Broward County, FL – Coral Springs police officers have accused four deputies of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) of staying outside behind cover instead of running towards danger to stop the active shooter, CNN reported.
Coral Springs police sources allegedly told CNN that when their police officers arrived on the scene of the active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, three additional Broward County deputies were outside the school, with their pistols drawn, taking cover behind their police vehicles.
It’s not clear who this source is or why they chose to speak with CNN.
Coral Springs police, joined by a Sunrise police officer and some new Broward County deputies who arrived on the scene after them, were the first law enforcement officers to attempt entry into the building – but even then, the Broward deputies already on the scene stayed behind, CNN reported.
Some of the Coral Springs Police were “stunned and upset” that the four Broward County deputies who arrived first at the high school under siege did not join them when they entered the school, according to CNN.
The resentment mounted between the two departments after the incident ended, as BCSO took the credit for the things that were handled well on that tragic day.
Coral Springs police saw the actions of the sheriff’s office as “dereliction of duty,” rather than as a successful response to an active shooter situation, CNN reported.
Emotions boiled over at the big candlelight vigil on Feb. 15, when Coral Springs City Manager Mike Goodrum confronted Broward County Scott Sheriff Israel in front of dozens of grieving community members.
Sources told CNN that Goodrum said he was upset that the Broward County deputies had remained outside the school “while kids inside could have been bleeding out.”
The day after the vigil, Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi sent out an internal email addressing the concerns. CNN got a copy of it.
“I understand that another agency has given the impression that it had provided the majority of the rescue efforts, and that the tremendous work of the Coral Springs Police and Fire Departments has not been recognized,” Chief Pustizzi wrote.
“Please know that this issue will be addressed, and the truth will come out in time. The focus for us now, however, must be on healing — for ourselves, our families, our community and those residents surrounding us,” the chief’s email read.
“While recognition is not the reason we choose to do what we do, our Commission, City Manager and residents are well aware of the actions our members took in the face of danger and the heroes that you are,” Chief Pustizzi wrote to his officers.
In the nine days that have followed the horrific shooting spree by a former student of the high school, information has slowly been released to the public about what actually happened in the wake of the attack on the campus.
On Thursday, Sheriff Israel announced that the school resource officer had taken cover outside the freshman building while a former student murdered 17 students and faculty in the hallways and classrooms.
Sheriff Israel said Deputy Scot Peterson, a 23-year veteran of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, should have “went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.
The sheriff was already facing strong criticism about his department’s handling of complaints about 19-year-old school shooter Nikolas Cruz.
Sheriff Israel has acknowledged his office received 23 calls about Cruz over the past 10 years – including one last year about his gun and knife collection – but they didn’t follow up and investigate the future mass murderer, The New York Times reported.
He announced that he’d placed two additional deputies on restricted duty on Thursday. They were investigating the deputies’ alleged failure to properly handle tips about the would-be school shooter over the past two years, the sheriff said.
BCSO wasn’t the only agency who ignored warning signs of Cruz’s intentions, according to The New York Times.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has admitted it was warned twice in four months, during the fall of 2017, that Cruz had talked about committing a school shooting, but failed to properly investigate the allegations on either occasion.
The Broward County Schools had Cruz’ disciplinary record dating back to middle school before he was expelled the prior year for threatening another student.
Even the Florida Department of Children and Families had been asked to investigate Cruz after he posted about cutting himself on social media.
Authorities plan to investigate the overall failure of the system to properly process all the warnings that may have prevented the shooting spree on Valentine’s Day.
They are also investigating what happened in the minutes that followed immediately after Cruz opened fire on his former classmates, as investigators comb through hours of surveillance video, and police and news helicopter footage captured of the scene.
The anonymous officer’s allegations of dereliction of duty by the deputies will have to be thoroughly investigated, and a determination needs to be made about what exactly BCSO’s policy was for responding to an active shooter situation.
“Over the course of the next few weeks, we’re going to be doing our timelines and working with the sheriff’s office to determine any types of things we could have done better. Things that we could learn from … Every time we have a serious event, we look at everything. We hawk it,” Chief Pustizzi told reporters at a Coral Springs press conference on Feb. 22.
“We try to make sure that we learn from not only our own mistakes, but anything that anybody else does so we don’t repeat those mistakes. And we’re going to be doing in depth reviews of everything, after-action reports,” the chief said.
Prior to the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999, the protocol for an active shooter situation was for officers to surround the scene and wait for the SWAT team to arrive to make entry.
However, Columbine “changed everything,” according to retired Metro Transit Police SWAT Commander William Malone.
“First, they told us to assemble a team of four, and enter that way. But that wasn’t quick enough,” Malone said.
“So they changed tactics again – the first officer on the scene should grab a long gun, spare magazines or ammunition, enter the building, and go to the sound of gunshots,” he said.
“The sooner the confrontation takes place, the sooner the killing stops,” Malone said.
An immediate entry to the scene became an accepted police practice nationwide about a year after Columbine proved prior strategies completely ineffective, the former SWAT commander said.
“You don’t have time to wait for a SWAT team. There are people who need to be rescued. Even if the shooting has stopped, there’s no guarantee it won’t start up again. The first officers on the scene need to take action immediately,” Malone said.
It’s not clear at this time if the deputies received the updated training or were given the proper equipment to handle a shooter armed with a rifle.
Coral Spring Police Department released a statement Friday evening clarifying that the accusations against Broward County deputies did not originate as an official message from their office.
“The Coral Springs Police Department is aware of media reports published regarding Broward Sheriff’s Deputies who responded to the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018,” the statement said. “The Coral Springs Police Department has not made any official statements to media regarding these allegations as it is still an open and active investigation being handled by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.”
“Our police department has continued to work alongside the Broward Sheriff’s Office to assist in any investigation pertaining to this incident,” the statement went on. “The Coral Springs Police Department has a tremendous working relationship with the men and women of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, and while we are being transparent through this investigation, everyone should respect the process. There were countless deputies and officers who responded on that fateful day from multiple jurisdictions, whose actions were nothing short of heroic. As already reported, any action or inaction that negatively affected the response will be investigated thoroughly, and the information will be released officially from the proper agency spokesperson.”