Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

State Commission Should Not Have Had Parkland Shooter's Medical Records, Defense Argues In Court

Nikolas Cruz appeared in court for a hearing on Jan. 8, 2019. He wore the same glasses in his Jan. 18, 2019 court appearance.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The legal team defending the confessed-Parkland shooter argued in front of a Broward Circuit judge Friday morning that the state commission investigating the shooting should not have had access to Nikolas Cruz's confidential medical and mental health records. 

The team of public defenders, led by attorney Melisa McNeill, asked Judge Elizabeth Scherer to hold the Broward Sheriff's Office in contempt of court for releasing Cruz's confidential medical and mental health records to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission. 

McNeill also asked Scherer to set a separate evidence hearing with the BSO to determine whether the agency as a whole or only an individual within the agency are responsible for releasing the records. 

Rather than deciding if an additional hearing is necessary on Friday, Judge Scherer told the court she will make a decision by early next week. 

"I will take this under advisement," she said. 

An earlier court order from last May details that only law enforcement officers who are directly involved in the criminal case, and State Attorney's Office employees who are directly involved in the prosecution, should have access to Cruz's medical and mental health records. 

Medical and mental health records are also protected under federal HIPPA law.

Defense attorneys argued on behalf of Cruz, that giving the records to more people than just those directly involved with his case, disrupts his chance for a fair trial. 

Cruz faces 17 charges of first-degree murder and 17 additional charges of attempted murder. If he is convicted, he will face the death penalty.  

Read More: Broward Judge Refuses To Set Trial Date For Case Against Parkland Shooter

Cruz was present in the small courtroom with his attorneys. Hewore over-sized glasses, and seemed more alert than in previous hearings, where he usually kept his head down. 

An attorney for BSO, Christian Tsoubanos, told Scherer he was unable to find out who in the sheriff's office  released the records to the state commission.

"We would not purposely or knowingly violate the court's order," Tsoubanos said. "This is not the Broward Sheriff's Office. If we released those records, it was a mistake."

The state commission that has been investigating Cruz and the Feb. 14 shooting, released its first report earlier this month. There are two private appendices released to certain state officials, but not to the public, that contain information about Cruz's mental health history. 

All of the meetings commissioners held about their findings on Cruz's medical records were also closed, and not open to the public. 

In a second hearing on Friday, Cruz's defense team withdrew a motion to get him a new guard in jail. 

Cruz was charged with a second-degree felony in November 2018, for attempted aggravated battery on a guard. Because the motion to put a different guard in charge of him was dropped, BSO will still be in charge of who oversees Cruz. 

Cruz  is due back in court for the next scheduled status hearing, in late February.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Caitie Switalski is a rising senior at the University of Florida. She's worked for WFSU-FM in Tallahassee as an intern and reporter. When she's in Gainesville for school, Caitie is an anchor and producer for local Morning Edition content at WUFT-FM, as well as a digital editor for the station's website. Her favorite stories are politically driven, about how politicians, laws and policies effect local communities. Once she graduates with a dual degree in Journalism and English,Caitiehopes to make a career continuing to report and produce for NPR stations in the sunshine state. When she's not following what's happening with changing laws, you can catchCaitielounging in local coffee shops, at the beach, or watching Love Actually for the hundredth time.