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How the system built to stop Stoneman Douglas school shooter repeatedly broke down

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The Broward County Sheriff’s Office received a call in November with an ominous warning: Nikolas Cruz, a troubled 19-year-old, was collecting guns and knives and “could be a school shooter in the making.”

It was one of at least four times local or federal authorities were contacted about such a threat linked to Cruz, including a tip the FBI received in January warning that he would “get into a school and just shoot the place up,” according to a transcript of the call obtained by The Post on Friday. Another tip to the sheriff’s office the previous year warned that Cruz “planned to shoot up the school.”

In the era of “see something, say something,” members of the public did just that. But what happened after the November call fit a disturbing pattern in the lead-up to the Parkland, Fla., massacre: No report was filed, and there is no evidence the threat was ever investigated.

Less than three months later, police say, Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and gunned down 17 students and faculty members. As the rampage has supercharged the country’s politically fraught debate over gun control and school safety, it also has cast a spotlight on the systems set up to protect Americans nationwide.

The FBI’s acting deputy director David Bowdich said this week that the agency made mistakes in its handling of a warning about Cruz. The FBI on Friday briefed congressional staff on the tip and the agency’s failure to properly follow up.

Investigations into mass shootings often reveal warning signs that seem blindingly clear with the benefit of hindsight. But the Parkland shooting has stood out for the sheer scale of how many alarms were raised before the Feb. 14 rampage.

Rather than flying under the radar, Cruz was a known troublemaker who repeatedly drew scrutiny from local, state and federal authorities as well as school officials, social services investigators and mental-health counselors. Yet time and time again, the alarms would go unheeded.

This account is based on interviews, police records, state documents, public statements and 911 recordings dealing with the shooting. Cruz is behind bars, charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, and likely to face a possible death sentence.

Police say they never had cause to arrest Cruz, leaving him with a clean criminal record and able to pass background checks. Only five states have “red flag laws” allowing them to seize guns before people can commit acts of violence, and Florida is not among them.

“We take guns from people when we run into them engaged in aberrant, troubling behavior,” said Daniel J. Oates, the Miami Beach police chief who had the same role in Aurora, Colo., when a gunman killed 12 at a movie theater there in 2012. But under Florida law, he said, “there’s a strong presumption that the person is entitled to the gun back.”

Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender representing Cruz, said he should have been involuntarily hospitalized under the state’s Baker Act.

“There is no explaining how every single agency in every regard missed every signal,” said Finkelstein. “It’s very overwhelming in its sadness and scariness. Because there are people in this county, and I imagine counties all over America, who want to know: Are my children safe?”

People who knew Cruz growing up said he would attack animals and pick fights, while educators repeatedly referred him to counseling. The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigated his home life in 2016 after receiving allegations he was being mistreated, but officials said his risk level was low because he lived with his mother, attended school and received counseling. The probe was closed.

In November, his mother died and he was removed from Stoneman Douglas earlier that year for disciplinary reasons. The same month he left Douglas, Cruz purchased the AR-15 he would use in the rampage, police said.

By the time of the shooting, Cruz had legally purchased at least 10 rifles and shotguns, including an AK-47 variant, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

Law enforcement officials have drawn intense criticism for lapses involving Cruz. The FBI said it failed to investigate the January warning about concerns that he wanted to kill people, owned guns and could carry out a school shooting.

This person told the FBI that she worried Cruz was “going to explode,” a federal law enforcement official said Friday. Details of her call were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed a transcript of the call. A federal law enforcement official confirmed the information to The Washington Post.

The caller, who seemed to have detailed knowledge of Cruz’s behavior, said Cruz had commented on social media about killing himself — something passed to local police, she said — and that his more recent posts suggested violence against others.

“Something is going to happen,” the caller said.

The FBI representative inquired about the caller’s assertion that Cruz was “into ISIS” and requested contact information for the people with whom Cruz is said to be staying.

That tip came months after the FBI was alerted to a YouTube comment in which someone with the screen name “nikolas cruz” wrote “Im going to be a professional school shooter.” The agency said it was unable to determine who posted the message at the time, but now believes it was Cruz.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday it received 23 calls relating to Cruz or his family dating back to 2008, when he was 9 years old.

