‘I would say the whole entire system failed,’ superintendent says after mass shooting

After a highly emotional and very short Broward County school board meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Robert Runcie, for the first time, addressed the revelation that administrators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had requested the school board conduct a threat assessment on Nikolas Cruz in January 2017, more than a year before Cruz killed 17 people at the Parkland school last week.

“He was involved in fighting and an assault and that there was reference that he was referred for a threat assessment. Can you tell me what happened with that threat assessment?” Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman asked the superintendent.

“I can’t in detail discuss student records, but I will tell you that students get into conflict and altercations — that’s something that happens in schools,” Runcie said.  

“But this is a student that you know he had swastikas on his backpack, he had an obsession with guns that was known,” Norman said. 

“I can’t speculate on where a student is going to go based on behaviors. We have staff that evaluate where a student is,” Runcie said. 

“Did they fail in this case?” Norman asked. 

“You know, I would say the whole entire system failed, from federal to state to local,” Runcie said. 

This was the first time Runcie admitted that the school board bears at least part of the blame for the tragedy after school records obtained by Local 10 showed the school board was aware that Cruz, who was diagnosed as emotionally disabled, was transferred from a special behavioral center to Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 2016, even though educators were aware even before the move that Cruz was preoccupied with guns, violence and people being killed.

“We have students that are in behavior centers and then we try to integrate them back into their traditional schools,” Runcie said. “That’s not unusual in this district or any other district.” 

“But isn’t it unusual that a student (who) exhibits an obsession with violence, guns, that he would be transferred to a school of 3,300 people?” Norman asked. 

“We are going to review, you know, obviously, everything that we’ve done around this particular student and figure out what we can do better as a district,” Runcie said.

There are also questions about whether Cruz was provided the specialized services he needed while enrolled at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Runcie said only that there’s a process in place for all ESE students like Cruz and “that process was followed.” 

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Police lieutenants paid for hundreds of hours of work when they weren’t there

The City of Lauderhill, with one of the highest crime rates in South Florida, was in recent years named the eighth most dangerous city in America.

It’s one reason the rank and file officers need all the help they can get, but unfortunately, when it comes to some of the upper brass, that hasn’t been happening.

“You would come to work in the morning, the lieutenant couldn’t be found,” said one retired officer who spoke about the department’s problem with AWOL higher-ups on condition of anonymity. “It’’s a lot of dollars being spent for salaries for people not being at work.” 

The problem also allegedly extends to the detectives’ division, but two lieutenants in particular were notorious for not showing up, said sources: Gregory Solowsky and Michael Butkus, who both were making in excess of $120,000 a year. The sources said the department looked the other way until a pair of anonymous complaints sparked recent internal investigations that blew the roof off of their habits of signing off for 40 hours a week when they were often working far less than that.

“I have nothing to say,” Solowsky said adding that all inquiries were to be referred to the agency.

Investigators matched up the work hours that Solowsky claimed for a six-month period against the GPS records on his vehicle they found a discrepancy of 272 hours — nearly seven full weeks — where he simply wasn’t there.

On some of those so-called “work” days Solowsky’s vehicle never even left his driveway, according to GPS records. The lieutenant claimed that even though he signed off for 40 hours every week, he didn’t have to work those hours because he was a salary employee and would be paid regardless.  

“I didn’t have direction, so I would come in whenever,” Solowsky said.  

The department sustained charges of dishonesty and untruthfulness and incompetence against him.  

Butkus, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was accused of regularly leaving work early. Investigators found he failed to show up for at least 414 hours –. more than ten weeks. He claimed he was taking “flex time,” but that wasn’t part of any policy, and didn’t answer questions about specific days

Investigators also found Butkus falsified records. The department recommended that he be suspended five days without pay and be ordered to reimburse the city for 414 hours of work, or roughly $24,000. Butkus resigned, and received a $134,000 pension payout, and about $2,400 more for unused vacation time. He never paid back a dime. 

Lauderhill City Manager Chuck Faranda admitted the city never got a dime back from Butkus and couldn’t name any action made to try to get it, but claimed it wasn’t a totally lost cause.

“Sometimes it takes months if not years to recoup the money,” Faranda said. 

Butkus had to pay back only 59 hours of the 272 hours he allegedly cheated from the city — or $3,400 .. and he’s back in uniform. 

“I felt that what was recommended was appropriate,” Faranda said. 

Faranda said part of the reason for the light punishment was there was no explicit policy that salaried employees had to work 40 hours. As a result of these cases that policy has now been put into place .

