JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I’m Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is still raw in the wake of the tragedy in Florida.
President Trump and Florida’s Republican governor have promised action, including some proposals to change existing gun laws. And a brand-new CNN poll now shows support for stricter gun purchasing laws at its highest level of the last 25 years, with 70 percent now saying that they back new, more restrictive gun legislation.
Nearly two-thirds think government and society can take action that will effectively prevent future mass shootings. That’s much higher than CNN polls after the tragedies in Las Vegas, and Orlando, and Charleston, and Sandy Hook, suggesting perhaps, perhaps the shooting in Parkland, Florida, has shifted public opinion in a way other incidents have not.
But there are also new questions about the numerous missed red flags about the shooter and the immediate response. Coral Springs sources tell me, in addition to the school resource officer, when Coral Springs arrived on the scene, they were surprised to find three other Broward County sheriff’s deputies who had not yet entered the school.
The Broward County denies those reports, saying only one deputy was there during the time of the shooting, while the shooter was there. But what about in its immediate aftermath, when it was still an active shooter situation and victims were in desperate need of help?
Joining me now to discuss all of this is Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
Sheriff, thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate it.
I want you to take a listen to Stoneman Douglas senior Brandon Huff talking about your deputy, the school resource officer, Scot Peterson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRANDON HUFF, SENIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: The school resource officer was behind a stairwell wall just standing there, and he had his gun drawn. And he was just pointing it at the building.
And you could – shots started going off inside. You could hear them going off over and over. And he was just talking on the radio, and he never did anything for four minutes. And he’s the only one with a gun. He’s wearing a bulletproof vest. And all – he has all that, while school security guards, you know, coaches pretty much, were running in shielding kids.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Sheriff, how do you respond to this student?
BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF SCOTT ISRAEL: Oh, what the student said, our video and audio and all the witness statements we have taken corroborates that.
That’s what I saw. And when I saw that, I was disgusted. I was just demoralized with the performance of former Deputy Peterson. And that’s why I called him in and suspended him without pay, as we were going to move towards termination. And he resigned.
TAPPER: Did he tell you why he didn’t go in?
ISRAEL: He did not.
TAPPER: I’m also told by sources in Coral Springs that Coral Springs police who arrived at the scene saw that three other Broward deputies were standing behind cars, not having gone into the building. What can you tell me about that?
ISRAEL: Well, let me perfectly clear.
Our investigation to this point shows that, during this horrific attack, while this killer was inside the school, there was only one law enforcement person, period, and that was former Deputy Scot Peterson.
Coral Springs arrived. A group of Coral Springs officers went in within, I think, about four minutes, we’re projecting, after the killer left the campus.
The – I understand that they’re going to give statements to us regarding the other three, four, five deputies. At this point, we have no reason to believe that any one acted incorrectly or correctly. That’s what an investigation is.
Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, but nobody’s entitled to their own set of facts.
We do know, Jake, that Deputy Peterson at the time uttered – he disseminated information over the police radio. We don’t know why those deputies – what those deputies heard. Perhaps they did something by what they heard from Peterson.
And that will be, you know, outlined in interviews. We will get to the truth. But, at this point, one deputy was remiss, dereliction of duty, and he’s now no longer with this agency. And that’s Peterson.
TAPPER: And you’re saying – you’re saying that because, during the time that the shooter was in the school, you say Peterson was the only one there.
But that’s not – that wasn’t known at the time. You know that now because of security cameras. You saw when he left the school.
TAPPER: This is after the fact.
But when did your deputies, not Peterson, but the others, when did they arrive on the scene, because Coral Springs sources say, when Coral Springs arrived, there were Broward deputies there in addition to Peterson.
ISRAEL: And I don’t dispute that, but that is an active investigation. We have not taken statements yet from the Coral Springs officers.
We found out, I believe, five or six days ago from their police chief that he told one of our colonels about the – about the information. We’re going to be taking statements from those Coral Springs police officers.
Then we’re going to be speaking with our deputies. If any deputies are alleged to have dereliction of duty, we will look into that. We don’t know what the deputies heard on the radio. Coral Springs and the Broward Sheriff’s Office, we have different radio systems.
So, we don’t know what one was hearing vis-a-vis what the other was hearing. All I can tell you is, we will investigate every action of our deputies, of their supervisors. And if they did things right, we will move forward. And if they did things wrong, I will take care of business in a disciplinary matter, like I did with Peterson.
TAPPER: And just so people watching at home understand, even after the shooter left the school, there was a period of time where nobody was going into the school, no law enforcement officers. People were bleeding out.
The question – nobody knew that the shooter had left the school, so officers needed to go in. One of the things that we have heard – and I don’t know if this is true or not – I can – hope you can shed light on it – is that there might have been a stand-down order, somebody on the radio telling Broward deputies not to enter this school until a SWAT team arrived.
What can you tell us about that?
ISRAEL: I can’t tell you anything about that. I haven’t heard that.
As I said, we feverishly are dissecting. It’s a voluminous investigation. We’re taking hundreds and hundreds of statements. And, right now, Jake, the focus of this agency is on the successful prosecution of the killer.
So, we’re doing that. Our detectives have worked tirelessly. We will investigate all aspects of this case. We will look at all the actions or inactions of every single deputy and leader on our agency, sergeants, lieutenants, captains. And we will make some decisions.
But, right now, all I can tell you is, during the killing, there was – while the killer was on campus with this horrific killing, there was one deputy, one armed person within proximity of that school. And that was Peterson.
Everything else is fluid. And, as I said, we will get to the truth. But, right now, people could have conjecture, people could act on rumors, and people have – you know, everybody has the right to their own opinion, but nobody has the right to their own set of facts.
TAPPER: Have you listened to the…
ISRAEL: The facts will come out.
TAPPER: Have you listened to the radio recordings?
ISRAEL: I’m not, but the investigators are, of course.
TAPPER: OK. But you haven’t. You have not heard them, though?
But what they’re doing now is, they’re marrying up the audio with the visual. And I was told that one of the – one of Peterson’s utterances on the radio, I think one or two times, he actually says shots fired.
So, you would have to assume at that time every person who heard that transmission is pushing as fast as they can, code three, as we call it, to the school, to the school. Identify the threat. Neutralize the target. Take the killer out.
There comes a point in time later that Peterson makes a transmission that would almost lead one to believe that he’s talking about perimeters.
So, if I know my school resource deputy is talking about perimeter positions, it’s absolutely safe to assume, incorrectly, if that’s what actually happened, it’s absolutely safe to assume that, if a person there is talking about perimeter, that perhaps he sees the killer leaving, and – and you’re going to a perimeter position to catch the killer.
But I don’t know what was in the mind of the other deputies. I don’t know what was in the mind of Peterson. This is why we investigate. All I can tell you is that…
ISRAEL: … from the time I heard about this, I did what needed to be done with former Deputy Peterson.
TAPPER: But, Sheriff, the Thursday – the day after the horrific incident, at a vigil, the city manager for Coral Springs confronted you in public.
And one of the things he confronted you about, sources tell me, is the idea that your deputies did not go into the school while children inside were bleeding out.
ISRAEL: That’s absolutely untrue.
We had a conversation. We were out in public. The only two people who could have heard the conversation were myself and the city manager. It was a conversation. I’m not going to share that conversation. It was very short.
The city manager and I have spoken numerous times. We have met. He’s a great city manager. He does a great job with Coral Springs.
ISRAEL: We have got a great relationship. And it was just two guys having a conversation.
TAPPER: One of the questions about the response by Broward is whether this was policy to set up a perimeter, instead of going in.
Earlier this week, you seemed to suggest that your deputies are trained to arrive and not immediately go into the site of the shooting, but rather to create a staging area.
Listen to yourself a few days ago talking about what you learned from the Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting 13 months ago. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISRAEL: One of the key lessons we learned from the airport was the phenomenon of self-dispatching and not allowing deputies and police officers from all over the tri-county area to just arrive haphazardly.
And we had staging areas and people who came, went to a staging area. And they were inserted into the position in a commonsense way, and everybody had a job to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: See, that seems to – that sounds to a lot of people like the opposite of what police forces learned after Columbine, which is, when you arrive, you don’t wait; you run in.
ISRAEL: I’m glad you asked that question.
Jake, you’re completely talking apples and oranges. And I’m glad you brought that up.
When we have a horrific incident of any magnitude, and the incident is over, and people are arriving to help, and we know we have five, 10, 12 hours of work to do, we have our deputies, police officers, firefighters go to staging areas, so we can insert them in a clear and concise manner into the scenario, into the event.
An active shooter is completely different. As people were coming to the airport, we didn’t have an active shooter. He was already in custody 72 seconds after the event.
This is an active shooter. We push to the entry, to the killer. We get in, and we take out the threat. Completely different set of circumstances.
Sheriff, when did you find out that Deputy Peterson had not gone into the building? How soon after the shooting did you know that?
ISRAEL: Not for days. We – our investigators looked…
TAPPER: How many days?
ISRAEL: I’m not sure.
TAPPER: Because you spent much of the Wednesday night town hall on CNN, with the entire Stoneman Douglas community, students and teachers and parents, attacking the NRA, saying that police need more powers, more money to prevent future tragedies.
You didn’t disclose any of this to the crowd then, the Stoneman Douglas High School community. Did you know it then? Did you know it Wednesday night?
ISRAEL: It was spoken about during that – earlier during that day.
I’m not on a timeline for TV or any news show. We need to get it right. We need to get it accurate. We’re talking about people’s lives. We’re talking about a community. We need to corroborate, we need to verify.
And once we did the next day, and I looked at the tape, and I was 100 percent certain that it happened the way I was told about the investigators initially told me – told about, I didn’t even release it right that second.
TAPPER: You didn’t look at the video? One week after the shooting, you hadn’t looked at the video yet?
ISRAEL: I looked at the video as soon as our investigators – it wasn’t my job to look at the video. It was investigators’ job to look at the video.
I’m still sheriffing this county. There were many things to do. We have investigators, homicide investigators, internal affairs investigators dissecting it. And when they felt there was a video that – ready for my view, that I might take action on one of our deputies, I looked at the video.
And let me add this, Jake. Once I saw the video, the first order I gave was for our detectives to notify the families that the – of the – those lost, the families. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, the families come first. And I wanted to make sure the families knew what happened and what was about to happen before we released…
TAPPER: The families were at the CNN town hall, sir. Sir, the families were at the CNN town hall. And you could’ve disclosed to them…
ISRAEL: That’s not the – that’s not – I couldn’t disclose it then, because there was no corroboration, Jake. There was no confirmation.
We needed to dot I’s and cross T’s. And I certainly would not disclose it to a family at a town hall. Not every family was there. One of the families, one – Mr. Pollack had gone to Washington, D.C.
TAPPER: All right.
ISRAEL: That’s not the way you do things, over a news camera. You do it individually. You meet privately with families. You have compassion. You don’t do it at a public forum. And we weren’t ready to do it anyway.
TAPPER: Right. But your tone – your tone at the public forum, sir – your tone at the public forum was rather belligerent towards the NRA.
And you were talking about needing more police protection – I mean, more police funding and more police powers, and yet you knew…
ISRAEL: That’s not…
TAPPER: No, it’s not – that wasn’t your tone?
ISRAEL: That’s not true. Jake, that’s not true at all.
I wasn’t belligerent towards the NRA. I took a passionate stance, as I always have, about commonsense gun reform and expanding police ability throughout our country when we come in contact with someone mentally ill to take them to a facility.
ISRAEL: To take guns away from them.
There was no belligerence at all. And I completely disagree with you.
TAPPER: A medical – let’s talk about the response.