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Parkland report card: Accountability mixed a year after mass shooting

By Daniel Uria
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Parkland report card: Accountability mixed a year after mass shooting
Mourners gather at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on February 19, 2018. File Photo by Gary Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 13 (UPI) -- In the year since the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., parents of victims, student survivors and their supporters have demanded accountability at every level.

Supported by lawmakers and celebrities, students have led marches across the country, staged walkouts, rallied young people to vote and organized the "March for Our Lives" campaign for gun control.

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Nikolas Cruz, the former Douglas student who confessed to killing 13 students and four faculty members on Feb. 14, 2018, is in jail. He faces the death penalty if convicted. The Broward County sheriff, whose officers failed to stop Cruz's bullets, has been fired. Security has been tightened at schools across the country.

The movement after Parkland inspired 27 state legislatures to pass 67 gun-control laws, the most in a single year since the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012.

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The call for change continues, as America has been roiled by many more mass shootings since Parkland. Here is a rundown of what changes have been made and who has been held accountable so far.

The gunman

A judge entered a guilty plea for the 20-year-old Cruz on March 14, as he faces 17 counts of first-degree, premeditated murder and 17 counts of first-degree attempted murder.

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While in jail, he accrued additional charges, accused of attacking a jail officer.

He faces the death penalty if convicted on the murder charges.

Florida guns, school safety

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Weeks after the shooting, then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a $400 million suite of legislative reforms to school security, mental health and gun-control measures.

The law raised the minimum age to purchase rifles in the state from 18 to 21.

It also expanded a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns and banned the sale of bump stocks, devices that can modify guns and allow them to mimic fully automatic fire.

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A Democratic attempt to include an amendment banning all assault weapons failed.

The law also sought to address the mental health aspect of mass shootings and other violent gun crimes by creating a new legal process to take firearms from people who make violent threats to themselves or others.

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It also established a program providing $67 million to train and arm teachers as part of a plan called the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named after a coach who died protecting students during the Douglas shooting.

In April, the school board of Broward County rejected its portion of the funding -- as did officials in 10 of the state's other largest school districts -- instead requesting money to place more police officers in schools.

In the wake of the shooting, an armed security guard was also required on each school campus, increasing the state's previous total of 1,500 officers in the state's Department of Education for about 3,800 public schools.

Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, a statewide federation of education workers' unions, told UPI the organization supports having more school security officers, but believes "teachers should be focused on teaching, not arming themselves."

"Teachers should not be focused on target practice; target practice is not a part of our curriculum, nor should it be," Ingram said. "We believe that any guns on any school grounds should only be in the hands of certified law enforcement. We also need the funding to be provided for those law enforcement to come into our schools."

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Douglas began the school year by implementing several new security measures, including adding four new security officers, more school resource officers and more gates and locking hardware.

The school also altered the fire alarm tone, installed 52 new security cameras, limited the number of entrances to four and required students to wear IDs at all times.

A plan to add metal detectors was scrapped, as was a rule requiring students to carry only clear backpacks after students complained it violated their privacy.

The Federal Commission on School Safety, created in response to the shooting, issued a report supporting a temporary order to take away guns from those deemed to be a danger to themselves and others, while respecting due process and "Second Amendment liberties."

It also recommended school districts work with law enforcement to establish a method to have "highly trained individuals" on campus with weapons.

School, social programs

The commission also made recommendations related to a social program Cruz was referred to after several instances of misconduct.

In May, the Broward County School District said Cruz was once referred to the district's Promise program, which provides an alternative to arrests.

While Cruz was a student at Parkland's Westglades Middle School he was charged with vandalism or destruction of property of less than $1,000 and referred to the program.

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Established in 2013, the program allowed students charged with misdemeanor offenses like vandalism, disorderly conduct and fighting to receive psychological and behavioral help instead of jail.

The program was created in response to statistics showing the district had the highest arrest rates in the state and was arresting far more black students than others for the same crimes.

It resulted in a drop in student arrests and in increase in graduation rates, but received criticism after the shooting that the lax discipline may have contributed to Cruz being able to legally purchase an AR-15 rifle used in the shooting.

Records also showed that Cruz was not arrested despite failing to attend a three-day placement at Pine Ridge Alternative Center in Fort Lauderdale, meaning he did not complete the program.

As part of its report, the commission cited repeated discontent for Obama-era guidelines set in 2014 to alert school districts of potential civil rights law violations if black students or students of other racial minorities are suspended, expelled or disciplined in other ways at higher rates than white students.

The Promise program was established a year before the Obama guidelines were established, but has been viewed as an early example of the kind of initiatives schools may implement to lessen the racial disparities in regard to discipline.

