When a student began firing shots at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, former deputy Scot Peterson fled from the hail of bullets instead of rushing toward the shooter to protect students under attack. Seventeen people were killed. A number of parents of the slain students sued the school and Sheriff’s Office for their inability to provide students with adequate protection from a lethal threat. Lawyers representing the school officials and Sheriff’s Office contended that they were not legally obligated to confront the shooter, and therefore the case should be dismissed.
A Florida judge rejected the argument. The lawsuit continued as planned, but failed to deliver justice when a federal judge overturned the previous ruling, deciding instead that the Sheriff’s Office was not legally responsible for the protection of students at the high school, who had “the ability to take care of themselves.” Wow. So much for “protect and serve.”
The wrongful death lawsuit wasn’t only lodged against Peterson. It also alleged that the school campus monitor Andrew Medina and BSO Captain Jan Jordan were liable for damages. The lawsuit contended that public schools have the duty not only to educate students, but to keep them safe. The federal judge dismissed this argument, and stated that the Sheriff’s Office isn’t required to do so either. Apparently law enforcement officers are no longer legally required to enforce the law.
The Parkland students’ attorneys may have made a mistake by suing on the basis 14th Amendment rights. According to the amendment, due process of the law is required before a person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property. The ruling maintains that the state isn’t required to protect students from a third party in order to keep due process upheld, in part because it is only required to protect those in custody, and that the public school system does not represent “custody.”
Believe it or not, the dismissal was in line with Supreme Court precedent. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers have no legal obligation to protect a person from harm even when an individual has a legal protective order, as was the case of a woman who had obtained one from her violent spouse.
The case arose when she claimed her husband had kidnapped their three daughters. The police failed to act in time, and the daughters were all murdered. The function of any government is to protect its citizens. But it doesn’t have to.