Broward Schools Superintendent, General Counsel Arrested Amid Grand Jury Investigation Of Stoneman Douglas Shooting
The superintendent and top lawyer for Broward County Public Schools were arrested Wednesday on felony charges related to a grand jury investigation into the 2018 Parkland school shooting.
Robert Runcie, 59, the leader of the nation's sixth-largest school district, was arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the state agency involved in investigating the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He faces a third-degree felony charge of perjury in an official proceeding, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, attorneys representing Runcie argued the arrest was political and said he would fight it.
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The grand jury was established at the urging of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. While the positions of superintendent and school board member are nonpartisan, Broward County is home to a solid Democratic majority.
"It is a sad day in Broward County and across Florida when politics become more important than the interests of our students," according to the statement from Runcie's attorneys at the law firm Dutko & Kroll.
"Superintendent Runcie has fully cooperated with law enforcement throughout this statewide grand jury process," the statement said. "This morning, we received a copy of an indictment that does not shed any light on what false statement is alleged to have been made. He will continue to be transparent with the [Broward County School Board], the parents and the public with any new information he receives.
"Mr. Runcie will enter a plea of not guilty to the charge," the statement continued. "We are confident that he will be exonerated."
The district's general counsel, Barbara Myrick, 72, was charged with unlawful disclosure of statewide grand jury proceedings, also a third-degree felony.
"The 20th Statewide Grand Jury charged Runcie and Myrick related to their testimony before the grand jury," according to a news release from FDLE. "The grand jury was impaneled to investigate possible failures in following school-related safety laws and mismanaging funds solicited for school safety initiatives."
"Information relating to the grand jury has been sealed by the court," the release said. Attorney General Ashley Moody's office is prosecuting the case.
Rosalind Osgood, school board chair, wrote in a statement sent to parents and staff: "As legal processes continue, the School District will operate as normal under the District Leadership Team."
News of the arrests was welcomed by family members of some Parkland shooting victims.
"The grand jury is doing its job by holding the people who are responsible for the safety of our children, and staff members, accountable," Tony Montalto said in a statement to WLRN on behalf of Stand with Parkland, a school safety advocacy group founded by victims' loved ones. Montalto's daughter Gina died in the massacre.
"We know that Mr. Runcie's poor leadership contributed to the Parkland tragedy," Montalto said in the statement.
Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter Alaina in the shooting and was later appointed by DeSantis to the Florida Board of Education, said he wasn't surprised that Runcie was charged with perjury.
"I don't think this is the first time that the superintendent has not been completely honest with parents, with the staff and students, with his own board," Petty told WLRN. "This may be the first time he's held accountable for that, but that process will work out."
More broadly, he said: "This certainly sends a message that things need to change in Broward County schools. It's a matter of life and death."
In 2019, DeSantis called for the creation of the grand jury to look into the district's handling of the Parkland shooting, as well as how Broward and other districts have used funding for safety measures in recent years. It was scheduled to finish its work by early June but received an extension due to disruptions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis' announcement to launch the grand jury came after WLRN reported that Runcie had made false and misleading statements about whether the confessed Parkland school shooter had been involved with a controversial diversionary program called PROMISE.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff, who was elected after her daughter Alyssa was killed in the Stoneman Douglas shooting, pushed for Runcie's firing in 2019, citing widely acknowledged mistakes made by both school district and law enforcement officials leading up to and following the shooting. Bolstered by hours of testimony from supporters, Runcie survived the ouster attempt and went on to lead the district through the COVID-19 public health crisis.
It does not appear that DeSantis has the authority to suspend the superintendent, since Runcie was appointed by the school board rather than elected by voters.
According to Runcie's contract, which expires in June 2023, a majority of school board members may vote to terminate his employment without cause. Further, a provision allowing for Runcie's termination with "just cause" includes "immorality" and "misconduct in office" as examples of fireable offenses.
Runcie has been superintendent since 2011. His base salary is $335,000.