Did the Broward School District and the Broward Sheriff’s Office have a duty to protect the kids and teachers killed and wounded in the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? Not according to a federal judge nominated by Barack Obama in 2014. The Orlando Sentinel reports:
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed a suit filed by 15 students who claimed they were traumatized by the crisis in February. The suit named six defendants, including the Broward school district and the Broward Sheriff’s Office, as well as school deputy Scot Peterson and campus monitor Andrew Medina.
Bloom ruled that the two agencies had no constitutional duty to protect students who were not in custody.
‘The claim arises from the actions of [shooter Nikolas] Cruz, a third party, and not a state actor,’ she wrote in a ruling Dec. 12. ‘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’ — for example, as prisoners or patients of a mental hospital, she wrote.
This ruling is based, at least in part, on long-settled precedent, but more on that shortly.
Peterson was the only armed person at the school when Cruz showed up with an assault rifle and murdered 17 people, in addition to wounding 17 more. Peterson has been widely vilified for taking refuge outside the schooland 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 claimed. [skip]
Kristoffer R. Budhram of Jacksonville, who represented the students, said in an emailed statement: ‘We respectfully disagree with Judge Bloom’s decision to dismiss our clients’ case. This case is about protecting the Constitutional rights of individuals who were the victims of one of the worst mass shootings in this country’s history.
We are exploring all of our options for ensuring that they get their day in court, including appealing Judge Bloom’s decision,’ Budhram wrote.
There is also a conflicting ruling:
Bloom’s ruling contrasts with the action of a Broward County judge last week.
In that case, Peterson’s lawyer sought to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Meadow Pollack, one of 17 people killed in the shooting. Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning rejected his argument that Peterson had “no legal duty” to protect the students and faculty.
Englander Henning found that Peterson had a duty to the school community as someone whose job was security and who had an ‘obligation to act reasonably’ under the circumstances of the shooting.
The judge also found Peterson was not protected from the lawsuit by ‘sovereign immunity,’ a legal doctrine that shields public employees from legal action based on their official conduct.
Joel Perwin, Pollack’s attorney, said: ‘We don’t think it’s even debatable that Peterson had a duty to these students. Peterson’s disclaimer of any legal responsibility is a mirror of his abdication of his responsibility for these kids,’ he said.
What seems clear is that the police, which would include former Deputy Peterson—despite his job assignment, he was clearly a commissioned police officer whose allegiance was to the Broward Sheriff’s Office–have no legal duty to protect any given citizen, including school children. This is an issue I addressed for PJ Media back in 2011.
The Supreme Court case that decided the issue was Castlerock v. Gonzalez (2005). The incident took place in Castlerock, Colorado. Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez were estranged, and she had been given full custody of their three young daughters, and granted a restraining order to keep him away. He took the children from her yard, and over the course of many hours, she pled with the police to enforce the custody and restraining orders—she had copies to show them—but officer after officer ignored her. She eventually went to the police station to continue to beg for their help. The last officer she saw did take action: he went to lunch. Several hours later, Gonzalez attacked the police station, firing on it with a handgun he bought hours earlier. The police finally did something: they helped him commit suicide by cop by shooting and killing him. A short distance away, they found his pickup truck, and in it, the bodies of his three daughters. He killed them hours earlier.
The case wound its way through the lower courts, and eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which issued the aforementioned decision. One might think this insane, but it is rational and necessary. If police officers could be held responsible for bad things that happened to citizens, how could any city afford a police department? Who would become a police officer knowing they would spend every minute of every day, and every dollar they had or ever would have, fending off lawsuits? Absent a special relationship, such as that mentioned by Judge Bloom, sorry, but one can’t sue police officers for failing to protect them
The Parkland case does, however, pose interesting questions. Depending on state laws, government officials, including schools officials, are often granted some form of immunity from lawsuits. In this case, two judges have already disagreed on this issue. The law is clear as to police officers, but far less clear as to school officials. School officials/employees can be sued for a variety of torts in various states, which is reasonable. But the issue in this case is broader.
If schools are negligent in their security efforts and students—or teachers—die as a result of that negligence, should they be civilly liable? But they can’t predict when some crazy person might attack! True, but any reasonable school official should understand it is absolutely possible, and can occur at any time and place. They should also understand that the danger of copycat attacks has never been greater.
Because fires can occur anywhere at any time, schools do fire drills and have many fire extinguishers. Failing to take such reasonable and necessary precautions would surely subject schools to civil liability. Why should failure to protect against death by gunfire, or other manifestations of violence, be different?
The most interesting, and potentially deadly, factor in all of this is going to be the very nature of contemporary education and educrat/educators Many school districts are run and staffed primarily by leftists. Such people tend to fear, even hate, guns and those that own them. Their political philosophy leads them to reflexively demand guns be banned, ostensibly to protect children. Their political philosophy also forces them to relentlessly oppose any attempt to arm willing teachers and other staff. School Attack? Ban guns. No school attack? Ban guns.
