© 2020 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
The South Florida Roundup

Mounting Pressure Over Police Response To Douglas Shooting

Caitie Switalski
New details concerning the police response, led by Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, to the Stoneman Douglas High shooting were revealed this week. Officers who first arrived to the building didn't confront the gunman.

The first Broward Sheriff's deputies who arrived at Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 were told not to confront the gunman. 


According to a dispatch log reviewed by the Miami Herald, the sheriff’s captain who was first in charge of the scene told officers to set up around the building. The Broward Sheriff's Office neither confirmed nor denied that the order was given.

BSO has said deputies are trained to confront active shooters, following nationwide procedure.

Throughout the week, pressure over the police response has been mounting. The school resource officer Scot Peterson defended his actions. He stayed outside building 12 while it was under attack.

Through his lawyer, Peterson said he thought the gunfire was coming from outside the building. Last week, he retired after being suspended. 

And in court this week, the judge hearing the case against the confessed killer refused to step aside. 

Meanwhile, students at Stoneman Douglas returned to classes this week for the first time since the mass shooting that killed 17 people and injured 15.

WLRN’s Tom Hudson looked back on the week with a panel of reporters: Curt Anderson of The Associated Press; WLRN’s Peter HadenPatricia Mazzei of The New York Times; and David Smiley of the Miami Herald.

WLRN: David, I’ll start with you. Your Herald colleagues looked at a Broward Sheriff's Office dispatch log of the Feb. 14 shooting as it was really evolving. What did the logs show?

SMILEY: The logs appear to show that a Parkland captain, who initially took over the scene, ordered deputies to set up a perimeter, which would be contrary to what we've heard Sheriff Scott Israel say deputies ought to be doing during an active shooting – which is to rush in and go after the killer and try to neutralize him. So BSO is not addressing whether that's indeed what those logs show or not, but that's what they appear to show.

Patricia Mazzei, what have we learned this week about the police response?

MAZZEI: We first heard from Coral Springs, the neighboring city. They were the first officers to arrive and they were the first ones to raise concerns about BSO's response. It's important to note that BSO's written policy on active shooters specifically says that you don't have to listen to the supervisor or wait for the supervisor in order to decide what to do. They train deputies for these scenarios, and so even if a deputy was told to stay outside, if they thought a shooter was active inside a building, they could have still gone in and that would have been OK. According to protocol, it would not have been a violation.

Peter Haden, this all began a week ago with questions about the school resource officer Scot Peterson. Sheriff Israel said he felt sick in the stomach when he learned of Officer Peterson's behavior and actions during the active shooting. 

HADEN: Sheriff Israel said… if he didn't have the heart to go in, not my  fault, not my responsibility. However, as Pati mentioned, deputies have the authority to decide on the scene if they have real-time intelligence whether to go in or not to go in to an active shooter situation. But they are not required to go in. BSO policy says  they may decide to go in after getting this real-time intelligence.

It doesn't say shall go in or must go in. 

MAZZEI: No, but the way it was explained to me by one of Israel's top deputies is that the "may" is because if the shooter is right behind the door and going in is just going to get the deputy killed or if the door is armed with a bomb. The deputy doesn't have to go in, and if you have "shall,” you're basically saying go in for your death; you're guaranteed death. Those are the only reasons not to go in. Otherwise, you have to go in – even if you're by yourself – and hunt the shooter down to protect as many innocent lives as possible. 

David Smiley, how about this? The language of what we've learned about the policy of BSO and the engagement in an active shooter scenario. What's the focus here? Is it on this "may" or "shall?" 

SMILEY: What she’s saying makes total sense. I mean, you can't have a bunch of lemmings rushing into a building. They have to have discretion. The question is, why did deputies behave the way they appeared to have in the initial moments when they arrived to the school.?Or in Peterson's case, when he arrived at the building and he says he believed he had heard shooting outside. He's acknowledged that he didn't go in. He apparently gave keys to Coral Springs' SWAT team to go inside. I think the policy at this point is clear. What's not clear is why the deputies behave the way they did?

Pati Mazzei, what are questions that investigators are going to need to explore? And what kind of evidence is going to be out there for them to consider?

MAZZEI: According to Sheriff Israel, the only deputy who was on campus while the shooting was taking place was Scot Peterson, the school resource officer. So could the other deputies say, “By the time we got there, by the time this order was given to set up a perimeter, there was no shooting. And so we couldn't hear sounds. We didn't know what was happening.” Sure, maybe. Does that justify not going in looking for it? That will have to be probably for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to decide as they review the shooting.

I think that full radio dispatch transcript will be key as will the statements from all these officers who took part in the shooting and the witnesses – the students and teachers who  saw what happened. It's going to take a while to sort it out.

You mentioned the the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Peter Haden, there are a few investigations going on into the police response, right?

HADEN: Absolutely. You've got the FDLE investigation ordered by the governor. The Florida House of Representatives has subpoenaed a lot of records, conducting their own investigation. And BSO's own internal investigation into how they responded to the shooting.

Curt Anderson, I know we want to talk about the court case here as well. The investigation of the law enforcement response is ongoing. Obviously the prosecution is ongoing too. There may reportedly be a grand jury now presented with some evidence. What can you tell us? 

ANDERSON: Yes, it appears the grand jury will begin hearing evidence Tuesday and Wednesday, most likely in Broward County. Typically, in a case like this, the grand jury meets about 21 days or so after the suspect is arrested. And what will happen there is there'll be an indictment. It will have the 17 murder charges, and then they'll probably add a lot of other charges because you have a lot of attempted murder. Then you go into the secondary things, like discharging a gun into a school. They'll throw everything in there.

Why go the route of a grand jury? 

ANDERSON: In a case like this, which is death-penalty implicated and so forth, many prosecutors, including State Attorney Michael Satz in Broward County, feel that they want to present the evidence before a panel of citizens to review it rather than taking all the decisions themselves.

Instead of putting it in front of a judge? 

ANDERSON: Yeah, because they have the power to just file the charges. But in cases like this usually it gets through sort of like a buffer, you might say.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN.  He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.