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Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools Robert Runcie was arrested Wednesday morning on a perjury charge related to his grand jury testimony on funding of school safety.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement charged him with perjury in an official proceeding. A grand jury indicted him on April 15 on one count of perjury, a third-degree felony.
The indictment states he gave a false statement while testifying to the state-convened grand jury on March 31 and April 1 about the district soliciting and accepting state funds that were contingent on implementing safety measures mandated after the Feb. 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.
Runcie, 59, was released on his own recognizance.
FDLE agents also Wednesday arrested the Broward School Board’s general counsel, Barbara Myrick, 72, on a felony charge of unlawful disclosure of statewide grand jury proceedings.
Case politically motivated, Runcie’s lawyer says
Runcie’s attorney, Jeremy Kroll, released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying his client’s indictment and arrest were politically motivated.
“It’s a sad day in Broward County and across Florida when politics becomes more important that the interests of our students,” Kroll said.
The attorney added that the indictment does not “shed any light on what false statement is alleged to have been made.”
“Mr. Runcie will enter a plea of not guilty to the charge. We are confident that he will be exonerated, and he intends to continue to carry out his responsibilities with the highest level of integrity and moral standards, as he has done for nearly 10 years in his role as superintendent,” Kroll said.
Myrick’s attorney, J. David Bogenschutz, said Wednesday he hadn’t seen the indictment and had no comment until he read it.
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DeSantis declines to comment
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office declined to comment Wednesday when asked whether the governor planned to remove Runcie from office.
“At this point, this is a matter for law enforcement and the courts,” Cody McCloud, DeSantis’ press secretary, said in a statement. “We have no further comment at this time.”
Runcie, who earns $356,000 a year, was the superintendent at the time of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, which resulted in the deaths of 17 students and faculty members and injuries to 17 others.
Issues related to Parkland shootings
Many, including DeSantis, said then-Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and Runcie were partially to blame for the way law enforcement handled the shootings and how the district handled Nikolas Cruz, the former Stoneman Douglas student who has been charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and faces the death penalty as he awaits trial.
Officials removed Cruz from the school in 2017 and transferred him to an alternative learning center over disciplinary issues related to fighting, profanity and a Jan. 19, 2107, assault, the Herald previously reported.
DeSantis, who took office in January 2019, suspended Israel in the same month he was sworn in as governor. The Florida Senate voted to remove Israel from office in October 2019.
DeSantis has said he wanted to do the same with Runcie, but he couldn’t because the superintendent was an appointed, not elected, official. Israel was an elected official.
The case against Runcie and Myrick is being prosecuted by the Office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, an ally of DeSantis.
DeSantis convened the grand jury in February 2019 to investigate school districts’ compliance statewide with school safety laws and issue any relevant indictments in the wake of Stoneman Douglas. Grand jury meetings are not open to the public and jury members are sworn to secrecy.
In December 2019, the grand jury specifically cited Broward and Miami-Dade public school districts in its second interim report. It charged that they manipulated discipline data in the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting System, known as SESIR.
The Broward School Board hired Runcie as superintendent in 2011. The board extended his contract in 2013 and again in October 2017, when it unanimously approved a second extension until June 30, 2023.
The district issued a statement by Rosalind Osgood, chair of the Broward School Board, that did not address Runcie’s arrest, but said operations would continue uninterrupted despite the indictment.
“The School Board of Broward County, Florida will provide transparency, accountability and integrity as we continue to focus on delivering the highest quality education experience for our students, teachers and staff. As legal processes continue, Broward County Public Schools will operate as normal under the District’s leadership team.”
It was not immediately clear if Runcie would lead the district following his indictment and arrest. The School Board held its regular meeting on Tuesday.
According to an April 15 indictment by a grand jury impaneled by the Florida Supreme Court, Runcie made a statement that “he did not believe to be true” while testifying in a case regarding public safety funding. The indictment did not say what the statement was.
Specifically, the grand jury was investigating “whether school officials committed — and continue to commit — fraud and deceit by mismanaging, failing to use, and diverting funds from multi-million dollar bonds specifically solicited for school safety initiatives; and whether school officials violated — and continue to violate — state law by systematically under reporting incidents of criminal activity to the Department of Education.”
The grand jury was also investigating “whether refusal and failure to follow the mandates of school-related safety laws, such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, resulted in unnecessary and avoidable risk to students across the state; and 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.”
Lori Alhadeff, a Broward School Board member whose daughter Alyssa, 14, was killed in the Parkland shooting, said in a statement on Facebook that she will wait for input from the district’s human resources department before giving her opinion on whether Runcie should resign or be removed.
“As more specific details come to light, I will act accordingly, in the best interest of the students and staff at BCPS,” Alhadeff said.
Miami Herald staff writer David Neal contributed to this report.