Parkland parents who lost kids in school shooting ordered to turn over psychiatric records to prove they suffered

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BROWARD COUNTY, FL- Sorry, but this is sick.

First of all, they lost their children in a horrific school shooting. Now, they’re being asked to prove their grief, as parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas are being asked to turn over psychiatric records to prove they suffered mental disorders as a result of their children being killed, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Those parents and other victims of the school shooting filed suit against the Broward School Board, the sheriff, and others for their failure to properly deal with the shooter [whom we will not acknowledge by name because he doesn’t deserve it] where there were indications, he may have presented a threat.

The records were requested by the Broward School District as a means to fight the suit in which some parents obviously claimed they had suffered mental anguish as a result of the shooting. That request has parents [rightfully] outraged.

Fox News is reporting that at least a dozen families have strenuously objected to demands for the records, which the school district claims it is “sensitive” to, however insists they are necessary.

In a formal court response, Lori Alhadeff, who is a school board member and someone who lost her daughter in the shooting said the demand was “harassing, burdensome” and an “invasion of privacy.” She was elected to the school board after her daughter’s death.

The Sun Sentinel noted that typically in civil cases, plaintiffs can prove their pain and suffering through personal testimony, usually their own, as well as the testimony of friends, co-workers and loved ones. The provision of mental health records is extremely rare, said Robert Kelley, Alhadeff’s attorney.

“I personally don’t think the records are relevant,” Kelley said. I don’t think anyone is going to dispute that these families have suffered mental anguish.”

In a written response on Oct. 1, the school district said that it “recognizes the sensitive nature of these records,” however insists that they are needed in order to prove a claim involving mental pain and suffering.

Along with that question, there are about 75 others in which victims were asked to provide matters such as evidence of funeral expenses, a rundown of all media interviews victims have done and tax returns to show lost income. Simply, you cannot make this up.

There was a hearing scheduled Thursday morning in which Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning was to consider how much of the questionnaire victims would be forced to answer, with the question of proof of grief being chief among them.

While questions such as these could be considered part of a so-called “discovery” process which looks for evidence from the other side which proves their claims, the fact this was requested in a case such as this has come across to surviving relatives as insensitive.

“Providing proof of loss, while absolutely necessary in any wrongful death case, is like ripping open the scab again and again and again. It hurts,” said attorney David Brill, who is representing a surviving student as well as the parents of three victims.

Among questions the victims’ relatives are being asked includes, “Identify any permanent mental injuries” they are claiming, and whether in the preceding ten years before the shooting they had ever sought psychiatric treatment, and why.

What else are they seeking? Cellphone numbers, copies of death certificates and the names of the family’s healthcare providers, including dentists who provided care to the victims five years prior to the shooting.

While the victims call the requests “harassing, irrelevant or overly broad,” the district says the information is necessary in order to understand the victims’ lives both before and after the shooting.

The school district’s lawyer Eugene Pettis said that the district has a legal duty to make sure plaintiffs prove their claims by a “professional standard,” as opposed to word of mouth.

“You always get the records,” Pettis said. If there are claims, you get the records to support those claims. It’s happened in every such case I’ve tried.”

One of the parents, Fred Guttenberg was adamant that he would not provide the information the district is looking for.

“UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL THEY EVER GET HANDS ON MY FAMILIES MEDCAL RECORDS,” he tweeted. “Let me be clear, I visit my daughter at the cemetery because of the failures of Superintendent [Robert Runcie] & those he put in charge.

My family missed her high school years at a Broward School because of these failures. We will miss watching her grow up. We spend our life dealing with the reality of what happened. How they want us to prove that we are upset?”

Runcie couldn’t be reached for comment when reached out to on Wednesday.

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The shooter in the case, who killed 17 and wounded 17 others had agreed to guilty in exchange for a life sentence, however the state’s attorney’s office rejected that, saying they believe a jury should make that decision. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

In addition to the anger directed at the school district, parents have also expressed outrage at the law enforcement response to the incident.

Parents have accused the Broward County Sheriff’s Department for screwing up the response to the shooting.

Two deputies were fired in the wake of the incident; however, John Stambaugh and Brian Miller retained their jobs earlier this year.

Miller, the first officer to arrive on scene hid behind is patrol vehicle as he apparently took his time putting on his ballistic vest. Body camera footage showed Stambaugh arrived at the school, got out of his truck, put on his ballistic vest then took cover for five minutes as shots rang out. He then drove to a nearby highway instead of entering the school.

Scott Israel, the sheriff of Broward County was fired by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the wake of the shooting. In August, Israel narrowly lost a primary race for his old position to his successor Gregory Tony.

Tony was named to succeed Israel in 2019. CBS Miami reported that Tony had 37% of the vote to 35% for Israel, with retired Broward County Sheriff’s Office Colonel Al Pollock at 11%.

Back in June, we wrote about how the Broward County Police Benevolent Association actually endorsed Israel for the Broward County Sheriff’s position despite his past incompetence. For more on that, we invite you to:

DIG DEEPER

They say politics makes strange bedfellows.

Nothing is stranger than a couple of endorsements, one which was subsequently rescinded, that have come out in the race for Broward County Sheriff.

The Broward County Teacher’s Union endorsed Scott Israel, the former sheriff who was removed from office by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after the bungled response of his agency to the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17.

A second equally surprising endorsement came from the Broward County Police Benevolent association. Anonymous sources within that organization tell Law Enforcement Today that the endorsement is extremely unpopular with the rank and file in the association.  

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that the Broward Teacher’s Union had rescinded its endorsement of Israel after hearing from Parkland area teachers who were infuriated by the department’s response to the school shooting on February 14, 2018.

Fourteen students and three staff members were killed in the shooting. The union decided not to endorse any candidates in the race after rescinding Israel’s endorsement.

“This was not intended to have people upset,” Said union president Anna Fusco to the paper. “We heard our members speak up and we will continue to make sure we start schools safe Aug. 19 and not  have social media screams about the sheriff’s race. BTU is too busy for that.”

Jennifer Montalto’s daughter Gina was killed in the shooting and blasted the teachers union endorsement in a Facebook post that has since been deleted.

“The disgraced incompetent former sheriff jeopardized every citizen in Broward with his failed leadership. The BTU endorsement is an affront to all the MSD [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] victim’s families.”

The union’s vice-president told Montalto that the committee that endorsed Israel was not trying to offend the families of victims.

“Please don’t think for a minute that the committee did not know or understand your pain,” Terry Preuss wrote. “They chose Scott Israel because they saw him as the best choice and not to hurt anyone, especially not the hurting families.”

One of the union members who teaches special education at the school, Joanne Wallace was livid that the union did not consult with members prior to the vote.

“I was at MSD that day. I said goodbye to my husband in a text,” she wrote. “I hid under a table while people screamed, and Israel’s horrific lack of leadership played out.”

She later expressed relief the union had since pulled the endorsement.

The PBA endorsement, however, comes as somewhat of a surprise, especially after Israel’s dismissal by DeSantis.  

The union, in addressing members who were upset with the decision wrote:

The PBA has recently endorsed Scott Israel for Sheriff and we have received many questions on why and what the process was. First and foremost, you should know that it is the policy of the Broward County PBA that the endorsement of the Sheriff of Broward County will be at the sole discretion of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Representatives. Just like endorsements for individual cities would be up to those reps.

With that said, the Broward County PBA held a candidate screening at our banquet hall yesterday. Sheriff Tony did not respond to our invite, so he was automatically eliminated from consideration. A few other candidates cancelled their interviews as well. The remaining top two candidates were Scott Israel and All Pollock. At the end of the process, and with much deliberation, the BSO Representatives unanimously decided to endorse Scott Israel.

The PBA fully recognizes the full range of emotions that the sheriff’s endorsement brings, but we ask that you respect the opinions of the BSO Representatives that made this very tough decision.

Thank you.

Back in May, the union representing Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies declined to endorse Israel, and instead endorsed All Pollock, while also declining to endorse Tony, who is running for reelection.

Instead, they looked to Pollock, saying, “Al Pollock is a lawman, not a showman.”

The South Florida Sun Sentinel noted that Pollock faces an uphill battle. The upcoming primary next month is actually pivotal since there are currently no Republicans in elected office countywide.

Israel and Tony are considered somewhat controversial figures, Israel because of the botched response to the school shooting, as well as a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. And Tony received a vote of no confidence from the union last month.

In addition, Tony has been under increasing focus after it was revealed that he had killed a man in Philadelphia when he was 14 years old.   

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In gaining the union’s endorsement, Pollock received 57% of the votes, which made him far and away the clear choice among sheriff’s deputies and sergeants.

“The union and the membership believe Alvin Pollock’s life experience, and his rise through the ranks of BSO from Road Patrol Deputy to Colonel give him the expansive and comprehensive knowledge of the county and the Sheriff’s Office that make him the single-most qualified candidate to run the agency starting on day one,” the endorsement said, while adding that Pollock’s “demeanor and humility set him apart from the field.”

On Wednesday, NBC-6 South Florida said that Israel’s campaign had to remove one of it’s campaign consultants after video arose showing him using racial slurs to describe the current Broward County sheriff, Tony. 

Terry Scott, a well-known black activist in Broward County said, “Tony came in as arrogant, like we owe him something, like he was the house ***** and we’re the field ******. That’s the way he came,” Scott said in the video. 

Scott then resigned from the campaign. 

The fact that Israel is running for his old position is a joke. His incompetence is legendary. CNN noted that after the 2017 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport, numerous problems with the department’s response were identified and known to Israel.

Still, in the 13 months between that incident and the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, nothing was done to rectify those shortcomings. 

Attorney George Levesque said at the time, “The law makes him responsible for the acts of his deputies. It is generally held that a sheriff and his deputy are one and the same person, and the acts of the deputy may be imputed to the sheriff.” 

Former MSD student Kyle Kashuv sharply criticized Israel, especially after he received the endorsement of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in his current primary fight. 

“Sheriff Scott Israel had dozens of reports about the shooter at my school and the danger he posed. Dozens,” Kashuv said in a statement to Fox News.

“During the shooting, officers of his department hid behind trees rather than enter the building. Scott Israel’s incompetence contributed to this entirely preventable tragedy. He utterly failed the people of Parkland.” 

In speaking to the newspaper’s endorsement, Kashuv said, “A glowing endorsement from the Sun-Sentinel is a slap in the face to everyone affected by the tragedy. This is a travesty.” 

Hunter Pollack also blasted the paper’s endorsement. His 18-year-old sister Meadow was one of the victims in the shooting. 

“Now, after exposing all of Scott Israel’s failures that led to dozens dead, they decide to endorse him. Absolutely shameful,” Pollack told Fox News.

We wonder how these folks would feel about a law enforcement association endorsing Israel’s incompetence. What an embarrassment. 

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