The Morning Jolt

National Security & Defense

‘How Do We Keep [Reducing Arrests] Without Making the Schools a More Dangerous Place?’

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel speaks at a press conference outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., February 15, 2018 (Thom Baur/Reuters)

Despite the intensity and anger of the gun debate, everyone in America is in agreement on one thing: Nikolas Cruz should never have been able to get his hands on a gun. What we’re now learning is that local law enforcement — and indeed, even the FBI — had several opportunities to prevent him from being able to purchase a weapon legally and did not do so, by choosing not to press charges, despite a recurring pattern of violent and dangerous behavior and multiple warnings from Cruz’s peers.

Just what do you have to do to get arrested in that county?

The Miami Herald and BuzzFeed lay out multiple times Cruz could have been arrested and charged with a crime, but authorities chose otherwise.

First, February 2016:

One key misstep in Cruz’s case came in February 2016, when a Broward deputy responded to a report that the teenager “planned to shoot up the school.” An Instagram photo of a “juvenile” with a gun prompted the tip, according to a time line released by BSO on Thursday.

A Broward deputy determined that Cruz “possessed knives and a BB gun.” But the information was not forwarded to a detective bureau or Broward’s Intelligence Unit, which routinely monitors possible violent offenders who post online.

Threats to kill or harm are felonies in Florida.

Then, April 2016:

Dana said she started getting threats over direct messages from Cruz’s ex-girlfriend’s Instagram account. Dana said Cruz had access to the account and that the messages read as though he was sending them.

“I’m going to get you and I’m going to kill you because you took this person away from me. I’m going to kill your family,” Dana remembered the messages saying. Dana no longer has the messages because they were removed using Instagram’s “unsend” direct message function. Two classmates and one adult — who didn’t want her name used because she didn’t want to get in trouble with her job — told BuzzFeed News that Dana told them about the troubling messages at the time.

Not long after, Dana said she went to Kelvin Greenleaf, at the time a security specialist at Marjory Douglas Stoneman high school who the students knew as the head of security, to tell him about the threats and show him the messages. Cruz was later expelled.

(It is worth noting that Cruz was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but was never expelled entirely from the Broward County school system. The school system could not legally expel him. Under federal law, a school district cannot deny a student an education because of physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities.) Why couldn’t gun-violence restraining orders be implemented for anyone who is expelled from a school for making violent threats?

The Herald has more details:

Then Cruz’s ex began dating another student, Enea Sabadini. Cruz threatened Sabadini on several occasions in 2016 and 2017, calling him racial slurs and saying, “I have guns … I will kill you,” as well as sending a photo of at least six weapons laid out on his bed. Sabadini also reported Cruz’s threats to the school, according to Buzzfeed.

Cruz’s threats to the teens could constitute aggravated cyberstalking, a felony, said Louis, the former Miami-Dade prosecutor. They could also violate state law against issuing written threats to kill.

“You have no right to say to somebody, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ ” Louis said.

Richard Della Fera, a Miami defense attorney, agreed. And he said the lack of investigation into what was clearly a crime was troubling.

“If law enforcement saw the messages and could identify the person who was sending them, the ball got dropped when the investigation didn’t go any further,” said Della Fera, who has handled high-profile cases of people accused of posting violent material online.

Most important: Being charged with aggravated cyberstalking could have prevented Cruz from possessing the weapon he used to kill 17 people.

A condition of bond for felony stalking charges in Broward is the surrender of all firearms.

“He would be required to surrender any firearms that he had,” Della Fera said. “He wouldn’t have had the firearm.”

And had he been convicted, Cruz’s status as a registered felon would have further impeded his ability to purchase weapons under Florida law.

Then in September 2017:

In September, he wrote “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube channel. The comment would have been enough to charge Cruz with a threat of terrorism, a felony, according to an official in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

The comment was reported to the FBI. But a lackluster investigation did not identify Cruz as its author.

Three opportunities to charge Cruz with a crime, all missed by law enforcement. If a single felony charge had been filed, Cruz wouldn’t have been able to purchase the AR-15.

Sarah Rumpf looks at that theory on Twitter that Cruz was caught up in the county’s policy to avoid arresting juvenile offenders, and runs across a horrifyingly prescient 2015 quote from Maria Schneider, head of the juvenile unit in the Broward State Attorney’s Office: “We’ve accomplished reducing the arrests. Now it’s ‘how do we keep that up without making the schools a more dangerous place.’”

How Do You Wear Out a Streetcar in Two Years?

An easily-overlooked tale that showcases why many conservatives are wary about big, expensive light-rail projects: Just two years after the District of Columbia unveiled a shiny new $200 million streetcar system that runs just 2.2 miles, the D.C. Department of Transportation is planning on replacing the cars.

The District Department of Transportation said there have been problems already with getting spare parts to complete repairs in a timely manner. One manufacturer is out of business, and the other is overseas, so the issues are likely to continue.

“Long term parts availability will likely require reverse engineering parts,” DDOT officials wrote to the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment. The agency said it is exploring a strategy of acquiring vehicles in the future that “considers the feasibility of disposal of the current fleet.”

The District began laying track for this project about eight months after Barack Obama was inaugurated president. Back then, they estimated the streetcars would begin running in August 2012. They started running in February 2016.

The District is still moving ahead with plans for two extensions that would bring the cost of the project to roughly $800 million.

The Benning Road extension is projected to cost about $89 million, plus $95 million in related roadway and bridge construction improvements, and $20 million for additional streetcars.

Once the $400 million extension to Georgetown is completed, there are no active plans to build the rest of what was originally billed as a 37-mile streetcar system throughout the city, DDOT said.

The District is pleased with the current ridership; in January — a low tourism, low-activity month — the line “averaged 3,061 riders each weekday and 2,177 each weekend.”

Did I mention that the streetcar is free? The local government doesn’t want to charge riders for the streetcar, because that would discourage use.

The great James Lileks diagnosed “streetcar chic”:

Look: In my ideal urban world, I walk out the front door, a trolley clatters up, I swing on board, the conductor touches his cap, and off we go! But this world also requires that I don’t have a child to pick up from school, an errand to run 20 miles away, groceries to fetch, soccer game after supper, and so on. I do not live in a European city in a flat the size of my college dorm room with a fridge that makes R2D2 look like Optimus Prime.

Now the wires are back up for the light rail. There’s a big push to bring back streetcars, which are just like buses, except they require iron lines in the pavement and wires overhead, and can’t be rerouted. But dang, they look fine in promotional brochures and videos. A millennial who might move here to get a job as a web designer at a nonprofit looks at those pictures and thinks: These are the signs of enlightenment. President Obama himself paid a visit to a refurbished train station in neighboring St. Paul, to praise our forward-looking transit strategy, right on the day they tested a stretch of the new line that links downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The car derailed. But hey. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single misstep.

Once again, “The Simpsons already did it.” When fast-talking con man Lyle Lanley persuaded Springfield to build a monorail with unrealistic promises and a song and dance, and the town ignored Marge’s warning about diverting funds from more mundane needs like fixing up the main street’s potholes, the show foreshadowed the decisions of many local government and their mass transit visions.

ADDENDA: I’m sure Shane Bauer and I disagree on a lot of things, but this is an astute observation: “One of the main problems with Twitter’s effect in journalism is that followers measure status and one of the major ways followers are gained is simply by picking fights and being controversial. Being controversial has nothing to do with the skills required to be a journalist.”

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