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School board knew of Parkland shooter’s obsession with guns and violence, documents show

Exclusive documents obtained by Local 10 News show the education plan for school shooter Nikolas Cruz; a plan that left clear signals that should have alerted officials of the danger he posed to the community, according to a former Broward County ESE specialist who reviewed the information at the station’s request.

“What you’re discussing from the plan seems to be the profile of a mass killer,” said Dottie Provenzano, who retired from Broward County Public Schools in 2017. 

The education plan shows that, even as Cruz was making progress at the Cross Creek School for emotionally and behaviorally disabled students in late 2015, but that he was known by administrators to have an obsession with guns and violence. Here are some passages from the plan: 

  • “Nikolas at times, will be distracted by inappropriate conversations of his peers if the topic is about guns, people being killed or the armed forces,” wrote Cross Creek educators. 
  • “He is fascinated by the use of guns and often speaks of weapons and the importance of  ‘having weapons to remain safe in this world’” 
  • “He becomes preoccupied with things such as current events regarding wars and terrorist [sic].” 

Provenzano said that in 42 years of dealing with exceptional students she never saw a document with such obvious signs that a student might resort to violence. 

“These are significant red flags that this is a very troubled young man,” she said.

The plan also noted that Cruz had been involved in two serious incidents, recent at the time: “He is very easily influenced and was coerced to jump off the back of the school bus by a peer. Nikolas has difficulty with wanting to have friends and engaging in following the negative behaviors of those peers.

He also has poor judgment in social situations. Recently he was punched numerous times by a peer for using racial slurs towards that peer. … He refused to accept that the comments made by him caused the peers reaction.”

The plan shows that Cruz was on psychiatric medication at that time, though it doesn’t specify the medication, and that he had “limited social judgment and poor insight which affects his progress in the general education setting.”

Despite all of those concerns, his transfer from Cross Creek to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a school of about 3,300 students, was authorized, and records show he enrolled full-time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in January 2016.

The documents also show that Cruz had been making progress and doing well in classes at Cross Creek School prior to the move. He was even volunteering at the YMCA and wanted to return to a “regular school” like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School instead of Cross Creek, which he believed was for students who were “not smart.” It mentions family counseling involving his mother, who died this past November. 

“Nikolas’ mother expressed that she feels that he is doing well at this school,” the plan noted. “She is so happy with his academic progress as well as behavioral progress. He is using profanity less at home. He gives his daily note to mom most of the time. His behavior at home has improved. Nikolas is maturing nicely and is calming down. He would like more homework and prove that he can do the work. He is learning to do his own laundry/chores at home.”

But records indicate that once the move was made to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, his behavior deteriorated, with several disciplinary actions, including for fighting and assault that led to his ouster from the school in February last year. 

Though his behavior had been improving at Cross Creek, Cruz had two serious incidents, one in which he was talked into jumping off the back of a school bus, and another in which he was punched numerous times by a peer for using racial slurs.

The documents also show Cruz was dependent on psychiatric medication and continued to struggle greatly in social situations. Despite those issues, he was still enrolled at Douglas in January 2016 when his behavior rapidly deteriorated.

“If you make a movement with somebody like this, you better have an ironclad system of support to monitor him along the way,” Provenzano said.

When asked if he believed Cruz received that support, Provenzano did not hesitate with an answer.

“No, I do not,” Provenzano said.

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Shoppers question rising number of dogs taken into South Florida grocery stores

Take a walk through a South Florida grocery store, and shoppers will likely notice a common theme –dogs accompanying owners while they do their food shopping. 

But whether their dog is on a leash or in the cart, many of those shoppers are breaking the law. 

“It’s not sanitary,” said Miami Beach resident Amy Auerbach. “I see them all over. I love dogs, but they don’t belong there.”

When Local 10 News visited several stores, it found dozens of dogs of all sizes. Some walked along and smelled the food, while others were held over prepared food counters. 

Auerbach said it’s a health concern.

“A dog can jump all over the food, and we don’t know what they’re doing to it — hair or waste,” Auerbach said.  

Shopper Alesya Harkusha told Local 10 investigative reporter Amy Viteri that she is a dog lover and doesn’t personally mind the dogs in stores, but admitted that it could be unhygienic.

“If they (don’t) behave — you know, like attacking, or eating everything or licking or peeing,” Harkusha said. 

There are clear health and hygiene reasons for why animals are not allowed near the food people eat, but not all shoppers mind the dogs.

“Yes, it’s unsanitary, don’t get me wrong,” one shopper said. “But I don’t see a big problem with it.” 

