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Parkland cop, fired after school shooting, will get his job back

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony announces the firing of two deputies following the agency's internal affairs investigation into the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at BSO headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 26, 2019. (Joe Cavaretta/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

A sheriff’s sergeant who was fired for sitting in his car and failing to react while a gunman slaughtered students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School should get his job back, as well as any lost wages, an arbitrator ruled.

Brian Miller was fired June 4. The union learned Wednesday that the arbitrator concluded that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office violated Miller’s due process rights when Sheriff Gregory Tony terminated him two days past a deadline that a state law allows for punishing law enforcement officers once an investigation is completed.

Lawyers for the union refuted questions posed that Miller can get his job back because of a technicality — a two-day technicality.

“The law is not a technicality,” said union attorney Michael Finesilver. “It’s state law. Our position is the sheriff has to follow state law. He cannot pick and choose law he wants to follow and the arbitrator agreed with us.”

The Broward Sheriff’s Office didn’t agree with the ruling.

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“The Broward Sheriff’s Office does not agree with the arbitrator’s decision and stands by the initial termination of Sergeant Brian Miller,” according to a statement from its general counsel. “The arbitrator ruled on the case without conducting any evidentiary hearing whatsoever and without taking the testimony of a single witness. The decision was based upon a technicality that we believe was wrongly decided. The arbitrator ruled on a procedural issue that BSO allegedly took too long to conduct the investigation, which is the exact opposite finding of an arbitrator that addressed this same issue in an earlier case. The Broward Sheriff’s Office is exploring all legal options to address this erroneous decision.”

Tony fired Miller 16 months after former student Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and wounded 17 more with an AR-15 rifle on Feb. 14, 2018, at the Parkland high school.

The sheriff’s office has 90 days to challenge the ruling.

If reinstated, Miller will receive considerable money. He was paid more than $137,000 in 2018. Reinstatement would mean being paid at least a year’s salary, any overtime that he would have received, as well as medical reimbursements, paid holidays and time off.

The union discussed the matter at its headquarters Thursday morning. Miller, who was there, was asked how he could come back and face the public, especially people in Parkland. He did not respond, answering no questions and keeping his eyes lowered through much of the announcement.

The Sheriff’s Office on Thursday also commented about Miller’s actions on the day of the mass shooting.

“The arbitrator did not address the conduct of Sergeant Miller on the day children and adults were massacred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School while he stood by,” the agency said. “Nowhere in the decision is he vindicated for his lack of action on that day.”

Miller wasn’t the only one deemed a failure after Parkland. Cruz’s rampage exposed widespread failures at the Sheriff’s Office. The deputy assigned to the school, Scot Peterson, was charged with multiple counts of child neglect. Peterson was widely criticized for taking cover outside the school while Cruz was gunning down people inside. But the criticism didn’t stop with Peterson and Miller.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel was ousted over the department’s failures in Parkland and at a mass shooting a year earlier at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. His replacement, Tony, canned Miller and then deputies Joshua Stambaugh and Edward Eason a few weeks later.

The Stambaugh and Eason cases are still making their way through the system. The union contends they, like Miller, were fired beyond the time allowed under state law.

Miller was the first supervisor on the scene at Parkland. He arrived in time to hear three or four shots. As a supervisor, he didn’t rush to take command. Instead, a state commission investigating the shooting found that Miller took his time putting on a bulletproof vest and hid behind his car on Holmberg Road, not going on the radio for 10 minutes.

“Miller failed to coordinate or direct deputies’ actions and did not direct or coordinate an immediate response into the school,” a report from a commission said. “Sergeant Miller’s actions were ineffective and he did not properly supervise the scene.”

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a member of the commission, called Miller “an absolute, total failure.”

The Professional Standards Commission, another body that reviewed the case, recommended that Miller lose his sergeant’s rank. Tony opted to fire him.

Tony did not return a text message seeking comment. At the time of Miller’s termination, he said: “We cannot fulfill our commitment to always protect the security and safety of our Broward County community without doing a thorough assessment of what went wrong that day. I am committed to addressing deficiencies and improving the Broward Sheriff’s Office.”

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© 2020 Sun Sentinel 

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.