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Judge: Broward Schools, Police Had No Duty to Protect Students During Shooting

The judge ruled liability only applies to those who are involuntarily committed, not students “with the ability to take care of themselves.”

Judge: Broward Schools, Police Had No Duty to Protect Students During Shooting

A week earlier, a different judge ruled school resource officer Scot Peterson had a legal duty to protect students.

A federal judge says Broward schools and the Sheriff’s Office were not responsible for protecting students during the Feb. shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed a lawsuit filed by 15 MSD students, claiming they suffered trauma during the shooting.

Bloom ruled liability only applies to incarcerated prisoners or those who are involuntarily committed, not students “with the ability to take care of themselves.”

“The claim arises from the actions of [shooter Nikolas] Cruz, a third party, and not a state actor,” she wrote in her Dec. 12 ruling. “Thus, the critical question the Court analyzes is whether defendants had a constitutional duty to protect plaintiffs from the actions of Cruz.”

The suit named six defendants, including the Broward school district, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, school resource officer Scot Peterson and campus monitor Andrew Medina, reports The New York Times.

“His arbitrary and conscience-shocking actions and inactions directly and predictably caused children to die, get injured, and get traumatized,” the lawsuit said of Peterson, who has been ridiculed for not entering the school as the gunman opened fire.

Conversely, the week prior, Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning rejected Peterson’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Meadow Pollock, one of the 17 people killed in the shooting. Peterson’s lawyer argued he had “no legal duty” to protect students and faculty, according to The Sun Sentinel.

Englander Henning ruled Peterson had a duty to the school community as someone whose job was security and who had an “obligation to act reasonably” during the shooting.

The students’ lawsuit further argued that the Sheriff’s Office and school board “either have a policy that allows killers to walk through a school killing people without being stopped. Alternatively, they have such inadequate training that the individuals tasked with carrying out the policies lack the basic fundamental understandings of what those policies are such that they are incapable of carrying them out.”

Officers from the Coral Springs Police Department claim when they arrived at the shooting scene, three Broward deputies were behind their vehicles with their pistols drawn but did not enter the building as the attack unfolded.

However, police officers are not legally obligated to protect citizens who are not in their custody, according to Darren Hutchinson, a professor and associate dean at the University of Florida School of Law.

“Neither the Constitution nor state law impose a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individual persons from harm — even when they know the harm will occur,” said Hutchinson. “Police can watch someone attack you, refuse to intervene and not violate the Constitution.”

Kristoffer Budhram, who represents the students who filed the lawsuit, says they plan to appeal Bloom’s decision.

About the Author

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Amy Rock is Campus Safety's senior editor. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Education.

She has worked in the publishing industry since 2011, in both events and digital marketing.

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5 responses to “Judge: Broward Schools, Police Had No Duty to Protect Students During Shooting”

  1. Mel Bollinger says:

    Um, really?? In what world is this right?? The judge obviously has absolutely NO loved ones WHATSOEVER!! And if police are not responsible for the public’s safety, then just exactly what does the public pay them for again??

  2. A.G. says:

    It has nothing to do with the judge’s loved ones. She ruled based on the law, not feelings. As pointed out in the article, no federal or state law mandates a Police Officer endangers themselves to a member of the public. Many do, as they are as a whole selfless individuals, but having a law that dictates them to do so is a law that potentially forces them to essentially commit suicide. They could be fired for failure to follow departmental policies and procedures, but you can’t legislate away an individuals ability to choose how to respond to a potentially life-ending situation.

    The public is always the party most responsible for the safety of the public.

  3. Officer Disgruntled says:

    So Mel, you are saying a Police Officer’s life is worth less, than someone else’s life? The public pay?? I work 3 jobs and 80 hrs a week, just to break 50k a year…And yes, I’m an Officer and I’m an Officer at a school….and I am a good one.
    Personally, I would lay my life down for ANY of my students and staff……I will always run toward the gunfire for my students….they are like my own kids…..but that is ME….and that is the difference between Officers like me and Officers like Peterson, or most people….but that doesn’t make him liable for the gunman that shot up the school…cmon!!…..this ideology is exactly what is wrong with this country and this world…”blame somebody else”…lets be lawsuit happy, cause that is the answer?? No, it isn’t….No matter how little we think of this Officer…. And now in the court of public opinion, Officers are “required” to die in order to protect you? You, the public, the same people that bash the Police every chance you get?? I don’t think so….Guess what, it is a choice if I want to lay my life down for someone else… I bet my big ole’ “Public” paycheck that you wouldn’t jump in front of that gunfire. Most wouldn’t…Most people wouldn’t last a day wearing the uniform and deal with a “Public that pays them” while they are cussing at you, and trying to take your job everyday…POLICE ARE NORMAL PEOPLE, with families, mortgages, bills, and all the other stuff life throws us…..most are GREAT people….just by having the drive to want to wear that uniform to help the Public deserves respect, at least….unfortunately a very, very small number are crappy, but you show me any profession and I will show you someone that is doing that job that shouldn’t be…. No job nor courtroom is going to say that ANYONE should be required to take a bullet for another person. That Mel, is what is wrong…..that is a very slippery slope… And if we get to that point, “the public” will lose a lot of great Officers, because I, for one, would turn in my badge…..and this thought process from the public is what is keeping a lot of great people away from becoming great Officers……

  4. Joe says:

    How about these two concepts. First, students do not have a choice as to whether they need to go to school. Attendance is mandatory. Some would say that mandatory, compulsory presence for the purpose of education is the last example of slavery in this country. (Hold the thought for a moment that it might be good for the students.) Mandatory work, for no pay, with no choice is a definition of slavery. In the 1700 and 1800’s many slave owners argued that their slaves were better of in slavery than they would be if they were free. It can be argued that the work required of students is forced upon them buy parents, or the society which mandates their presence in school and for which they receive no remuneration. The second concept is called “in loco parentis” which is Latin for “in place of parents.” If parents have a responsibility for the safety of their children, and I think they do, then a person or institution acting in their place (especially if neither the children, parents, or the institution, have any choice in the matter) must also be responsible for their safety. I understand that the Judge’s ruling is based on a SCOTUS ruling that law enforcement agencies do not have a duty to protect a particular individual. Still, I think the judge is wrong, and these ideas make the whole issue something to think about from a different perspective.

  5. Don says:

    Like stated by the judge the state has no duty to “protect” any set people but rather itself. Crimes are always against the state. Hence the reason they ask if the victim wants to press charges on many crimes. The wording on patrol cars are a misnomer. Really police are charged with pursuing criminals after they commit crimes and get them to the court for punishment.
    Doesn’t mean most officers are unwilling to risk life and limb to attempt to protect its citizens, just thst the law didn’t make them.

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