Politics & Government

Rick Scott says FBI won’t answer questions about mishandled tip on Parkland shooter

Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people were killed the day before. He is joined by Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, left, and then-Gov. Rick Scott.-
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people were killed the day before. He is joined by Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, left, and then-Gov. Rick Scott.- Sun Sentinel

Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to pry more information out of the FBI about how the agency failed to act on tips about a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who killed 17 people in Parkland last year at his old school.

In the six months before the attack, the FBI received two tips warning that Nikolas Cruz was a school shooter in the making. One tip, phoned in to the FBI’s national call center by someone close to Cruz, offered alarming detail only weeks before the attack but was never forwarded to the FBI’s South Florida field office, as protocol required.

Scott, who was governor of Florida at the time of the Parkland shooting, has repeatedly pressed federal investigators for information about why the tips were mishandled and what the FBI has done to make sure it never happens again. When the FBI first acknowledged the missed tips, Scott demanded unsuccessfully that FBI Director Christopher Wray resign.

Now a U.S. senator, Scott wrote Thursday to Attorney General Bill Barr complaining that the FBI has withheld information from him and the parents of slain students and faculty.

“I urge you to seek answers from Director Wray that have been denied to the victims’ families and make sure these documented failures by his agency will never happen again,” Scott wrote.

A spokeswoman for the FBI wouldn’t comment Friday. The DOJ didn’t respond to a request for comment.

But in a July 30 letter responding to a request for information that Scott made back in April, Jill C. Tyson, the head of the FBI’s office of congressional affairs, explained that there had been some changes made by the agency. She said the agency has improved the call center staffing and improved safeguards to make sure that that all calls related to life-threatening issues and counter-terrorism are reviewed.

But Tyson wouldn’t tell Scott whether anyone had been disciplined as a result of the inaction on the Parkland tips, saying “due to significant privacy implications, the FBI cannot comment on personnel matters.”

Scott ripped Tyson’s explanation in his letter to Barr, saying the information the FBI is refusing to supply could be “a potentially life-saving act of accountability for the agency’s documented failures.”

“While I have the utmost respect for the men and women of the FBI, the agency’s response to my request is very disappointing,” he wrote.

Ryan Petty, whose daughter, Alaina Petty, was killed in the shooting, was among the Parkland parents who met with FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich in December 2018 to discuss what happened and how the FBI has tried to improve since then. He said the families “appreciated the opportunity to speak with the leadership of the FBI to really understand what happened,” but came away frustrated at some of what they heard.

“When I say that many of us left unsatisfied with the actions taken by the FBI, what I mean is that not all of those that were responsible for mishandling the tip [in January] were held accountable for the mistake,” Petty said Friday. “I’m not sure the leadership in the FBI held themselves accountable for it.”

Scott, in his letter Thursday to Barr, noted that the shooter who attacked Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, killing 49 people, had also been on the FBI’s radar, as had the man who killed five people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport the following year.

“I am sure you agree that these failures are inexcusable, and there must be accountability within the agency to make sure such grave lapses in the FBI’s core investigative function are corrected,” Scott wrote.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs a school safety and gun control bill into Florida law surrounded by the families of victims in the Parkland shooting on Friday, March 9, 2018.

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