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Ingram said it is important for state and federal legislators to examine the Promise program and similar initiatives on an individual basis.

"Some of these programs work, and we do need to take a look and see what the best practices are around the state so that we can make sure that lawmakers know exactly what works, and if they're going to propagate laws around those kind of interventions, then they need to know what works from the local vantage point," he said.

Ingram added that schools can also achieve safety by focusing on the mental health of their students through investments in school counselors and mental health experts.

"That's where we need to start," he said. "That's what will help our schools become safer places and the safe havens we expect them to be."

Law enforcement

The Broward County Sheriff's Office received the brunt of the blame for failing both to respond to reports of Cruz's threatening behavior and to quell the shooting once it began.

About a week after the shooting, then-Broward Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson resigned after then-Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said he never entered the school building where the shooting was taking place.

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Peterson was inside another building at the school when the shooting began. He remained outside the building for "upwards of 4 minutes," Israel said. The shooting lasted about 6 minutes.

Peterson was suspended without pay following a review of his actions, but Israel said the deputy chose to resign.

In December, BSO made changes to its active shooter protocol, including altering language in what is expected of deputies in active shooting situations to indicate they "shall" attempt to enter the scene and intervene rather than "may."

Israel told the commission in November he personally included the word "may" in the old policy to prevent deputies from entering situations that would result in certain death and allow them to "think on their feet."

Shortly after taking office in January, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fired Israel, saying he "repeatedly failed and has demonstrated a pattern of poor leadership."

DeSantis appointed former Coral Springs police Sgt. Gregory Tony, 40, to replace Israel.

Tony told The Miami Herald part of his job as the county's new sheriff is restoring faith in his office.

"We need to tell the public there was a failure here, but no complacency in fixing things," Tony said. "The confidence aspect was absolutely shattered and will take time to rebuild. As we look back at Feb. 14, 2018, this is a chance to get it right."

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He also said his first priority would be to train his deputies to prepare for the possibility of another campus shooting.

"Coral Springs and Parkland didn't think it could happen, just as Columbine and Sandy Hook didn't think it could happen, but it continues to happen," Tony said. "Be prepared so you don't have to get prepared."

Two other BSO resource officers were placed on restricted assignment in an investigation into how they handled calls regarding Cruz and his family members.

Campus monitor Andrew Medina, who knew Cruz because he attended the school, was also fired after he failed to confront him when he arrived on campus that day. Fellow monitor David Taylor was fired after he hid in a closet after Cruz opened fire.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom in December dismissed a lawsuit filed by 15 student survivors who said they were traumatized by the shooting, ruling the school district and sheriff's office had no legal duty to protect them.

Bloom determined Broward County Public Schools, BSO, Peterson and Medina didn't have a constitutional authority to protect students who were not in custody.

Broward County Judge Patti Englander Henning issued a contradictory verdict in a civil case filed by the family of Meadow Pollack, who was killed in the shooting.

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Henning rejected Peterson's claim he had "no legal duty" to protect the students and faculty and found he had a duty to the school community as someone hired to serve in security and an "obligation to act reasonably" under the circumstances of the shooting.

The FBI also acknowledged lapses in its response to events leading up to the shooting. Acting Deputy Director David Bowditch told U.S. senators in March that the agency had previously received tips about Cruz.

The FBI said it received a tip in January at its call center about Cruz. The caller provided information about Cruz's gun ownership, a "desire to kill people," erratic behavior and "disturbing" social media posts and it also received an email warning in September saying someone with Cruz's name posted plans to be "a professional school shooter" on his YouTube page.

Bowditch said the call taker conferred with her supervisor and made some sort of a presentation about what was contained in that call, but ultimately no call was made to inform local law enforcement.

In November, the Sun-Sentinel reported that the FBI didn't attend a meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission and failed to provide information it had promised to send regarding the mishandling of the tips.

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School personnel

Members of the Broward County Public Schools as well as Douglas faculty also came under fire after the shooting.

In November, the district announced Assistant Principals Jeff Morford, Winfred Porter Jr. and Denise Reed and security specialist Kelvin Greenleaf were reassigned to other district "administrative locations."

The decision came after a security review revealed communication failures and untimely responses by the staff during the shooting.

News of the reassignments was met by protests from about 60 teachers and almost 300 students who stood outside the school campus the next day and chanted, "We want them back!"

Although he remains in his position, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie has faced criticism, including calls for his resignation.

DeSantis has considered whether he can remove Runcie from his post, but has said he doesn't believe he has the power to suspend him.

Earlier this month, about a dozen parents protested Runcie's leadership, as he faces criticism for decisions such as reversing the plan to install metal detectors and canceling a public meeting organized by a parent group at Douglas in exchange for a series of private meetings.

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