FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The superintendent of the Florida school district where 17 students and staff died in a 2018 high school massacre was arrested Wednesday after investigators said he lied to a grand jury investigating events surrounding the shooting.
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie was arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement at district headquarters and charged with perjury in an official proceeding, which is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
According to an indictment issued by the grand jury last week and released after Runcie’s arrest, the superintendent lied when he testified before the panel three weeks ago. It is investigating whether districts are following school safety laws, including those implemented after the Feb. 14, 2018, slayings.
The grand jury is also investigating whether:
— Public agencies are using state safety grants for other purposes.
— Broward school officials misappropriated millions of dollars from a bond measure aimed at improving campus safety that was approved by county voters before the shooting.
— Officials intentionally underreported on-campus crimes committed by students.
The indictment gives no details on how Runcie allegedly lied or on what subject. To prove perjury, prosecutors must show Runcie knew his statements were false and not just a mistake.
Jail records do not show if Runcie, 59, has an attorney and he did not immediately respond to a message left Wednesday with a family member. He was released on his own recognizance.
Rosalind Osgood, chair of the Broward County school board, issued a statement Wednesday saying the district “will provide transparency, accountability and integrity as we continue to focus on delivering the highest quality educational experience for our students, teachers and staff.”
The statement did not say whether Runcie has been suspended and the district did not immediately respond to an email asking that question. Broward County is the nation’s sixth-largest school district with more than 270,000 students.
Also arrested Wednesday was Barbara Myrick, the school district’s attorney. Myrick, 72, is accused of unlawfully disclosing grand jury proceedings. Her indictment also did not disclose details. It could not be immediately determined if she has an attorney. One Broward administrator was previously arrested for allegedly rigging contracts with vendors and accepting bribes. He has plead not guilty.
Runcie came into the national spotlight after the massacre when some parents criticized him for programs they felt had been lenient toward the shooter.
Runcie, by a 6-3 vote, survived a 2019 motion by the school board that sought to have him removed. The attempt was led by Lori Alhadef, who was elected to the board after her 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, was killed in the shooting.
The superintendent’s critics said crimes, bullying and other school problems were routinely underreported by Stoneman Douglas and other district schools and few did voluntary security assessments. Stoneman Douglas reported zero incidents of bullying among its 3,200 students between 2014 and 2017 and three incidents of vandalism, for example.
Another target of criticism has been the district’s Promise Program, a student disciplinary system Runcie instituted shortly after he began as superintendent in 2011. Under Promise, students who fight or commit petty vandalism, theft, harassment or other minor crimes, are referred to an off-campus site for up to 10 days instead of the courts.
Critics say Promise created a lenient atmosphere that allowed shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz to briefly attend Stoneman Douglas a year before the massacre despite a history of fights, threats and behavioral problems. The district says while the program needed changes, it was a success overall.
Alhadef did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment.
Runcie’s supporters have praised him for increasing the district’s graduation rate, improving schools districtwide and reaching out to minority communities.
Tony Montalto, president of the group that represents Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims’ families, said Wednesday he is “thankful” that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the grand jury investigation into the district and its handling of the massacre.
“It is important that we get the facts about what happened and then hold those responsible accountable and implement positive change,” said Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina died in the shooting.
Associated Press writer Curt Anderson in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.