In one 911 call to that sheriff’s office, a woman said that her son and another young man — Cruz, according to his lawyer who confirmed this call centered on his client — got into a fight, and she was “afraid he’s coming back and he has a lot of weapons.” She also said that Cruz had aimed a gun at people’s heads before. In another 911 call, Cruz called authorities and, sounding distressed, said he was attacked.

In Broward County, the sheriff’s office said it has launched internal investigations into how two calls about Cruz were handled. The February 2016 call alleged Cruz had stated on Instagram that he wanted to shoot up a school; a deputy spoke to the caller and determined that Cruz had knives and a BB gun, the sheriff’s office said.

Information about that call was sent to Scot Peterson, the Douglas school resource officer who failed to enter the building during the shooting, but it was unclear what he did with the tip. Peterson has retired and the deputy has been placed on restricted administrative duty as part of the investigation.

In November, a caller alerted the Broward County Sheriff’s Office that Cruz was collecting guns and knives, wanted to join the Army, may commit suicide and could be a school shooter. Authorities have not identified the caller, except to say they called from Massachusetts.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said this week that no report was filed on that call. After the Stoneman Douglas shooting, a deputy said he referred the caller to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, but a spokeswoman for that office said they were never told of that threat. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it launched an internal investigation into the call but declined to provide further details about what happened after, citing the ongoing internal affairs investigation.

Robert Bonczek, 17, a Stoneman Douglas senior who plans to join the Marine Corps, said students are angry with law enforcement officials and that civilians and authorities alike don’t take threats as seriously as they should.

“We’re desensitized to any threat,” he said. “So when they see something on the Internet they think, ‘eh, whatever.’ No one ever thinks it will happen to you.”

Bonczek said most students are focusing not on blame, but with channeling their anger to press for changes to laws regulating guns.

“The FBI didn’t do their job, but it’s hard to do anything about that,” he said. “But with Congress, we can specifically make calls for change.”

 

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CNN Reporter Omar Jimenez Released After Arrest Live On Air During Minneapolis Protest Broadcast; Governor Apologizes

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4TH UPDATE, 12 PM PT: CNN says that it accepts Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s apology after reporter Omar Jimenez and a network crew were arrested early Wednesday while covering the George Floyd protests. Watch the video of the arrest above.

A CNN spokesperson said, “We accept Governor Walz’s apology and appreciate the sincerity of his words about the arrest of our crew this morning.  As journalists, the First Amendment gives us not only the right but also the responsibility to shine light in darkness and hold those in power to account.  With that in mind, we will move forward and continue our work in Minneapolis and everywhere else stories need to be told.”

Jimenez and two members of the crew, producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez, were arrested as they were doing a CNN live shot. They were released, but CNN worldwide president Jeff Zucker spoke with Walz to express his concern over what happened.

The Minnesota State Patrol issued a statement that said, “In the course of clearing the streets and restoring order at Lake Street and Snelling Avenue, four people were arrested by State Patrol troopers, including three members of a CNN crew. The three were released once they were confirmed to be members of the media.”

But CNN responded with a statement that said “This is not accurate — our CNN crew identified themselves, on live television, immediately as journalists. We thank Minnesota @GovTimWalz for his swift action this morning to aid in the release of our crew.”

3RD UPDATE, 9:37 AM PT: Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said that he takes “fully responsibility” for the arrest of Omar Jimenez and a CNN crew as they covered protests in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd.

“I take full responsibility there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen calls were made immediately,” Walz said at a press conference. “This is a very public apology to that team.”

He added, “In a situation like this, even if you’re clearing an area, we have got to ensure that there is a safe spot for journalism to tell the story. The issue here is trust. The community that’s down there, that’s terrorized by this, if they see a reporter being arrested, their assumption is that something’s going to happen that they don’t want to be seen. And so that is that is unacceptable. We will continue to strive to make sure that accessibility is maintained, that not only that, the protection and security and safety of the journalists covering this is a top priority.”

He said that he spoke with CNN president Jeff Zucker soon after the arrests, and Zucker wanted to know what happened.

“I appreciate his understanding in a situation, that he was rightfully incredibly angry, and that falls squarely on me that apology has been issued, and I think going forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Walz said.

Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said that CNN may have a claim in this situation, as other journalists have sued government agencies and officials in the past for arrests during protest situations. In an email, she said that the First Amendment prohibits government officials, including police officers from interfering with news gathering or retaliating against journalists for protected speech.

