A day after the brother of the Parkland school shooting suspect was arrested on a trespassing charge at the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a Florida judge slapped him with a $500,000 bond and ordered him to undergo a psychological evaluation.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office also petitioned a judge to strip Zachary Cruz, 18, of his right to own or possess a firearm under a new law passed this month. Cruz’s attorney, Joseph Kimok, argued that prosecutors were being overly harsh on his client only because of his brother, Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged in the Feb. 14 school shooting in which 17 people were killed. Nikolas Cruz was indicted by a grand jury this month on 34 counts of premeditated murder and attempted murder in the shooting, which is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.
The bond for trespassing, Kimok said, is typically $25, which Zachary Cruz had already posted, the Miami Herald reported.
Prosecutors said Cruz was exhibiting worrisome behavior.
“[Zachary Cruz] has all the same flags present as his brother,” Assistant Broward State Attorney Sarahnell Murphy said, according to the Herald.
Zachary Cruz told deputies he had skateboarded through the high school because he wanted to “reflect on the school shooting and soak it in,” according to his arrest report. To do so, he bypassed the locked doors and gates of the campus and ignored previous warnings by school officials to stay off the property, officials said.
Authorities seemed to be unnerved by his repeated visits to the school and with what appeared to be admiration for his brother and his notoriety as an accused mass murderer. Murphy said Zachary Cruz had been overheard talking about his older brother’s “popularity” during his visits to see him in jail, and had talked about setting up a fan club for him, the Herald reported.
Judge Kim Theresa Mollica ordered that Cruz wear an ankle monitor and that police search his home in Lake Worth, Fla., for weapons before he returns, the Herald reported. If he posts bail, he will not be allowed to visit his older brother or return to Broward County, with the exception of his court obligations.
He will also have to stay one mile away from Stoneman Douglas and cannot have contact with any students, the Herald reported.
“They have a right to go to school without fear,” Murphy said. “It’s our position that this court should use every tool available to make sure that happens.”
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office in a statement Tuesday said they filed for a risk protection order against Zachary Cruz under a new law that would prohibit him from possessing and acquiring firearms for a period of time determined by the court based on a psychiatric evaluation.
Officials also revealed that Zachary Cruz had been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility for evaluation under the Baker Act, a Florida law that gives law enforcement, school counselors and medical personnel the ability to petition for someone to be institutionalized for 72 hours if they are viewed to be a danger to themselves or others. The law allows officials to do this without the individual’s permission or, in the case of children, without parental consent.
Though the Baker Act has been around since 1971, it’s now at the center of the national gun debate. The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights advocates have said that the shooting was a result of law enforcement’s inadequate use of the act, rather than the prevalence of military-style rifles.
“Sending messages, telling other students that he was going to murder them and he was going to kill him, I would think certainly would qualify under a Florida state statute for you to have Baker Acted him,” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch said to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel during a CNN forum on gun violence last month.
The Washington Post’s Tim Craig reported Monday that school officials sought to use the Baker Act to institutionalize Nikolas Cruz more than a year before he allegedly fired on unarmed students and teachers at Stoneman Douglas. But a mental-health counselor told those officials that Cruz did not have to be detained.
In 2013, a Broward County sheriff responded to Cruz’s Parkland home after his mother, Lynda, reported she had been thrown against the wall after taking away his Xbox. Mental-health clinicians said Cruz did not need to be held under the Baker Act, according to sheriff office records.
Three years later, a school resource officer reported Cruz had ingested gasoline in a suicide attempt and was cutting himself.
According to the Associated Press, records in Cruz’s criminal case show that the officer and two school counselors had decided at that time that Cruz should be involuntarily committed.
It’s not clear from records why mental-health counselors advised against detaining Cruz, who had been diagnosed with ADHD and depression, had said he wanted to buy a gun and written racist messages, and was on medication and seeing a therapist, according to state records.
Neither the counselor nor his previous employer, Henderson Behavioral Health, returned phone calls seeking comment.
Nearly 200,000 Floridians were involuntarily committed to mental-health facilities under the law in the 2016-2017 fiscal year — a 111 percent increase over the past 15 years, according to data compiled by the University of Florida.
Floridians are deeply divided over whether the act is saving lives or is just a Band-Aid approach to mental health, as state services have suffered repeated budget cuts over the past decade. In the month since the Parkland shooting, Florida lawmakers approved the law establishing risk protection orders, which expands on the Baker Act’s power by allowing law enforcement to take away a person’s firearms if they’re admitted for psychiatric evaluation.
Some lawmakers want a state commission to conduct a thorough analysis of how the law has been applied.
“I don’t know if there needs to be a whole rewrite, but it needs to be fixed,” Florida Rep. David Silvers (D), who represents Palm Beach County, told Craig. “I have a feeling if [the Baker Act] was properly utilized . . . maybe Mr. Cruz would not have been able to buy a gun and murder 17 people.”
Zachary Cruz, who Broward County officials said has no ties to the area, was interviewed by detectives from multiple law enforcement agencies after the Feb. 14 massacre, according to police records. A Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office detective wrote in a report two days later that Zachary Cruz expressed remorse regarding the shooting and how he had treated his brother.
Zachary Cruz is described as feeling “somewhat responsible and guilty” about the shooting rampage because he and his friends had bullied Nikolas Cruz when they were all younger, “which he now regrets ever doing,” the detective wrote in the report.
“Zachary wishes that he had been ‘nicer’ to his brother,” the report stated.
The detective wrote that Zachary Cruz apparently felt some resentment toward his sibling, who was viewed as “the favored brother.”
The brothers were adopted by Lynda and Roger Cruz when Nikolas was 2 and Zachary was 2 months old, friends and relatives said. Relatives said Nikolas and Zachary shared a biological mother but have different fathers.
The Cruz brothers both stayed with friends in Lantana, in Palm Beach County, Fla., after their mother died. While Nikolas Cruz had fights with these people and ultimately left the home, staying with another family before the shooting, his brother is described in police records as remaining with them.
Another report from the same day said Zachary Cruz was visited by the Broward County and Palm Beach County sheriff’s officers regarding a Crime Stoppers tip they had received. The details of this tip were redacted from the report.
After speaking with Zachary Cruz, the Broward sheriff’s officer determined the tip was “only rumor at this time and that no further action was going to be taken regarding the tip,” according to a Palm Beach sheriff’s report.
According to jail visitor logs, in the wake of the shooting Zachary Cruz visited his brother at least twice, along with the woman the brothers stayed with after their mother died.