Court clears way for case against Parkland school monitor

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Sun Sentinel | by Jim Sanders | July 1, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Pointing to a failure to call a “Code Red” that could have locked down the school, an appeals court Wednesday refused to dismiss a case against a campus security monitor who spotted and followed accused gunman Nikolas Cruz before the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal rejected arguments that former campus monitor Andrew Medina should be dismissed from a civil lawsuit filed by Andrew Pollack and Shara Kaplan, parents of Meadow Pollack, one of the students killed in the massacre.

Medina contended that he cannot be held liable because of sovereign immunity, a legal concept that generally shields government employees from lawsuits. But part of a state sovereign-immunity law allows such lawsuits if employees act “in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property.

The appeals court, upholding a decision by a Broward County circuit judge, said the allegations in the case were adequate to consider whether Medina acted with “willful and wanton” disregard.

“While further fact development may ultimately convince a trier-of-fact that Medina’s actions, or lack thereof, were not wanton and willful, the allegations of the complaint are sufficient to prevent dismissal of the complaint against Medina,” said the six-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Martha Warner and joined by judges Melanie May and Jeffrey Kuntz.

Yearbook photo of Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Meadow Pollack. (Courtesy)

Medina is one of several defendants in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in Broward County by Meadow Pollack’s parents after the Feb. 14, 2018, attack that killed 17 students and faculty members. Cruz, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, is awaiting trial on murder charges.

The lawsuit alleges that Medina saw Cruz get out of an Uber vehicle while carrying a bag that contained a gun. It alleged that Medina recognized Cruz and knew he posed a danger and followed him in a golf cart, according to Wednesday’s ruling.

It said Medina radioed another security guard in what was known as Building 12, which Cruz entered before firing shots. Medina went to get school-resource officer Scot Peterson. Medina and Peterson then returned to Building 12, the ruling said. Cruz ultimately left the building and was arrested off campus.

Part of the allegations against Medina involve his decision not to call a “Code Red” over the radio, a move that could have locked down campus buildings before Cruz could enter.

Andrew Medina, right, former security monitor at Marjory Stoneman Doughlas High School, and his attorney David Henry, walk into Broward County Court for a deposition in the civil suit brought against him by parent Andrew Pollack.
Andrew Medina, right, former security monitor at Marjory Stoneman Doughlas High School, and his attorney David Henry, walk into Broward County Court for a deposition in the civil suit brought against him by parent Andrew Pollack. (Susan Stocker / Sun Sentinel)

“Taken together, and knowing the extreme danger Cruz posed, Medina’s actions, as alleged, can constitute conscious and intentional indifference to the consequences of his actions and that he knowingly and purposely failed to call the Code Red,” Wednesday’s ruling said. In a brief filed at the appeals court, however, Medina’s attorneys argued that he “acted diligently and reasonably in this extraordinary situation” and that he should be dismissed from the case.

“He did not call for ‘Code Red,’ because he did not visualize a gun or gunshots, in compliance with his training,” the brief said. “To argue that Medina’s actions evidenced a willful and wanton disregard for the students and faculty at MSD (Marjory Stoneman Douglas) is to ignore all the actions taken by Medina in the short duration of time he had to process the situation. Despite the horrors and heartbreak associated with this tragedy, the law requires that Medina’s actions be judged at the moment he took them not in hindsight.”

But attorneys for Meadow Pollack’s parents wrote in a brief that Medina could have prevented the shooting deaths.

“Here, accepting the allegations of the complaint, if Medina had called for a lock down of the school during the ample time he had before Cruz entered, this tragedy would not have happened,” the parents’ brief said. “Medina’s actions and inactions, especially in light of the dire threat that he should have confronted, were the very definition of bad faith, malicious purpose, and wanton and willful disregard for the lives of the children, teachers and administrators whom he admits he was hired to protect.”

Jim Saunders writes for the News Service of Florida.