“These claims can be difficult to establish, and there have been cases recently … that suggest that the bar for proving that an arrest violated and individual’s First Amendment rights is high.

“That said, having watched the video here, it doesn’t appear that the police had probable cause for an arrest; the CNN crew responded professionally, identified themselves as journalists, and repeatedly asked where they should stand; they were arrested anyway.”

According to the Reporters Committee, there were nine arrests of journalists in the U.S. in 2019, five of which took place at protests. That was compared to 11 in 2018 and 38 in 2017.

SAG-AFTRA, which represents broadcast journalists, issued this statement Friday afternoon: “As journalists it is our job to cover protests, demonstrations, marches and rallies — some peaceful, some not. We do this without interfering with protesters or law enforcement. The arrest of Omar Jimenez, who was clearly identified as a credentialed member of the news media, is unacceptable.”

One of Jimenez’s colleagues also covering the protests, Josh Campbell, said that he received the “opposite treatment” from police. He identified himself and his news outlet and was allowed to remain in a designated area, he told CNN’s John Berman.

“Let me just say something — it is a statement of fact. You Josh Campbell are white. Omar Jimenez is not. I do not know if that played into this,” Berman said.

“There was a lot different here than what Omar experienced,” Berman said.

2ND UPDATE, 4:44 AM: CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew have now been released from policy custody after their arrest live on air this morning mid-broadcast from the Minneapolis protests. As per below, state Governor Tim Walz intervened directly in the incident after calling CNN president Jeff Zucker to apologize.

After being released, Jimenez immediately took to the air again to recount the story and update on his situation.

“Everyone was pretty cordial after that [my arrest] happened,” said Jimenez, who added that a police officer told him he was “just following orders”.

“They weren’t violent with me, we were having conversation about how crazy this week has been for every single part of the city. A lot of these people are on edge,” the reporter continued. “The one thing that gave me a little bit of comfort was that it happened on live TV. When you talk within the community about, let’s say what happened with George Floyd, there’s discussion that, what’s happening isn’t new, it’s being filmed. That speaks to the power of having something that happens on camera. You can have people speak up for you without you saying anything.

“You guys [CNN anchors] saw what was happening, I was living what was happening, and the country was seeing what was happening unfold in real time right before their eyes – you don’t have to doubt my story, it’s not filtered in any sort of way, that gave me a little bit of comfort,” said Jimenez.

Twitter has been flooded with condemnation for the incident and praise directed at Jimenez for his professionalism.

UPDATED, 4:28 AM: CNN is now reporting that Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has spoken directly to CNN president Jeff Zucker to take full responsibility for the incident, and is working to have Jimenez and his crew released immediately. “It was totally unacceptable and inadvertent what happened… they clearly had the right to be there, we want the media to cover this [the protests], it is never acceptable for this to happen,” Walz told Zucker, according to CNN’s John Berman.

PREVIOUSLY 3:30 AM: CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his camera crew have been arrested during a live broadcast from the Minneapolis protests.

Footage quickly emerged online, and many of Jimenez’s colleagues took to Twitter in outcry.

The incident took place shortly after 6AM EST (3AM PST) during the live filming of CNN’s weekday morning show New Day.

In the footage, Jimenez, sporting a virus protective mask, is being quizzed by his anchors Alisyn Camerota and John Berman in front of a group of riot police as they move to arrest a nearby person. State patrol then approach the presenter and his crew, and Jimenez can be heard telling the officers that the four-strong unit can move “where they would like” to get out of their way in a cooperative and non-confrontational manner. The officers surround the crew as Jimenez continues to report live on air, before he is told that he is under arrest and placed in handcuffs, displaying them to the camera as he is walked away. After a moment, the crew are also placed into handcuffs.

“That is an American television reporter being led away by police officers. He clearly identified himself as a reporter and was respectfully explaining to the police that the CNN team was there and moving away as they would request, and then for some reason he was taken into police custody live on television,” said anchor John Berman off screen.

“I have never seen anything like this,” Berman adds on several occasions. The camera continued to roll after the arrests, sitting on the floor at the feet of the officers.

