Florida school shooting suspect's medical records an issue

Nikolas Cruz, suspected Florida high school shooter / Photo: Broward County Sheriff's Office / ZUMA Press / MGN
By  | 

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lawyers for Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz said Friday that his confidential medical records were improperly disclosed to a state investigative panel by someone in the Broward Sheriff's Office.

The attorneys asked Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to hold another hearing on whether the sheriff's office should be held in contempt of court for providing the records to the state commission investigating the shooting. They say access was limited by Scherer's court order to only certain authorized investigators and prosecutors in the criminal case.

"Not only is it a violation of the court order, but it's a violation of federal law," said Cruz attorney Melisa McNeill, referring to federal protections of medical and mental health records. The law "encourages people to get treatment knowing that those records will be kept confidential."

Sheriff's office attorney Christian Tsoubanos said there was no intent to violate any court orders or federal law, and he's been unable to determine who at the agency may have given the records to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

"This is not the Broward Sheriff's Office deflecting blame. If we did release those records, it was a mistake," Tsoubanos said. "We would not purposely or knowingly violate the court's order or try to circumvent the court's order."

Scherer did not immediately issue a ruling on the defense request for a full hearing on how the medical records were released. They were not made public. A person found in criminal contempt of court can face fines or even a jail sentence of up to a year. A judge could also require that any other requests for Cruz's records must be approved by court order.

Cruz, 20, faces the death penalty if convicted in the February 2018 massacre at the high school that killed 17 people and wounded 17 more. His lawyers have said he'll plead guilty in return for life in prison, but prosecutors say that is unacceptable.

The records in question come from a psychiatrist — identified in court documents only as "Dr. BN" — who had treated Cruz before the shooting. Scherer's order last May restricted all such Cruz records only to investigators and prosecutors directly involved in the criminal prosecution, as well as Cruz's defense lawyers. The state commission was not on that list.

Beyond the psychiatrist's records, numerous investigators, school officials, family members and others have publicly said Cruz was a mentally unstable teenager, prone to a fascination with weapons, violence and images of cruelty and death.