By Anne Geggis
Families of those killed or injured in the 2018 Parkland massacre got one step closer to holding the FBI accountable for its handling of tips involving the teenage shooter, a federal court decision released on Monday shows.
Twenty-three Parkland families are part of a suit against the FBI, charging that bungled tips failed to prevent the tragedy that killed 17 and wounded 17. The government has moved to have the suit thrown out, saying the government can’t be sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act under Florida law. That law allows people to sue the government in federal court under some circumstances.
But U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas found that the FBI could be found liable for bungling tips involving the school shooter.
A lawyer representing Philip and April Schentrup, whose daughter, Carmen, died in the tragedy, applauded the ruling.
“It’s rare to get this to this phase” of holding the government accountable for failing to act,” attorney Robert Stein said, noting that law enforcement can’t always be expected to anticipate trouble. But there should be some standards for action when circumstances present themselves.
“I think it’s really well deserved … The families are going on two years with no real satisfaction that people have been held accountable for their part in Parkland shooting,” Stein added.
A tip to the FBI that came from a bail bondsman reported that someone who signed himself “nikolas cruz” posted on the bondsman’s YouTube.com that he wanted to be a “professional school shooter. The investigation of that was closed after a month, in October 2017.
Not much more than a month before the shooting, on Jan. 5 2018, another tip came from someone who knew the shooter well. She called the Public Access Line, (PAL) that is supposed to be a centralized system for the public to report law enforcement concerns.
She reported her concerns about the teenager’s behavior in urgent and specific detail, court papers say. She also told the line that Cruz behaved erratically, had a history of violence, had voiced a specific desire to kill people, and was likely to target his former high school in Parkland.
“The PAL’s responses to the tipster had the effect of assuring her that the FBI would take the appropriate investigating action – at the very least, look into the threat and potentially follow up with her,” the decision reads. “The FBI failed to document the information it had received from the Jan. 5, 2018 caller … The tip never reached the FBI’s agents and analysts, including those at the local FBI Field Office in Miami … where additional investigative steps would have been taken.”
Fred Guttenberg, who originally filed the suit, referred questions to his lawyer. Another plaintiff is expected to join the suit, Stein said. Anthony Borges, who survived the hail of bullets, but still has lasting injuries, will likely be the 24th plaintiff by next week, Stein added.
His father, Rory Borges, also referred questions to his lawyer.
The government is required to respond to the ruling within 14 days.
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- Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun-Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.
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