Park­land shooter wants new jail guard after at­tack

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Rafael Olmeda

The guard who was at­tacked by Park­land school shooter Niko­las Cruz last month should not be al­lowed to con­tinue su­per­vis­ing him, Cruz’s lawyers ar­gue in court papers filed Fri­day.

De­fense lawyers want

Sgt. Ray Bel­tran and Cruz sep­a­rated for ev­ery­one’s safety — the deputy had been get­ting un­der Cruz’s skin for weeks be­fore Cruz punched him on Nov. 13 and wres­tled away his stun gun, ac­cord­ing to de­fense lawyer Melisa McNeill.

Now that Bel­tran is a wit­ness against Cruz and the vic­tim in a crim­i­nal case, he should no longer be su­per­vis­ing Cruz at the Broward Main Jail, McNeill ar­gued.

In a se­ries of emails ob­tained by Cruz the South Flor­ida Sun Sen­tinel, the Broward Sher­iff’s Of­fice re­jected de­fense ef­forts to as­sign an­other deputy, ar­gu­ing that in­mates don’t get to force the agency’s hand by at­tack­ing peo­ple they don’t like.

“Sergeant Bel­tran and In­mate Niko­las Cruz are not on a level play­ing field. Sergeant Bel­tran has cus­tody of In­mate Niko­las Cruz,” Lt. Col. James Reyes wrote to McNeill on Nov. 16. “As such, he is re­spon­si­ble for con­duct­ing tasks that in fact vi­o­late per­sonal space and per­sonal pri­vacy such as pat-downs and strip searches. … I will not al­low any in­mate in our cus­tody the op­por­tu­nity to try and ma­nip­u­late who su­per­vises them and when they do so.”

Cruz is charged with bat­tery on a law en­force­ment of­fi­cer and us­ing a stun gun on a law en­force­ment of­fi­cer. Those charges are mi­nor com­pared with the shoot­ing spree at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School on Feb. 14. Cruz is charged with 17 counts of mur­der and 17 counts of at­tempted mur­der. If con­victed of the mur­der charges, he faces the death penalty.

McNeill’s email ex­change with Reyes be­gan on Nov. 16 with a ques­tion about whether Cruz would be al­lowed to have vis­i­tors. She told BSO that she had warned them of fric­tion be­tween Cruz and Bel­tran as early as Oct. 1.

Reyes re­sponded that Cruz would spend 30 days in seg­re­gated cus­tody, de­nied visi­ta­tion and al­lowed to leave his cell for only an hour a day.

McNeill later ex­plic­itly asked for Bel­tran to be re­placed as Cruz’s su­per­vi­sor.

“Based upon the fact that Sgt. Bel­tran is a ma­te­rial wit­ness as well as the listed vic­tim in Mr. Cruz’s case I am re­quest­ing that Sgt. Bel­tran not su­per­vise Mr. Cruz,” she wrote. “Un­der any other cir­cum­stances in a pend­ing crim­i­nal case the Court would en­ter a no con­tact or­der be­tween a vic­tim and the ac­cused. I am con­cerned about the safety of ev­ery­one in­volved.”

Reyes turned down the re­quest.

“In 2017 the Broward Sher­iff's Of­fice De­part­ment of De­ten­tion had over 80 in­ci­dents of in­mate vi­o­lence against staff. In those in­ci­dents staff were ma­te­rial wit­nesses as well as the listed vic­tim,” he said. “The De­part­ment of De­ten­tion did not re­as­sign any of the staff that were ma­te­rial wit­nesses or listed vic­tims in those par­tic­u­lar cases. This case will not be han­dled any dif­fer­ently.”

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