Some families of victims of the 2018 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas massacre and their supporters have been trying to get Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie fired from his job since the tragedy occurred. COURTESY OF BROWARD COUNTY SCHOOLS

Black Floridians statewide were shocked when Broward County Public School Superintendent Robert Runcie, leader of America’s sixth largest school district, was arrested Wednesday on a single felony criminal charge that smacks of revenge and politics.

By The Florida A Courier Staff 

       FORT LAUDERDALE – Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie was arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and charged with a single count of perjury in an official proceeding, a third-degree felony in Florida punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Here’s a paraphrased summary of the single charge:

…Defendant ROBERT W. RUNCIE, while testifying under oath in an official proceeding, to wit, the Twentieth Statewide Grand Jury… did make a false statement which ROBERT W. RUNCIE did not believe to be true, in regard to a material matter…in violation of…the Florida Statutes.

That’s all.

Continuing conflict Runcie’s indictment is the latest battle in the wake of the Feb. 14, 2018 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (MDS) High School killing in Parkland, a Broward County suburb.

On that day, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former MSD student, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others before fleeing the scene on foot by blending in with other students.

Community split

Multiple subsequent investigations split much of Broward County into camps, particularly with regard to the professional fate of Runcie, who was the Broward County superintendent on that tragic day.

On one side are many of the MSD parents; their sympathizers and supporters, many in law enforcement around the state; and Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis.

The most hostile Runcie critics hold him personally accountable for the massacre. They have also criticized the Broward school board members for alleged delays in making state-required security changes under Runcie’s leadership, and the district’s alleged failure to administer an $800 million bond issue.

Both of those issues are the subject of the state-wide grand jury investigation that indicted Runcie on Wednesday.

On the other side are Runcie, who has refused to resign and has survived multiple attempts to fire him; a still-supportive majority of the Broward County School Board; and energetic local Runcie supporters in South Florida, many of whom are Black.

Supporters believe that Runcie is a scapegoat who became the personal focus of the anger and frustration of MSD parents and their supporters immediately after the tragedy.

Quiet role model

His supporters have praised him for increasing Broward County’s graduation rate and generally improving schools throughout the district.

Black parents particularly see him as a role model for their children. Runcie often shows up unannounced at school events, large and small, and is seen as accessible and easygoing.

He also has been responsive to other issues of concern to Black parents, including setting up programs preventing criminalization and disproportionate punishment of Black students.

‘High character’

Runcie has retained Johnny L. McCray, Jr. of Pompano Beach as co-counsel of his criminal defense team. McCray sees the indictment as retaliation.

“I am confident when the dust settles, that he (Runcie) will be acquitted of this charge,” McCray said in an exclusive interview with the Florida Courier. “He’s a man of high character. This indictment is an attempt to besmirch Mr. Runcie’s reputation and destroy his career because the majority of Broward County board members still support him.”

According to McCray, “It’s interesting that the single criminal charge was filed in Tallahassee. It wasn’t filed by the independent local prosecutor in Fort Lauderdale, where Mr. Runcie works and lives. And there were no charges filed against him as a consequence of a previous Broward  Sheriff’s Office investigation.

“My client was charged after an investigation involving the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is essentially controlled by Gov. DeSantis, who would fire Mr. Runcie and remove his supporters on the Broward County School Board if he could,” McCray explained.

“But the governor knows he can’t legally take that action. This is the best he can do.”

Splitting Broward Democrats

McCray also sees politics at work.

“Whether DeSantis runs for re-election in 2022 or for president in 2024, he needs to split Broward County’s overwhelmingly Democratic voters in order to win statewide. He’s cynically using the MSD tragedy to sew dissention and a split between Parkland voters – a number of whom are Jewish Democrats who otherwise wouldn’t support him – and Runcie supporters who are Black Democrats.

“It’s disgraceful.”

Can’t respond  

McCray said that the single felony was too vague for the defense team to even respond.

“We have asked for a bill of particulars to make the state identify exactly what would ‘false material statement’ he allegedly made,’’ McCray explained.

Harvard, Chicago

Robert Runcie was born in Jamaica and moved to the United States as a young boy. He was the first member of his family to attend college. He holds both a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Harvard College and Master of Business Administration degree in Management from Northwestern University.

He founded a management consulting and technology company before making a switch into education by working with Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the nation with 410,000 students.

In Chicago, he served in a number of executive positions, including chief information officer, chief administrative officer, chief area officer, chief of staff to the Chicago Board of Education.

He joined Broward County Public Schools in 2011, has been named superintendent of the year by various organizations, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Nova Southeastern University for his work in education.

About Carma Henry 23012 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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