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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Broward County’s school superintendent and the district’s chief lawyer were arrested Wednesday as part of a statewide grand jury spawned by the school massacre in Parkland more than three years ago.
Superintendent Robert Runcie, an administrator hired a decade ago to clean up corruption, was indicted on a charge of perjury in an official proceeding, a third-degree felony.
General Counsel Barbara Myrick was arrested on a charge of unlawful disclosure of statewide grand jury proceedings, also a third-degree felony.
The surprising indictments — just days after the grand jury finished meeting — saddened Runcie’s supporters, raised claims of political influence and delighted critics who have blamed Runcie for the Parkland tragedy.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis impaneled the grand jury in 2019, the year after a teenage gunman with a semi-automatic rifle killed 17 staff and students and wounded 17 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018.
Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested Runcie, 59, for testimony he gave to the grand jury on March 31 and April 1. Myrick, 72, is accused of improperly sharing grand jury information between March 31 and April 14.
Runcie’s indictment says he gave untruthful testimony before the grand jury, and it lists four areas the panel was focusing on:
—Whether refusal or failure to follow the mandates of school-related safety laws, such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, results in unnecessary and avoidable risk to students across the state.
—Whether public entities committed — and continue to commit — fraud and deceit by accepting state funds conditioned on implementation of certain safety measures while knowingly failing to act.
—Whether school officials committed — and continue to commit — fraud and deceit by mismanaging, failing to use, and diverting funds from multimillion-dollar bonds specifically solicited for school safety initiatives.
—Whether school officials violated and continue to violate state law by systematically underreporting incidents of criminal activity to the Department of Education.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported in December 2018 that countless crimes that take place on school campuses are never reported to the state, defying state laws and leaving parents with the false impression that children are safer than they are.
The failure was among a string the school district hid in the months after the Parkland shooting, sometimes at Myrick’s instruction, the newspaper found.
The grand jury’s primary focus was to review school safety in the wake of the shooting, but it has expanded its scope to include corruption and mismanagement in school district operations.
Former Chief Information Officer Tony Hunter was arrested in January, charged with bid rigging and bribery as a result of the grand jury. Prosecutors say he directed a $17 million technology contract to a friend. Hunter has pleaded not guilty and denies wrongdoing.
The school district and the grand jury started reviewing Hunter’s actions after the Sun Sentinel questioned the technology deal and Hunter’s ties to the vendor while reporting directly to Runcie.
The indictment against Myrick claims she knowingly disclosed grand jury proceedings to someone outside the grand jury room and/or identified people referred to or under investigation by the grand jury.
The exact allegations against Runcie and Myrick are unknown, however, because grand jury proceedings are secret. Even their attorneys say they don’t know.
Michael Dutko, an attorney representing Runcie, said his client wonders, “What is it they say I lied about?”
“We told him we would know when we saw the indictment,” Dutko said. “But all the indictment does is track the statute.”
J. David Bogenschutz, Myrick’s attorney, said he hasn’t even seen her indictment.
“I’m actually very surprised that any indictment or any information is out there that the lawyers representing them don’t even know what it’s about,” he said. “I can’t tell you what the (indictment) says or comment on what it means at this point.”
The Florida Attorney General’s Office released the indictments but said it would provide no other information.
Critics have long said the grand jury was politically motivated, a way for a Republican governor to oust Democratic leaders for issues related to the Parkland shooting.
DeSantis removed Democratic Sheriff Scott Israel shortly after taking office, but he had no power to act on Runcie, who is appointed rather than elected.
“It is a sad day in Broward County and across Florida when politics become more important than the interests of our students,” Runcie’s lawyers — Dutko, Jeremy Kroll and Johnny McCray Jr. — wrote in a statement Wednesday.
Runcie and Myrick both were arrested at their attorneys’ offices and released from jail on their own recognizance.
Runcie plans to plead not guilty, his lawyers say. Myrick will either plead not guilty or stand mute and allow the court to enter a plea, Bogenschutz said.
The Harvard-educated Runcie came to the Broward school district from Chicago in 2011 to fix a system embroiled in a corruption scandal. He forged strong ties in the business community, which still supports him, and survived a movement to remove him as superintendent after Parkland. He makes $356,000 a year.
Myrick has been general counsel since 2016 and a district employee since 2002. She makes $220,000.
Both Runcie and Myrick intend to stay on the job, although that decision will be up to the School Board.
Board member Debbi Hixon said Runcie’s chief of staff, Jeff Moquin, is overseeing operations for the rest of the week.
Board member Nora Rupert, a longtime Runcie critic, emailed Moquin and School Board members asking for an emergency meeting, but she said she hasn’t received a response.
“I was very surprised when I learned about it this morning,” Rupert said of the charges. “The School Board is obviously still in control of the district, and we will be in conversations with our attorneys about how we move forward.”
School Board Chairwoman Rosalind Osgood issued a statement Wednesday saying the district would “operate as normal under the District’s leadership team” right now.
The School Board “will provide transparency, accountability and integrity as we continue to focus on delivering the highest quality educational experience for our students, teachers and staff,” she said.
School Board member Lori Alhadeff, who has given unsatisfactory evaluations to both Runcie and Myrick, said on Facebook that she has asked Alan Strauss, chief of human resources, to review ‘”all school board policies” in light of the arrests.
“As more specific details come to light, I will act accordingly, in the best interest of the students and staff” of Broward schools, she wrote.
Lisa Maxwell, who represents school leaders through the Broward Principals and Assistants Association, said the issues won’t affect school operations.
“The district provides support, but the principals manage the schools and will continue to do so,” she said.
Runcie did not attend Tuesday’s School Board meeting, which was rare for him. Myrick did attend.
(Staff writer Brittany Wallman contributed to this report.)