Police officer Adam Gruler was heralded a hero for being the first to exchange gunfire with Omar Mateen when he attacked Orlando’s Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, killing 49 people and wounding at least 53. But on Thursday, two years after the massacre, survivors and families of the victims have filed a federal lawsuit against Gruler—who was off-duty and working security at the club at the time—and 30 other police officers, claiming that the Orlando Police Department acted too slowly.
Gruler is the only police officer named in the lawsuit, with plaintiffs stating that he stayed outside the club during the shooting “to ensure his own safety” and failed to protect Pulse patrons.
In a statement published in the Washington Post, Berto Capo, who lost his brother Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo in the shooting, said:
“It pains me to think my brother might still be alive if the defendants in the lawsuit acted differently. What if the Pulse security guard stopped the shooter from ever coming inside Pulse? Would my brother still be alive? What if the Orlando police officers who responded to the shooting were aggressive with the plan to rescue hostages and victims and killed the shooter? Would my brother still be alive? We believe the answer is yes. [My brother] would still be alive if their actions would have been faster.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and stipulates that Gruler abandoned his post inside Pulse around 2 a.m. (Gruler says he left his post to locate an underage attendee who had entered the club with a fake I.D.), allowing Mateen to enter the club unfettered. Gruler heard gunshots and, from the parking lot, exchanged fire with Mateen. Then, as the Post’s Meagan Flynn writes, “realizing he was outgunned... called for backup and remained outside.”
Attorney Solomon Radner, representing Capo and others in the lawsuit, spoke at a news conference Thursday:
“Not only did the officer allow this to take place by apparently abandoning his post but also instead of immediately going in and neutralizing the shooter, he appeared to be primarily concerned about his own safety. He stayed outside where it was safe and allowed dozens of people to be massacred, knowing that was taking place, knowing that he was the only armed person there who could stop this. That was his job.”
The Orlando Police Department, also named in the lawsuit, could not offer comment to the Post on the case itself, but offered the following statement:
“Nearly two years after the horrific act of hate inside the Pulse nightclub, our community continues to mourn the 49 lives taken and provide support for all those impacted,” the statement said. “On the morning of June 12, 2016, federal, state and local law enforcement officers and first responders put themselves in harm’s way to save as many lives as possible.”
According to CBS News, 35 Pulse shooting victims have signed onto the lawsuit as plaintiffs. In addition to contending that Gruler and the other 30 officers could’ve done more to curb casualties, the suit includes language that criticizes the actions of law enforcement after the club had been secured. The document reads:
“The detainees were not permitted to use their phones, contact their loved ones, or leave. They were detained as though they were criminals, by these defendants despite there being not a shred of evidence nor any lawful basis to suspect that any of the detainees had committed a crime.”
At the news conference on Thursday, victim Keinon Carter who now needs a cane to walk) said, “Those of us who were at the wrong place at the wrong time still have rights that cannot be infringed upon.”