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Robert Runcie, the schools superintendent in Broward County, Florida, was arrested Wednesday on felony charges related to an inquiry into the district’s security actions in the lead-up to the 2018 mass school shooting in Parkland, state officials announced.
Runcie, 59, was arrested by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents and charged with perjury. Also arrested was Broward County School Board General Counsel Barbara Myrick, 72, who was charged with felony unlawful disclosure of statewide grand jury proceedings. Both officials face felony charges related to a statewide grand jury that launched a probe into the country’s sixth-largest district after 17 people were killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis created the panel in 2019 to investigate possible failures by the district to follow state school-safety laws and to properly manage money earmarked for school safety initiatives.
Runcie’s indictment, provided to The 74 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, alleges that he gave false statements to the grand jury as it was investigating whether the district was following school safety laws, whether officials committed fraud by accepting state school funds while “knowingly failing to act,” whether officials committed fraud by mismanaging school safety funds and whether educators underreported “incidents of criminal activity to the Department of Education.” The indictment against Myrick, the district’s longtime lawyer, alleges that she disclosed confidential information related to the statewide grand jury proceedings. Information relating to the grand jury is sealed and officials didn’t release additional information about the charges.
Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina Petty was killed in the Parkland shooting, told The 74 he felt relief at Runcie’s indictment, saying it reflects a “three-year process trying to drive towards some accountability” from district leadership.
In arguing that educators have failed in their obligations to keep students safe, Petty pointed to an $800 million bond program approved in 2014 to update school buildings including security upgrades. As of 2019, 97 percent of district schools were still waiting for repairs, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“The promises had not been kept,” said Petty, who has served on the state Board of Education since last year. “The killer walked through an open gate which should have been locked, through an open door which should have been locked and then began to indiscriminately kill students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, all of which was preventable, all of which was avoidable.”
Runcie’s lawyers said their client will plead not guilty and called it a “sad day” when “politics become more important than the interests of our students,” and said that the superintendent has “fully cooperated with law enforcement throughout this statewide grand jury process.”
“This morning, we received a copy of an indictment that does not shed any light on what false statement is alleged to have been made,” according to the statement from the firm Dutko & Kroll, P.A. “We are confident that [Runcie] 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.”
School board chair Rosalind Osgood said in a statement that the nearly 261,000-student school system will “operate as normal under the District’s leadership team” as the legal proceedings unfold.
Runcie and Myrick aren’t the first public officials to face criminal charges in relation to the Parkland shooting. Scot Peterson, a school-based police officer assigned to the campus, was charged with neglect and perjury in 2019 after he failed to engage the gunman head-on as shots rang out.
The district’s school safety and security efforts have been highly scrutinized since Broward County schools were thrust into the national spotlight by the tragedy. Among the most controversial has been the PROMISE program, a diversion initiative that seeks to keep students out of the criminal justice system for committing certain offenses at school. Runcie repeatedly claimed that the suspected Parkland shooter had “no connection” to the program but WLRN, the local public radio station, reported that he had been referred to PROMISE for vandalism in 2013, though it’s unclear if he ever attended. Critics of the program argue it led officials to take a lax position on school discipline.
Runcie has also faced sharp criticism for his response to the shooting and has fended off efforts to oust him from his $335,000-a-year post. His contract, which expires in 2023, allows a majority on the school board to terminate his employment without cause, according to WLRN.
Petty is among Runcie’s toughest critics. Though specifics of the charges against the veteran superintendent and Myrick remain unclear, Petty said he felt optimistic about the grand jury investigation.
“I certainly take no pleasure in seeing somebody indicted, but I can’t help but feel that we’re moving in the right direction with regards to getting accountability,” he said. “Hopefully this will lead to change.”
Read the indictments: