Wednesday, August 22, 2018

JUSTICES TURN DOWN APPEALS ON PARKLAND SCHOOL VIDEO

Jim Saunders News Service of Florida August 22, 2018

TALLAHASSEE --- The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to take up appeals filed by the Broward County School Board and prosecutors, clearing the way for the release of additional surveillance-camera footage related to the February mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The 4th District Court of Appeal last month sided with a coalition of news organizations and ordered the release of footage from the afternoon of Feb. 14, when 17 people were killed at the school. But the Broward County School Board and the Broward State Attorney’s Office appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Justices, in a pair of orders Wednesday, declined to take up the cases, which effectively keeps in place the decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal. As is common, the Supreme Court did not explain its reasons for declining to weigh in.

Some footage was released in March, but media organizations expanded the request as they sought additional information about the response of law-enforcement officers to the shooting. The School Board objected to the additional request, pointing to concerns that the video could divulge security vulnerabilities on the school’s campus. Also, the State Attorney’s Office objected to releasing the additional footage, saying it was part of an active criminal investigation.

State laws typically shield the release of information about security systems of public buildings. But the appeals-court decision, in part, pointed to what is known as a “good cause” exception in deciding that the Parkland video should be released.

In asking the Supreme Court to take up the case, school-board attorneys pointed to the need to ensure the security of public buildings.

“The School Board respectfully submits that the Fourth District’s interpretation of these statutes improperly eradicates the protections afforded by the Legislature when it put the security exemptions (to public records laws) in place,” school-board attorneys wrote in an Aug. 13 brief. “In turn, the opinion could impact safety and security concerns in place to protect not just public schools, but all government buildings and other facilities throughout Florida --- concerns which are made evident by the very facts giving rise to this litigation. The School Board proposes that the wide-reaching implications of this decision warrant this (Supreme) Court’s attention.”

But in an Aug. 15 brief, attorneys for the media organizations wrote that the appeals court “simply applied the relevant provisions of the public records act to the unique and well-developed facts and evidence below.” The brief also said media organizations have only sought video footage that would show law-enforcement response to the shootings --- a major point of debate and scrutiny --- and have not sought footage showing victims or witnesses.

Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz was charged in the murders, one of the worst school shootings in United States history.