To normal, rational Americans, this would seem an obvious contradiction: guns must be banned because children are dying, but we cannot use guns to keep children from dying. This ignores many salient facts, such as law-abiding gun owners—the overwhelming majority—pose no threat to anyone, and will never shoot up schools. Inanimate objects have no moral agency, only the human beings that use them for good or ill do. Leftists see no contradiction, because guns bad, gun owners even more bad, and most of all, because shut up. This leads some of them to actually argue schools should not allow police officers on site, and when they do, those law enforcement officers should be disarmed, because the mere presence of guns somehow disturbs a pristine educational atmosphere, rendering teachers unable to teach and students unable to learn. Visit this 2015 article I wrote for The Truth About Guns on the report by a mental health commission on the Sandy Hook attack for an illustration of that mindset–such as it is. An excerpt from that report:
Being in a place/space where one feels secure allows the focus to be on the school‘s mission and the roles teachers and students need and want to fulfill. Self-protection from perceived threats requires expenditures of deleterious and defensive negative energy, a fundamentally subtle distraction from core school activities and accomplishments.
We certainly would not want “deleterious and defensive negative energy,” such as that which would deter attacks and save lives–that might not feel good. Such people are focused on feelings and appearances, not reality, and not the lives of teachers and children, This ideology causes leftists to argue teachers cannot carry guns because they’ll shoot children (why were such unstable people hired in the first place?), and because teachers must focus every second of their attention and energy on teaching. They cannot possibly bear the burden of carrying a concealed weapon, which they might have to use to save their lives and the lives of children, for a few minutes of a career–if an attack occurs.
For them to admit staff carrying concealed weapons can not only deter attacks but save lives would be an admission that the philosophy by which they have lived their lives is wrong, and foolishly, dangerously so. Every brick in the Leftist wall must remain in place lest the entire edifice collapse.
“Negative Energy” is at its peak when a madman enters a school and starts shooting innocent children and teachers, and they have no means of stopping him.
Many judges, particularly those of the same philosophy, would be loath to allow a lawsuit against schools for acting on the philosophy they share, even if that means leaving children and teachers open to attack in the future. The consequence of this line of thinking would make it impossible for survivors of slain children and teachers to sue schools for failing to take rational, necessary steps to safeguard them. The status quo would give leftist educators no reason to change their ways. The law and the Constitution don’t matter. The law is what leftist judges and politicians say it is, because feelings and intentions matter far more than reality and results.
A Federal Commission On School Safety, chaired by Education Secretary Vetsy DeVos recently released its report, and did not mention the Parkland attack, nor did they mention the Obama-Era mandates that prevented students, particularly Blacks and Hispanics, from suffering any consequences for their in-school crimes. Real Clear Investigations reports:
It’s appalling,’ said one parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘The depth of their cowardice and incompetence is astonishing,’ said an education consultant who worked with both Parkland parents and the commission and who also requested anonymity. [skip]
“Lawyers of families suing the school district and county sheriff’s office for negligence say they had hoped for an acknowledgement of government culpability. ‘It would strengthen the case’ against the government agencies, said Alex Arreaza, attorney for survivor Anthony Borges, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who was shot five times during the massacre.
‘As a lawyer, I don’t find it difficult to make the causal connection’ — between the shooting and the policy – ‘but I can see that there was politics involved’ in not making the connection, Arreaza said.
Referring to the federal commission, he added, ‘They didn’t want to rock the boat more than it has already been rocked.”
Obviously, even in the Trump Administration, cabinet officers fear false charges of racism. Racism actually inheres in those that believe Blacks and Hispanics cannot be expected or required to behave in a civilized manner, learn much of anything or obey the law.
Normal Americans are unsophisticated enough to think the Second Amendment says what it means and means what it says, so when teachers are allowed to bear arms in the defense of themselves and their families until they approach a school property boundary, they are disquieted. Why should teachers enjoy the right to self-defense virtually everywhere but at school? Do their lives and the lives of their families lose their value on school grounds? Are children similarly worthless based on geography?
Circa 2019, most American schools are ruled by leftist anti-gun/safety ideology. Instead of implementing the only sure way to deter and stop attacks, they employ feel-good security theater, spending untold millions on “security experts” who advise them to run, hide, lock doors, and when all of that fails and they are confronted in confined spaces where all are easily shot and killed, to attack a killer, armed only with whatever one might find in a classroom. To date, books, pencils, staplers and rulers have not deterred attackers.
The litigation of the Parkland attack might plow new legal ground, forcing schools to employ methods that actually provide safety rather than feckless security theater that only makes leftists feel safe. However, powerful interests in politics, education, and the judiciary, will be working against actual safety, just as they always have. They may give lip service to the fate of dead children, but those bodies aren’t their children, so they’re suitable fodder for anti-liberty/gun politics.