By Charles Rabin
Two more Broward Sheriff's Office deputies have been fired for "neglect of duty" during last year's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, when 17 students and staffers were killed and 17 others were injured.
During a brief press conference, Sheriff Gregory Tony announced that Edward Eason and Joshua Stambaugh had been terminated the previous day, bringing the total number of BSO first responders fired in the aftermath of the worst high school shooting in Florida history to four.
Both deputies had been on restrictive duty since late last year, after a state public safety commission created in the aftermath of the shootings completed a scathing report that outlined how the deputies failed in their duties to protect the students.
That report said that Eason, an 18-year veteran, failed to immediately enter the high school grounds and that once he got there drove away from the gunfire to another part of campus to put on his bulletproof vest. The report also determined that Eason never activated his body-worn camera and told investigators that he didn't know where the shooting was coming from despite body cameras on other officers showing Eason pointing at the freshman building while there was still gunfire.
Stambaugh, a 20-year veteran, was working off-duty at a nearby private school when the call went out for help, according to the safety commission. Though the deputy's body camera caught the sounds of Cruz's last gunshots, the safety commission said he hid behind his patrol vehicle, at one point telling a supervisor that three people were down. Then, the commission said, Stambaugh drove his truck to a nearby highway where he took out his binoculars to report back to officers on the scene.
The Broward Sheriff, who also touched on a string of other ongoing probes of controversial arrests by other BSO deputies, didn't offer any explanations or details himself about the BSO's own internal affairs investigation of the two deputies' failures during the Parkland shooting.
Earlier terminations related to Parkland include MSD School Resource Officer Scot Peterson, who chose not to enter the school during shooter Nikolas Cruz's rampage, and Sgt Brian Miller, the first supervisor on the scene, who hid behind his car as three or four shots were fired. Three other deputies, Brian Goolsby, Michael Kratz and Arthur Perry were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Tony said he decided to gather the media and release updates on the investigations to allay concerns with the public and Broward County leaders that BSO was slow-walking several internal affairs investigations. The sheriff said two other internal reviews had been passed along to the Broward State Attorney's Office and that his department couldn't come to any conclusions on them until the state decided whether to move forward or not with charges against those officers.
"We can't move forward until we hear back from the state attorney," Tony said.
That statement, though, set off a tit-for-tat that reverberated throughout Broward County's legal and law enforcement offices most of the morning and into the afternoon.
Not long after Tony's early morning press conference, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump blasted BSO and the Broward County State Attorney for taking too long to determine the fate of two officers being investigated for the rough arrest of a high school teenager that was caught on video. He then threatened to start petitioning the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division if a decision on whether to charge the officers wasn't made by July 4.
And almost at the exact time Crump was speaking at the Broward County Courthouse, Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz released a statement saying there was nothing preventing Tony from investigating the cops now and that he expected a separate investigation involving another BSO deputy to be completed by the end of the week.
"The State Attorney's Office has no role in the Broward Sheriff's Office internal affairs investigation regarding whether or not the deputies involved in the incidents should be disciplined," Satz wrote, "so we refer any questions about that process to BSO."
Tony, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January after the firing of elected Sheriff Scott Israel, has been embroiled in political controversy over the Parkland shooting and a series of rough arrests caught on cellphone video involving his deputies. Israel continues to fight to get his job back, arguing before the state Senate in recent weeks that he wasn't at fault for the Parkland massacre.
The former sheriff said he intends to run for office once again in 2020. Tony, a former Coral Springs officer who runs a security company, hasn't committed to the race.
Meanwhile, just a few hours after Tony spoke, Crump stood with 15-year-old Delucca Rolle, whose arrest in April captured on cellphone video sparked nationwide outrage. With them were the teen's family, members of the NAACP and elected leaders. Crump ripped into BSO and the state attorney for taking more than two months to make a determination on the deputies.
In a room on the third floor of the Broward County Courthouse next to the Public Defender's Office, Crump blasted the state attorney for taking so long despite having eyewitness accounts and video. Delucca, he said, had been charged within hours of his interactions with the deputies.
"We know they charge black and brown people every day with no evidence at all. Why are the rules different when police abuse our children?" asked Crump. "This is about the constitutional rights of children of color, and that's it."
Delucca, making a rare public appearance, did not speak.
Back in April, as students from nearby P.J. Taravella High School gathered in a McDonald's parking lot in neighboring Tamarac, two deputies were caught pepper spraying then slamming Delucca's head into the pavement. The teen had just picked up a cellphone dropped by another teen when the officers went after him. Rolle was charged with assaulting an officer and obstruction without violence. Those charges were soon dropped.
The video quickly went viral and caught the attention of several star professional athletes, including LeBron James, celebrities and activists who demanded the deputies be punished. To date, the video has been viewed more than 10 million times.
Christopher Krikovich and Sgt. Gregory LaCerra were initially relieved of duty. Later, Tony suspended them in full, ordering them to turn in their badges and stay off BSO property. Two months ago, he turned his findings over to the state attorney.
And that's been more than enough time for the state to decide whether or not to press charges, said Marsha Ellison, president of the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County chapter of the NAACP.
"We're sick of the fingerpointing," she said Wednesday. "We're asking that these people be held accountable. We're sick of this waiting. It's not good enough."
Tony also addressed the situation of Deputy Jorge Sobrino on Wednesday, whose body camera footage showed him punching a man handcuffed to a bed at Broward Health North Hospital on Jan. 1. David Rafferty O'Connell was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest without violence at a Walmart.
In the video, O'Connell clearly antagonizes the deputy, yelling and standing on his hospital bed before the officer strikes him. Tony said like the Delucca case, his office can't move forward on the Sobrino investigation until the state attorney makes a determination. The state attorney said Wednesday its review is expected to be complete by the end of the week.
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