Legal experts believe law enforcement could have — and should have — prevented the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, if they would have taken the shooter’s threats and a series of red flags seriously.
First, what has law enforcement claimed?
In the nearly two weeks following the shooting, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has claimed they couldn’t take action against the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, prior to his massacre — despite numerous red flags.
“In the interest of full transparency, we are making available the list of all 23 calls for service at the [shooter’s] home. 18 involved [the shooter]. None appeared arrestable under Florida law. However, two of the calls remain under internal investigation,” the agency wrote on its Twitter account Friday.
Those red flags include, according to latest reports, at least 45 interactions with Cruz in the years preceding the shooting, multiple online threats — including one on YouTube where he threatened to “be a professional school shooter” — and anonymous tipsters who were concerned the shooter was “going to explode.” The last tip was made to the FBI just last month.
The shooter also threatened people many times, including one instance where he placed a gun to someone’s head. He also posted threatening messages on social media and photos of his arsenal.
All the while, Broward County law enforcement has maintained, just as they did on Friday, that their legal hands were tied.
“I don’t know that the signs were missed. This isn’t science fiction. We’re not allowed to arrest on what a person thinks about on pre-crimes,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told WPLG-TV earlier in February.
But numerous law enforcement and legal experts who spoke to the Miami Herald believe the shooting could have been prevented had law enforcement done its job.
What did they say?
Former Miami-Dade prosecutor Marshall Dore Louis said, “The idea that they were aware of it and could do nothing is absurd.”
According to the Herald, one of the key “missteps” in the shooter’s case was a threat he made in 2016 to shoot up his school. Experts said the tip should have been forwarded to a detective in the Broward Intelligence Unit. Instead, it was forwarded to school resource officer Scot Peterson, who did nothing.
John Priovolos, a former Miami prosecutor, explained:
The standard isn’t whether that information itself was “arrestable” but whether law enforcement had an obligation to investigate a violation of the law. A detective should have been assigned. Subpoenas should have been sent to Instagram to locate the IP address and verify it was Cruz.
Cruz could have been arrested — maybe he would have been diverted to a mental-health court, but he would have been under some sort of supervision. At the very least, the most capable intelligence detectives should have been monitoring him.
Regarding threats the shooter allegedly made to specific people, Louis told the Herald personal threats violate Florida law and are an arrestable offense.
Indeed, Florida criminal law says that threats to kill or do serious bodily harm to someone — whether anonymous or not, personal or impersonal — are a second-degree felony. That law alone could have stopped the shooter from carrying out his massacre since felons are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms.
Louis also explained that some of the shooter’s online threats constituted felony aggravated cyberstalking, which also would have prevented the shooter from possessing firearms since Broward County requires people charged with that crime to surrender all firearms as a condition of bail.