keeping them free of furniture or objects that can't be easily moved. "Hard corners," also referred to in the report as "safe zones," are areas where students can hide and not be seen by someone looking through or shooting through a classroom door window. The commission found that as least one student was killed because she couldn't fit into a "hard corner."
  • Code red policies: All public, charter and private K-12 schools should have policies for responding to active assailants, including protocols for code red drills and lockdowns. The commission suggests requiring that schools install audible alarms that sound throughout campus in the event of a code red. Also, all school employees should have the ability to call a code red and lock down a school remotely.
  • Bleeding control kits and training: All school districts should purchase "stop the bleed" kits for all schools and train personnel, according to the report. Also, faculty would be required to learn techniques for controlling bleeding as part of first aid training.
  • No "floater" security guards: The state law passed after Parkland requires a police officer or an armed guardian on every school campus. The commission suggests the law should be clarified to make sure such security guards are present during all school hours — a recommendation that came out of the discovery some districts are using "floater" officers who spend part of the day at one school and part of the day at another. "No school is to be left unattended," according to the draft report.
  • More money for the "Guardian" program: According to the report: "The Florida Legislature should provide adequate recurring funding for the Guardian program," which allows for certain school staff to be armed, "and should consider increased funding for individuals who are hired solely to fill the role of guardian." The report also suggests lawmakers give school districts the ability to raise more money in local property taxes to pay for police and guardians and allow state school safety funding to be used for new and existing school resource officers.
  • Real-time monitored surveillance cameras: The commission wants a mandate that school districts allow law enforcement live access to surveillance cameras during emergencies. Another recommendation is for schools to enhance their current surveillance systems so there are no gaps in camera coverage inside or outside school buildings. Police and medical first responders wasted precious minutes on Feb. 14 because they were watching delayed footage and believed the shooter was still in the school building.
  • Advocacy for student privacy law changes: The commission also wants state legislators to work with Florida's congressional delegation to lobby for changes to federal student privacy laws. Their hope is that school districts would be able to share more information about students with law enforcement.