Dec. 18 (UPI) — A federal judge dismissed a civil lawsuit filed by student survivors of a shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school, ruling the school district and sheriff’s office had no legal duty to protect them.
Fifteen students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School said they were traumatized by the shooting on Feb. 14 in which 17 people died, according to the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom determined Broward County Public Schools, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, retired school resource officer Scot Peterson and fired campus monitor Andrew Medina didn’t have a constitutional authority to protect students not in custody. Peterson was employed by the sheriff’s office and Medina by the school district.
Nikolas Cruz is being held on charges he killed 14 students and three faculty members and wounded 17 others with an assault rifle. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.
“The claim arises from the actions of Cruz, a third party, and not a state actor,” Bloom wrote in a ruling Wednesday. “Thus, the critical question the court analyzes is whether defendants had a constitutional duty to protect plaintiffs from the actions of Cruz.
“As previously stated, for such a duty to exist on the part of defendants, plaintiffs would have to be considered to be in custody.”
That would include prisoners or patients of a mental hospital, she wrote.
Peterson, who was fired from his position, has been criticized for taking refuge outside the school and not confronting Cruz.
“His arbitrary and conscience-shocking actions and inactions directly and predictably caused children to die, get injured, and get traumatized,” the lawsuit said.
Medina, who knew Cruz when he attended the school, did not confront him when he arrived on campus.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that the sheriff’s office and school board have a policy of allowing “killers to walk through a school killing people” or they “carry out such inadequate training of the individuals expected in such situations.”
Also Wednesday in another civil case, Broward County Judge Patti Englander Henning rejected Peterson’s claim he had “no legal duty” to protect the students and faculty in a lawsuit filed by the family of Meadow Pollack, who was killed in the shooting.
Instead, Englander Henning found that Peterson 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.
Peterson was not protected from the lawsuit by “sovereign immunity,” which is a legal doctrine that shields public employees from legal action based on their official conduct, the judge ruled.
By not dismissing the case, it will move forward.
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