An American federal judge ruled on 17 December that the Broward County School District and the Broward County Sheriff had no legal obligation to protect students during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed a lawsuit by 15 students who said they were traumatized by the event. Six defendants were named in the lawsuit, to include the school district, sheriff’s office, campus monitor Andrew Medina and school deputy Scot Peterson.
On 14 February, Nikolas Cruz entered the high school and opened fire with an AR-15 and several magazines loaded with ammunition. He murdered 17 students and wounded 17 more. He left the school grounds after the shooting and was arrested later in the day at another location.
Peterson was the only person who was armed when Cruz opened fire on other students. He has been widely vilified for not confronting Cruz, instead choosing to hide. The lawsuit submitted by the 15 students said that “his arbitrary and conscience-shocking actions and inactions directly caused children to die, get injured, and get traumatized.”
The lawsuit made the argument that the school board and the sheriff’s office “either have a policy that allows killers to walk through a school killing people without being stopped. Alternatively, they have such inadequate training that the individuals tasked with carrying out the policies … lack the basic fundamental understandings of what those policies are such that they are incapable of carrying them out.”
Bloom ruled that the school district and the sheriff’s office had no constitutional duty to protect students not in custody. She wrote in her ruling that Cruz was a third party and not a state actor and that for the duty of protecting plaintiffs to exist, they would have to be in custody, such as prisoners or patients at a mental hospital.
Bloom’s ruling is different from the ruling handed down by Broward County Judge Patti Englander Henning, who found that Peterson had an obligation to act reasonably under the circumstances of the shooting, being that his job was security for the school.
Judge Englander Henning also found that Peterson was not protected by sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that shields public employees from legal action based on official conduct.