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The surprise arrests of Broward schools chief Robert Runcie and lead attorney Barbara Myrick this week can be traced to the fallout from the Feb. 14, 2018, Parkland school shooting.
One year after the massacre, Gov. Ron DeSantis called for a statewide grand jury to review safety and corruption issues in Broward and other school districts. A final report is expected soon.
The superintendent is accused of making a still-unspecified false statement to these grand jurors three weeks ago. The general counsel disclosed unspecified information from the grand jury proceedings sometime between March 31 and April 14, according to an indictment.
This is the history of the special grand jury.
Jan. 30, 2019
In the same month he took office, DeSantis announced there needed to be accountability for the Parkland tragedy. First, on Jan. 8, he suspended Sheriff Scott Israel, declaring “the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.”
But the governor on Jan. 30 said he’d also heard loud calls for a change in school district leadership, which coincided with numerous reports by the South Florida Sun Sentinel about weaknesses in school security and discipline.
“There may be options where we can look at accountability there, but it will be different than me saying the superintendent is out,” DeSantis said, adding that he likely lacked the authority to suspend Runcie, an appointee of the School Board.
Feb. 13, 2019
Citing failures by Broward school officials to ensure student safety before the mass murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, DeSantis petitioned the state Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury. The court, on Feb. 25, agreed.
“Patterns of fraud and deceit by public entities shirking responsibility may exist and repeat throughout the state,” the governor said. “A statewide grand jury is an appropriate vehicle to investigate these matters and to identify any deficiencies in current laws, punishments or enforcement efforts.”
The grand jury was given a mission to explore:
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 scope of the review has broadened beyond safety, to explore other problems in Broward schools, including mismanagement of the district’s $800 million bond for school construction and questionable technology purchases.
DeSantis tapped Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office to advise the jurors, who were selected from prospective jury pools in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter has been presiding over the group.
July 19, 2019
The grand jury released its first interim report. It slammed unspecified school districts and the state Department of Education for failing to comply with state safety laws passed by the Legislature as a result of Parkland. These measures include requiring schools to have one armed person in every campus, involving law enforcement in assessments to determine the level of threat certain students pose, and turning in accurate crime and safety reports to the state.
The interim report also criticized disputes between school districts and law enforcement over who is responsible for protecting schools. Moody then said no school district is specifically named due to requirements in state law that keeps grand jury information confidential until its term has ended.
“Unfortunately, the interim report does not name the school districts that are out of compliance ... but the districts are certainly aware,” Moody said in a statement.
Dec. 11, 2019
A second interim report slammed Broward authorities for flawed emergency communications, distorting crime statistics and last-second scrambles to comply with statewide school-safety laws.
The findings suggested improvements for districts statewide, noting that schools have been built without consideration as to whether police radios will work inside buildings. The report found delays and how infighting over the placement and appearance of new radio towers in Broward hampered the ability to effectively communicate potential threats.
The grand jury also found that some districts intentionally did not report incidents, leaving a false impression of “safety and order.”
The Sun Sentinel had 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 grand jury recommended sanctions for offenders in the future, including fines, potential criminal charges and removal of school officials.
Runcie responded that the communications issues had been fixed; and that the district properly reported safety data in 2017. “We tolerate nothing less than complete reporting of incidents, including suspension and demotion of principals and assistant principals if … reports are found to be incomplete,” Runcie wrote.
Dec. 10, 2020
A third interim report suggested that the Broward school district’s building department had “hijacked” the $800 million bond program, which has been plagued by delays and mismanagement since voters passed it in 2014.
It accused the building department of delaying projects for years in an apparent effort to secure certain large-scale projects for preferred vendors. It recommended abolishing the department and turning inspections over to county or municipal inspections departments.
The grand jury again highlighted the district’s false reporting of campus crimes to make campuses look less dangerous.
“Physical attacks on teachers become ‘disturbances.’ Large-scale brawls become ‘minor fights,’” the report said. “The end-result of this misreporting is that voters do not have any idea how much crime and disruption is actually occurring in the schools, and law enforcement is often not informed any crime ever occurred.”
Jan. 12, 2021
Tony Hunter, the district’s former chief information officer, was arrested on bid rigging and bribery charges related to a $17 million technology contract. The case is related to the purchase of Recordex Simplicity flat screen devices from 2015 to 2019.
The district and grand jury began looking at Hunter’s actions after the Sun Sentinel questioned the technology deal and Hunter’s ties to the vendor while reporting directly to Runcie.
The devices — a combination big-screen TV and touch-screen computer — are designed to make learning more interactive for students. Prosecutors say the district failed to seek competitive bids and Hunter steered the deal to a friend. Hunter, 60, has pleaded not guilty to two second-degree felony counts and denied any wrongdoing.
The grand jury has also been examining the district’s huge spending on Lenovo computers, following complaints about bidding practices and quality. The district has paid more than $200 million for Lenovo devices and accessories since 2013; Hunter in particular advocated for an $81 million contract in 2016, records show.
April 15, 2021
The grand jury indicted Runcie, 59, on a charge of perjury in an official proceeding, a third-degree felony. Myrick, 72, was indicted on one count of unlawful disclosure of statewide grand jury proceedings, also a third-degree felony.
April 21, 2021
Both indictments were unsealed after Runcie’s and Myrick’s arrests. Defense attorneys say Moody’s office has yet to disclose precisely what the allegations entail. The superintendent has led the district since 2011. Myrick has been general counsel since 2016 and a district employee since 2002.
Runcie and Myrick could find out Tuesday whether they will stay in their roles with the school district: The School Board plans to discuss the matter.