According to Florida law, not only is it a problem, it’s also illegal, unless the dog is a trained service animal. The law came as a surprise to many shoppers, even though most stores have clear signs saying no pets allowed. 

Some people were confused about what a service animal even is. 

“The thing is, I have permission,” one shopper told Viteri, then showed her a doctor’s note indicating her chihuahua is an emotional support animal.

Disability rights attorney Matthew Dietz said that’s not the same thing as a service animal. 

“Only service animals are allowed under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act),” Dietz explained. “The dog has to be individually trained to assist a person with a disability.” 

Dog owner Florence Elbaz told Viteri she knew it was not legal to take her dog into the Publix in Miami Beach, but said she put the dog in her bag.

“(If) someone tells me not to do it, I won’t do it,” Elbaz said. “But they haven’t enforced it.”

But shoppers like Deborah Fischer wish someone would say something. 

“It’s just like an affront to what we went through,” Fischer said. 

Fischer was referring to her trained service dog named Sorenson. Fischer has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. She relies on her service dog for help with everyday tasks like grocery shopping. 

“I drop 100 things a day because my hands aren’t that good,” Fischer explained. “He can pick up credit cards, he can pick up coins.”

She said one of the big problems with people bringing their pets into stores is it can distract trained dogs like Sorenson from doing their job effectively. She has also worried that the amount of dogs in stores now could affect how people view legitimate service dogs. 

“I don’t want to get to the point where people are going to be questioning him and not allowing him in stores, and I’m going to run into a problem,” Fischer said. 

Legally, store employees can only ask if a dog is a service animal required because of a disability and what task it’s trained to perform. 

“But they usually don’t because they don’t want to get into a confrontation,” Dietz said. 

Store employees had little to say when Local 10 asked them about the issue. The Fresh Market had no comment on the dogs in their stores.

Publix spokesperson Nicole Krauss said in a statement, “Under ADA regulations, service animals are permitted in our stores. However, service animals will not be permitted to ride in our shopping carts due to food safety and sanitation concerns. The policy change has been implemented based on guidance issued by the Department of Justice.”

A spokesperson for Whole Foods said, “Whole Foods Market adheres to all state and local laws, as well as ADA guidelines pertaining to service animals in our stores.”

“I think they should enforce the rules,” Fischer said, adding that she wished shoppers would be a little more sensitive.  

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversees grocery stores. Spokesperson Aaron Keller said in an email that the agency would investigate a complaint.  

“If there is an animal in the food prep area, and we were notified, we would send an inspector to check and the store could potentially be cited,” he said. 

 

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Are ‘sports players’ begging for money at intersections cashing in on your kindness?

You likely see them at intersections all over South Florida.  

In most cases, they claim to be collecting for their football team. But are they really cashing in on your kindness?

“I’ve seen them here for a few months already,” Sam Lazar, who works in northeast Miami-Dade, said.

Lazar said something didn’t seem to be right when he asked the men questions recently at a northeast Miami-Dade intersection.

“He just walks away. They are not wearing uniforms. They don’t have name tags on them,”  Lazar said.

One the men did tell Lazar he was collecting for the Fort Lauderdale Wolverines. 

Local 10 News investigator Jeff Weinsier recently spotted the same two young men at the intersection of Northeast 26th Avenue and Ives Dairy Road.

Both had signs that said they were collecting money for new uniforms.

One of the men claimed to be a wide receiver, and the other said he was a quarterback.

Both men told Weiniser on hidden camera that they were collecting for the South Florida Titans, which they said was a traveling “semi-pro” team.

But when the two men saw a Local 10 News TV camera, one bolted right away and the other refused to answer questions.

“Not today, sir,” the young man said, as he scrambled through cars to get away from Weinsier and the camera.

“Here is my card. Can we talk to you about who the coach is or what you are collecting for?” Weinsier asked several times as the man eventually began to run.

Local 10 News checked with legitimate, registered semi-pro leagues and teams in South Florida and around the state.

All said they never allow their players or anyone associated with their teams to ask for money at intersections.

“This is first and foremost a safety hazard. We have an administrative order that prohibits this,” Mark Thompson, a commissioner with the Florida Football Alliance, said.

Thompson said there is a team called the South Florida Wolverines in his league, but he doesn’t recognize the two men.

Nikkolas Bocanegra, who owns the Miami Immortals, a semi-pro team in Homestead, also forbids begging.

