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Rick Scott, Parkland families press FBI for transparency on tips

“The FBI has failed to give me or these families an acceptable answer, but I’m not going to allow that,” Scott said, adding that the FBI didn’t share pertinent information on shootings at Pulse, the Fort Lauderdale airport and a Tallahassee yoga studio.

For over a year, Sen. Rick Scott and the families of Parkland victims demanded more information and transparency from the FBI over its mishandling of tips weeks before 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

After their demands were met with mostly silence, Scott said Thursday that he is introducing legislation with the backing of the families that mandates information-sharing between the national FBI office and local law enforcement whenever a tip can be connected to a state or local municipality, along with requiring the FBI to submit monthly public reports on how the agency is handling tips.

The Florida Republican introduced the Threat Information Protocol for Sharing, or TIPS Act, on Thursday after what he said were repeated and unsuccessful attempts to get FBI Director Chris Wray to provide more information about what went wrong in the weeks before the nation’s deadliest high school shooting.

“There’s still one area we don’t have answers,” Scott said. “Following the tragedy, we all learned [about] repeated failures by the FBI to properly investigate and act on specific tips on the shooter weeks earlier. Specific tips about the shooter, including a detailed warning received by the FBI’s national call center just weeks before the attack, were never even forwarded to the South Florida field office for an investigation. In fact, it appears that the FBI did nothing with this detailed information with an imminent threat.”

Scott also said the FBI had “actual intelligence” on the perpetrators of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the 2017 Fort Lauderdale airport shooting and the 2018 Tallahassee yoga class shooting before they happened, yet “the information was not passed down to the local authorities.”

“The FBI has failed to give me or these families an acceptable answer, but I’m not going to allow that,” Scott said. “I don’t understand why the FBI can’t tell us if they’ve held somebody accountable or tell these families. Has somebody been held accountable? Have changes been made? Is this going to happen again?”

Scott’s bill would require the FBI to share information with local law enforcement on all threats that can be localized to a specific state or municipality and require monthly public reports on individuals and threats reported to the FBI, and any action taken in response. Scott said he hasn’t talked to the FBI or local law enforcement about the bill.

The legislation has the support of Stand with Parkland, a group that represents most of the victims’ families.

“We understand that there are many good people working at the FBI. However, we also understand, more than most, that their failures can cause great tragedy,” said Stand with Parkland President Tony Montalto, whose daughter, Gina, 14, was killed. “We need to prevent that from happening again and we’re hopeful that governor Scott’s proposal and bill will help solve that problem.”

Montalto said he received a call from the FBI two days after the shooting which required him to leave his daughter’s viewing. During the call, he said, the agency admitted that it mishandled information about the shooter.

“It was devastating to find out that her loss was caused by their failure,” Montalto said.

Montalto said the parents sent a letter to Wray asking for more information but never received a response. Instead they had a meeting at the FBI’s Miami field office where they received some additional information but “quite frankly, not enough.”

“You would think that one of the biggest organizations around would protect someone, especially with a tip call like that,” said Gena Hoyer, whose son Luke, 15, was killed. “That was one of the many failures that failed our families that day.”

On Jan. 5, 2018 — 40 days before the shooting — a woman close to the shooter called the FBI’s tip line over concerns that he was going to shoot up a school, according to a timeline released by the FBI.

“I know he’s going to explode,” she said.

The FBI later said it mishandled that information.

“We have determined that these protocols were not followed for the information received by the PAL [Public Access Line] on January 5,” the FBI said. “The information was not provided to the Miami Field Office, and no further investigation was conducted at that time.”

Scott’s bill comes months after multiple parents filed lawsuits against the FBI.

In June, the parents of Carmen Schentrup, a 16-year-old who was killed, filed a negligence lawsuit against the FBI. In November 2018, the parents of Jaime Guttenberg, 14, who was killed in the shooting also filed a negligence lawsuit. The FBI lawsuits are in addition to 22 negligence lawsuits filed by the families against the Broward Sheriff’s Office and school district.

“This is about getting information on threats into the hands of the right people, who can ultimately prevent violence and protect our families,” Scott said.