DeSantis petitions for statewide grand jury over “systematic failures” in school safety

Florida Supreme Court
Florida Supreme Court

The mass shooting a year ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has now escalated to the level of a large-scale criminal investigation, with Gov. Ron DeSantis petitioning the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury.

The petition, filed late Wednesday afternoon at the Supreme Court, states that there’s “a need to examine the crimes and wrongs that precipitated the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting and that even now result in unsafe schools across the state.”

While everyday citizens might think of statewide grand juries involving organized crime or drug smuggling in more than one county, this grand jury would be unusual because it’s about public education and the safety of schoolchildren.

“It’s a surprise to me,” said attorney Gregg D. Thomas, an author of a reporter’s handbook about grand juries. But Thomas also called the situation “intriguing.”

The governor’s action comes a day before the first anniversary of the shootings at the Parkland high school in Broward County, where 17 students and staff were killed.

The petition states that the “mass murder” at the high school “drew attention to systematic failures by school officials and other State actors to ensure student safety. Unfortunately, these failures are not unique, and they have not ceased.”

In the last year, lawmakers imposed everything from new gun restrictions to increasing a law enforcement presence at schools, and a public safety commission worked for months to unravel what went tragically wrong at the high school and how to address the problems statewide.

Even now, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are filing new legislation, hoping to ensure students and staff are safe at schools. And a controversial proposal to allow classroom teachers to be armed is advancing in the state Senate.

The petition states that an investigation must consider any “crime or wrong” related to:

Refusing or failing to follow school safety laws, resulting in risks to students across the state;

Committing “fraud and deceit” by accepting state funds conditioned on putting in place certain safety measures “while knowingly failing to act.”

Committing fraud and deceit by mismanaging, failing to use or diverting multi-million dollars bonds “specifically solicited for school safety initiatives,”

And violating state law by systematically underreporting incidents of criminal activity to the Florida Department of Education.

DeSantis “deems it to be in the public interest to impanel a statewide grand jury,” which can involve investigating crimes, returning indictments, making reports, and other functions.

While the statewide grand jury’s investigation is not limited to any part of the state, DeSantis has requested that the “base operating area” be the 17th Judicial Circuit Court, which covers Broward County, where the shootings occurred at the Parkland high school.

A document provided to the court listed four names related to the petition: Gov. DeSantis and his general counsel, Joseph Jacquot, as well as statewide prosecutor Nicholas B. Cox, of the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, and Broward Circuit Chief Judge Jack B. Tuter, Jr.

State law allows a governor to petition the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury for “good and sufficient reason” and the court, at its discretion, can allow it.

DeSantis said in a statement Wednesday that he had “a moral obligation to protect the children in our state,” which is why he pursued the petition to impanel a statewide grand jury.

 

 

 

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