“We are involved in Center Play at Hard Rock Stadium. We do fundraising at the American Airlines Arena concession stands. We sell merchandise. There are other ways of fundraising,” Bocanegro said.

Thompson and Bocanegra have never heard of the South Florida Titans.

There is no registered team or organization by that name with the State Department of Revenue as a nonprofit.

“I would not advocate anyone giving money at an intersection. If they are legit, they will talk to you, they will set some time aside and they said, ‘This is our plight and this is what we are trying to do,'” Thompson said.

“It’s not begging, it’s stealing,” Lazar said.

A spokesperson for the Aventura Police Department said officers often ask individuals to move out of intersections.

The Miami Dade Police Department said it has received no complaints about this activity in unincorporated Northeast Miami-Dade.

It’s certainly each individual’s choice whether to donate or not. But the next time “this team” takes to the intersection, at least  you now know their “play.”

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Wild chicken invasion ruffles South Florida city

You can find them hanging on the streets and gathering in parking lots at area businesses, leading to complaints from people in the northwest section of Pompano Beach who say they’re disrupting the neighborhood. 

No, it’s not wild teens, it’s wild chickens that are multiplying at an uncontrollable rate and aggravating those who say the feral fowl are messing up their lawns, waking them up at ungodly hours, and overall causing a mess. 

“The chickens are a big complaint for this community,” said City Commissioner Beverly Perkins, adding that the chickens got on the city’s radar a couple of years ago and just keep growing in numbers. “We’re not sure where they’re coming from, but they’re multiplying.”

Apartment manager Cristina Costa said the chicken problem is so bad that she was driven to offer tenants a discount on their rent if they could “disappear” them. 

“You have chickens getting inside units, all over the parking lot, showing units you have chickens walking around you,” said Costa. 

The deal was $10 off for ever six chickens caught, but nobody ever collected. 

“They tried, but they couldn’t catch the chickens,” said Costa. 

She called Animal Control, but that agency simply doesn’t do chickens, so she called the city itself which actually sent out trappers, but again, no luck. 

“They couldn’t catch one chicken,” she said.

Rob McCaughan, the city’s public works director, said one thing he’s learned in his crash course on city chickens is that even though they number in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, in plain sight, they are not easy to rein in. 

“The chicken itself is very difficult to catch,” said McCaughan. “They are very leery of people. Wehired a local firm, we thought, ‘Well hey, we’re not experts, let’s hire the experts.’ They were not very successful either.” 

He said the city paid the company, TruTech Wildlife Removal, $1000 a month to respond to residents’ complaints and catch chickens. 

“Over about a nine-month period where we had the contract, it was approximately six chickens that we had documentation they were able to capture,” said McCaughan, adding that those six chickens were humanely put down with lethal injections. 

Doing the math, that comes to $1,500 a chicken captured.  

“Bad investment,” said resident Joshua Allen with a laugh. “I guess the chickens are smarter.”

Pompano Mayor Lamar Fisher said the city is dedicated to finding an answer. 

“We’re trying our best to deal with it,” said Fisher. “It’s a complicated issue.”
 
He said one of the reasons that it’s difficult to tame the wild chicken population is that some cultures welcome them. 
 
“We have a lot of Latins in our community,” he said. “We have a lot of Hatian communities that cater to chickens.” 
 
The city at one point tried to use code enforcement officers to cite the chicken owners, since it is illegal in Pompano to have chickens as pets. But Code Enforcement Supervisor Mario Sotolango said that too was a futile effort, since nobody admitted they were the owners of the chickens and the city was hard-pressed to prove otherwise. 
 
“It’s very difficult to have someone really admit yes this is my property,” said Sotolango. 
 
“How do you prove someone owns a chicken? You don’t,” said city spokeswoman Sandra King. 

McCaughan said he reached out to other cities that have neighborhoods overrun with chickens – including Miami, Hialeah, and Key West. He said the first two cities had no solution to offer Pompano Beach, but Key West did: embrace the chickens. 
 
“I guess Key West has accepted the chickens,” said McCaughan. “They embrace the chickens, is their solution.”
 
Pompano isn’t embracing the Key West solution, however. The city has six chicken traps that it offers free of charge to residents. But so far only a few chickens have been caught by residents and it’s not a fool-proof method. 
 
“A lot of times we catch an animal,” said McCaughan. “We don’t want to catch a cat or small dog.” 
 
At the time of our interview, all six of the city’s traps were unused, but officials from the mayor down said the city is determined to solve the problem. 
 
“We believe at some point that we, if we’re not able to eradicate the problem, will contain it,” said Sotolango.  

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