Hours of surveillance footage captured outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during February’s mass shooting must be released to the public, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The Broward School Board had sought to block the release of the footage, arguing that it will expose the blind spots in the surveillance systems in place at the Parkland high school and other campuses throughout the county.
The State Attorney’s Office also objected to the release, calling the records a part of an active criminal investigation.
Media outlets, including the South Florida Sun Sentinel, argued that the video should be released as a public record that may shed light on the law enforcement response to the shooting as it unfolded.
Shooter Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school, faces the death penalty if convicted of 17 counts of first-degree murder. During his rampage, he also wounded 17 other victims.
“It’s a sad commentary on our times that there must be a full and open public discussion about the type of security system that is appropriate for a large public high school and the appropriate law enforcement response to an active shooter on a high school campus,” Fourth District Court of Appeal Judge Robert Gross wrote in the opinion.
“Parents have such a high stake in the ultimate decisions that they must have access to camera video footage here at issue,” he added, “and not blindly rely on school board experts to make decisions for them.”
The footage under review specifically does not include anything depicting victims or the shooting itself.
Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey R. Levenson had already released some video in March. It showed then-School Resource Officer Scot Peterson, a deputy, standing and waiting outside the school building during the shooting.
Peterson was heavily criticized for his response and resigned days after the shooting. He has been named as a defendant in one federal lawsuit and at least one state lawsuit filed by victims of the tragedy.
After the initial video release, a detailed timeline of events issued by the sheriff’s office led the media organizations to believe additional footage showing the response of other law enforcement officers should have been released.
Levenson ultimately agreed, finding that the value to the public outweighed the concerns of the school board and prosecutors.
The sheriff’s office, which did not object to the release as long as it was court-ordered, has until Friday to comply with the appeals court order.
The State Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the ruling. The attorney for the Broward School Board did not reply to a request for comment.
Two other judges are considering how much information to release to the public in the Parkland school shooting case.
Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning is weighing whether the public should get to see all or part of a school district report that relies heavily on Cruz’s educational record. The report was commissioned by the school board to determine whether officials could or should have known enough to intervene before the shooting.
And in the criminal case, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer has been asked by the defense to block the public release of the statement Cruz gave to investigators following his arrest on Feb. 14.
Both judges said they will give lawyers a chance to appeal their rulings once they have decided.