Fact-checking Broward Sheriff Scott Israel’s 'fact-checks' about Parkland shooting

Law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Facing scrutiny over its handling of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, and its interactions with shooter Nikolas Cruz, the Broward Sheriff’s Office has pushed back with a new website to fact-check certain criticisms against the agency.

Well, it’s time for a fact-check of those fact-checks.

Our review shows that some of the claims about the sheriff’s office response remain in dispute and may not be clear until investigations are complete. That said, some of the sheriff’s claims appear to hold up based on available information. Others are missing some important details.

Sheriff defends response to ‘missed countless warning signs’ but omits pending investigations

The Broward Sheriff’s Office is under scrutiny for its actions, or lack thereof, regarding more than a dozen calls concerning Cruz before the school shooting. The sheriff’s office’s fact-check said there was nothing to arrest Cruz over in those instances.

But at least two of those police interactions are under internal investigation and review, according to the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Scott Israel on Feb. 22 also said he placed two deputies on restricted duty as it investigated "whether or not they could have done more or should have done more" about the calls.

In two calls under review, received in February 2016 and November 2017, the sheriff’s office was told of concerns that Cruz would conduct a school shooting.

"Third-hand information received from neighbor’s son that Nikolas Cruz planned to shoot up the school on Instagram (Picture of juvenile with guns). One month time delay. Unknown high school. Cruz lives in area," said the synopsis for a February 2016 call.

Information about the call was forwarded to the school resource officer, a Broward deputy. The Miami Herald reported that the information was not also forwarded to a detective bureau or Broward’s Intelligence Unit, tasked with routinely monitoring possible violent offenders who post online.

The synopsis of the November 2017 call says: "Caller advised subject Nikolas Cruz is collecting guns and knives. Cruz wants to join the Army. Concerned he will kill himself one day and believes he could be a school shooter in the making. Caller advised Cruz was no longer living at the listed Parkland address and is now living in Lake Worth, FL. Believes the weapons are kept at a friends house at an unknown location."

Details posted by the sheriff’s office for the November 2017 call say a deputy contacted the caller (located in Massachusetts); that no report was initiated; and that in an interview after the shooting, the deputy said he had referred the caller to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office (where Lake Worth is located).

Sheriff says it is "false" that deputies were ordered to only enter school with body cameras

In its fact-check, the sheriff’s office denies that the sheriff told deputies not to enter Stoneman Douglas "unless body cameras were on."

"Any suggestion that Sheriff Scott Israel or any other deputy from the Broward Sheriff’s Office ordered body cameras to be turned on prior to entering the school is false," the website says.

We traced the claim about a body-camera rule to Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show on Feb. 26. Ingraham cited information from unnamed sources, which means PolitiFact can’t evaluate those sources.

But so far Ingraham is the only person making that claim, so far bringing it up twice. "We have two well-placed sources tell us that in fact it was the case that they were told not to enter unless they had their body cameras on," she said March 6.

The timeline of emergency dispatchers shows no mention of body cameras.

On March 8, the sheriff’s office released a seven-page timeline of the afternoon of the shooting starting with an Uber record showing Cruz arrived at the school at 2:19 p.m. and ending when he was arrested at 3:40 p.m. The timeline is based on what was seen on the security video and heard by dispatchers for the sheriff’s office and Coral Springs police and fire departments, and includes statements by law enforcement at the scene. The timeline shows no directions by dispatchers or law enforcement about body cameras.

Currently, about 73 percent of deputies wear the body cameras, said Broward Major Jon Appel. The agency intends to outfit the remaining deputies with body cameras in the future. The sheriff’s office announced that it would outfit more deputies with body cameras in March 2016 -- at the time about 50 road patrol deputies in a few cities had them. Some of the deputies who work in Parkland wear the cameras (on the day of the shooting deputies from other jurisdictions arrived at the scene as well).

Sheriff says perimeter around scene ordered after, not during, the shooting

The sheriff’s office then tackles a claim that a Broward captain told deputies to form a perimeter around the scene "instead of going in to confront the shooter."

The Broward fact-check says such a choice didn’t happen, because "the shooting had stopped." The timeline released March 8 supports that statement. However, it notes that reported times are estimates and the chronology "may change."

Based on what has been released, at the time of Capt. Jan Jordan’s order for a perimeter, Cruz had left the building.

Here’s how Jordan’s command unfolded, according to the timeline based on security video and law enforcement transmissions:

2:21 p.m.: The shooting begins.

2:27 p.m.: The shooting stops, and Cruz discards his weapon and leaves Building 12.

2:29 p.m.: A deputy says, "We’re heading in the building, in front of the 13 building, building 13. 17K4 and myself are entering." They were unable to enter building 13 because it was locked and joined other Coral Springs police officers.

"17K4, Lets get a command post set up on south side of the Sawgrass in Coral Springs off of Pine Island. The gate for the student entrance is unlocked. We need to get units in here so we can start trying to find this guy," a deputy said.

2:31 p.m.: Jordan asks, "I know there’s a lot going on, do we have a perimeter set up right now and everyone cleared out of the school?" A dispatcher responded, "that’s negative."

2:32 p.m.: Four officers enter the building’s west door, while deputies help extract a victim.

Around 2:33 p.m.: After hearing SWAT units were on the way, Jordan says, "17S1, I want to make sure that we have a perimeter set up and the school (unintelligible), all the kids are getting out, but we need to shut down around this school. Does the Delta unit have an area for all the units coming into the area?"

While the fact-check defends the captain, it omits Israel’s previous criticism of Scot Peterson, a sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer whom Israel faulted for not going into the school. Israel said he saw video of Peterson taking up a position outside the school, when he should’ve gone in and tried to kill the shooter. The agency’s active shooter policy calls for law enforcement to engage the suspect.

Peterson has resigned and in a statement said he thought the gunshots were coming from outside the school buildings.

However, the timeline shows that Peterson warned deputies to stay away from buildings 12 and 13. ​

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