ORLANDO, Fla./NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than two dozen survivors of a deadly 2016 Florida nightclub shooting sued the city of Orlando and 30 police officers on Thursday, claiming law enforcement failed to protect their rights during an hours-long hostage standoff with the gunman.
The lawsuit, filed two years after the second-deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, echoes criticisms of an armed school safety officer in Florida who remained outside a high school where a gunman killed 17 students and educators.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified financial damages, claims unnamed law enforcement officers violated the rights of 26 survivors and the families of six people killed in the June 2016 Pulse nightclub attack. A gunman claiming allegiance to Islamic State killed 49 people during the gay club’s popular Latin night.
It also names as a defendant Adam Gruler, an Orlando police officer who had been providing security at the club the night of the shooting.
Police responding to 911 calls entered the club minutes after the 2 a.m. shooting and rescued some people, then withdrew when the gunman retreated into a bathroom, leading to an hours-long hostage standoff that ended when officers broke through the wall of the room the gunman was hiding in and shot him dead.
“We deserved to be rescued sooner by law enforcement officers who made decisions to wait,” Keinon Carter, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who now uses a wheelchair as a result of his injuries in the attack, told a news conference.
U.S. police responding to mass shootings have long followed a tactic of gathering outside a location where a gunman is reported, and moving in when they can assess and minimize the chance of officers or additional civilians being shot.
It is unusual to see that strategy challenged in court as a civil rights claim, said Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“They’d have to prove there was affirmative obligation by the city and the police department to protect the safety of the people in the club,” Siegel said.
Orlando’s city government and police department in a joint statement Thursday declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying they have not had time to review it. Gruler also declined to comment.
The Pulse attack stood as the deadliest U.S. mass shooting until October 2017, when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people.
Writing and additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis