Florida court to weigh liability of Parkland school monitor

A general view of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as staff and teachers prepare for the return of students in Parkland, Florida on February 27, 2018. Florida's Marjory (Photo credit RHONA WISE/AFP via Getty Images)

A state appeals court Tuesday will hear arguments about whether to shield from liability a campus security monitor who spotted and followed accused gunman Nikolas Cruz before 17 people were killed at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

Former campus monitor Andrew Medina is asking the 4th District Court of Appeal to rule that he should be dismissed from a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Andrew Pollack and Shara Kaplan, parents of Meadow Pollack, one of the students killed in the massacre.

A circuit judge refused to dismiss the complaint against Medina, who contends that he cannot be held liable because of state sovereign-immunity laws, which are generally designed to protect government agencies and employees from lawsuits. The debate centers, at least in part, on whether Medina’s actions surrounding the shooting showed “wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety or property.”

In a brief filed at the appeals court, Medina’s attorneys disputed contentions that negligence by the campus monitor led to Meadow Pollack’s death.

“Medina acted diligently and reasonably in this extraordinary situation,” the brief said. “The abhorrent activity of mentally-ill gunman Nikolas Cruz was the true legal and proximate cause of all of the tragic deaths, injuries, and trauma suffered by MSD (Marjory Stoneman Douglas) faculty and students on the horrific day at issue.”

But attorneys for Meadow Pollack’s parents argue that Medina recognized Cruz, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, and knew he was a threat after he got out of an Uber car and came onto campus carrying a bag that contained a gun. The parents’ attorneys contend that Medina should have used a radio to call a “Code Red,” which would have locked down the school.

“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.”

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. Cruz is awaiting trial on murder charges.

The brief filed in the appeals court by Medina’s attorneys said he saw an unidentified person get out of an Uber and walk onto campus. Medina, in a golf cart, followed the person, who was heading toward what was known as Building 12 and radioed another security monitor who was in the building to alert him about a “suspicious” person, the brief said.

When the person turned to look at Medina, the security monitor recognized him as Cruz, who entered the building. Medina got out of his golf cart to follow Cruz into the building but quickly heard gunshots, the brief said. Medina got back into the golf cart and went to get school-resource officer Scot Peterson. Medina and Peterson then returned to Building 12, the brief said.

Cruz left the building and was later arrested off-campus.

Attorneys for Meadow Pollack’s parents, however, contend that Medina quickly identified Cruz, who had a troubled history.

“[The] complaint alleges that Medina's job was to prevent unauthorized people from entering the school property and, if he could not do so, to immediately call a Code Red,” the brief said. “His job was to consider any such intruder to be a potential danger because an intruder on a school campus could indeed constitute a serious danger. And here, Medina actually knew the moment Cruz stepped out of the Uber, more than two minutes before Cruz began his rampage, that Cruz was in fact not just any intruder, but the one person whose character and history screamed out for an immediate Code Red --- the former student about whom Medina and other school officials had had a meeting and agreed would be ‘that kid’ who would return to shoot up the school, who was dressed in ROTC gear, and carrying a backpack, along with a bag suited for a rifle, walking with a purpose, bee-lining.”

But Medina’s attorneys defended his actions and said he should be entitled to sovereign-immunity protections.

“Medina quickly reported an unidentified individual to another campus monitor and the Broward sheriff’s deputy on the MSD campus,” Medina’s brief said. “He trailed and pursued Cruz in his golf cart, and he gave an additional warning that Cruz was entering the east side of Building 12. He left his golf cart to follow Cruz into the building, but after hearing ‘pop pop,’ rushed to the only armed individual, Broward sheriff’s Deputy Scott Peterson, and brought Peterson back to Building 12 as quickly as possible, while simultaneously reporting the events over his radio. He did not call for ‘Code Red,’ because he did not visualize a gun or gunshots, in compliance with his training. To argue that Medina's actions evidenced a willful and wanton disregard for the students and faculty at MSD 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.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.