Fellow CNN Josh Campell, who is white, was also in the area but was not arrested. “I identified myself… they said, ‘OK, you’re permitted to be in the area’… What happened to Omar (Jimenez) was clearly a lot different… I was treated much differently than he (Jimenez) was,” he told the network.

CNN has confirmed the incident and called for the immediate release of its employees. “A CNN reporter and his production team were arrested this morning in Minneapolis for doing their jobs, despite identifying themselves – a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. The authorities in Minnesota, including the Governor, must release the three CNN employees immediately,” a statement from the network read.

Fierce protests have been raging in Minneapolis since an unarmed black man, George Floyd, died in police custody on Monday. Overnight, protesters broke into a police precinct in the city and set it on fire as the violence escalated. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has activated the state National Guard in a bid to restore order. Four officers involved in the incident have been fired but have not yet faced charges, with prosecutors stating they are still gathering evidence.

President Donald Trump tweeted earlier on Friday that the military would “assume control” in the city if the disturbances continue, adding “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. His remarks have provoked a huge blowback and were subsequently flagged by Twitter for violating its rules around “glorifying violence”.

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New video appears to show three police officers kneeling on George Floyd

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New video posted on social media appears to show three Minneapolis Police Department officers kneeling on George Floyd during his arrest.

Previous video from eyewitness Darnella Frazier showed Floyd, 46, being knelt on by one officer–Derek Chauvin.

The new video shows the other side of the Minneapolis police vehicle where the arrest occurred. The video appears to show Chauvin and two other officers kneeling on Floyd.

Chauvin was taken into custody on Friday afternoon, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Four officers were involved in the incident and all have since been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Floyd was arrested after he allegedly used a counterfeit bill at a convenience store, police have said. Outrage grew after the first video surfaced showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck. The 46-year-old, who was unarmed and handcuffed, died after the arrest.

Minneapolis police said in a statement earlier this week that officers had been responding to an alleged forgery on Monday evening and that during the arrest, Floyd “physically resisted” them.

However, surveillance footage from the nearby Dragon Wok restaurant does not appear to support the claim that Floyd resisted arrest during the initial encounter. However, there are several minutes where Floyd’s and the officers interactions cannot be seen from the camera’s vantage point.

This new video appears to have been taken before the Frazier video, but after that surveillance video.

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Veterans Affairs Gives 1,300 Vets Unproven COVID-19 Drug Touted By Trump

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The federal Department of Veterans Affairs has been giving 1,300 veterans hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus since late March — even though the drug has not been proven to be effective against the illness and may even trigger fatal heart problems.

In a study of 100,000 patients with COVID-19 published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, patients who received hydroxychloroquine had a “significantly higher risk of death” compared to those who were not given the drug. “We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine” on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19, the researchers concluded.

An April study of veterans who were given the drug — relentlessly hawked by President Donald Trump — produced similar findings.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a letter Friday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that despite mounting concerns about the drug, the VA will continue to use hydroxychloroquine for veterans.

Revelations of the use of the controversial antimalarial drug have sparked concerns about the effects it may have on veterans, many of whom are older and have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to a fatal side effect of the drug: heart arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.

“Veterans’ groups remain deeply concerned that the VA has made large purchases of this drug and appears to have administered it to veterans despite the well-known, and in some cases, fatal risks,” Schumer wrote Wilkie earlier this month.

After Wilkie’s letter on Friday, Schumer responded in a statement later that day, saying, “This drug may be useless or even harmful for COVID-19 patients, but the VA continues to administer it to hundreds of vets. Why are we just learning this?”

“We need to know what the basis was for using this drug against the consensus of science, which called into question its effectiveness in treating COVID-19,” he continued. “We also need to know who is authorizing these new trials, what facilities are participating and what families are being told.”

Trump has been aggressively pitching hydroxychloroquine since March, even though the drug had not yet undergone clinical trials examining its effectiveness against COVID-19.

“What do we have to lose?” he asked during a briefing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have both warned against using the drug to treat COVID-19.

Last Monday, the president attacked a study of veterans treated with the drug that showed no benefits against the coronavirus. He called the findings a “Trump enemy statement,” insisting they were politically motivated. He then claimed that he had been taking the drug for weeks, though he stopped on Friday.

The Trump administration ordered 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine before it underwent trials for COVID-19 treatment. The VA also bulk-ordered some 6.3 million doses, according to Wilkie’s letter.

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