An Orlando police officer who was hailed as a hero for his actions during the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida is being sued by 30 survivors and the family members of nine victims.
Officer Adam Gruler, who was working extra duty as security for Pulse, made headlines for being the first to respond to the 2016 shooting. After the gunman, Omar Mateen, first entered the club and began shooting, Gruler exchanged gunfire with him from the club's parking lot, according to the police. Gruler retreated after realizing he was outgunned and called for backup, as Mateen continued his rampage inside, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others.
Politicians and law enforcement praised Gruler's courage in the aftermath of the shooting. The 17-year veteran of the police force received a "valor" award for his actions, and he and his wife were invited to this year's State of the Union as the guests of Florida Rep. Val Demings.
Some of the survivors of the shooting, and family members of nine victims, are now suing Gruler and 20 other Orlando officers for not immediately entering the club and neutralizing the shooter, and choosing "to remain safely outside" and "allow the patrons of the club to be massacred."
Solomon Radner, an attorney representing the survivors and victims, announced Thursday that the civil rights lawsuit had been filed in federal court to hold the city of Orlando and its law enforcement responsible for their "actions and inactions" during the shooting.
The lawsuit also accuses 10 other Orlando police officers of "unlawfully" arresting or detaining the uninjured survivors for hours after the shooting, treating them like "criminals" and not allowing them to call their loved ones.
The city of Orlando is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, for "not training officers" and for "authorizing the type of conduct" the officers were being sued for, Radner said at a press conference on Thursday.
On Friday, the same 39 plaintiffs also filed a separate lawsuit against Pulse and its owners, Barbara Poma and Rosario Poma, for providing "insufficient security" the night of the shooting.
Wigberto Cintron Capo, whose brother Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo was killed in the shooting, said Thursday that Omar would still be alive if the actions of law enforcement were "faster" and "aggressive."
"I know [the officers] were scared," Citron told BuzzFeed News on Thursday. "But don't sign to be a police officer if you're scared."
Cintron said that he hoped the lawsuit would get him justice for his brother.
"There are a whole bunch of people who could have gone in together and killed the one person with the gun," he said. "But they stayed out there hearing the gunshots from outside the club."
Gruler was "tasked with defending Pulse" but "abandoned" his post, allowing Mateen to enter the club twice to "implement his sinister plan to kill and injure many people," the lawsuit says.
Radner told BuzzFeed News Thursday that Gruler should have been at his post — either inside the club or at the entrance of the club — to stop Mateen from entering. He said that law enforcement protocols and training dictated that Gruler should have run inside the club and engaged the shooter immediately to neutralize him.
But Gruler stayed outside "where he could ensure his own safety," the lawsuit says.
Radner said that although the law enforcement policy to immediately neutralize the shooter was not a law, the behavior by Gruler and other officers — by failing to abide by the policy despite knowing that "people were being slaughtered" — amounted to "unconstitutional conduct."
The lawsuit also says that 20 other officers — identified only as "John Does" — showed "callous indifference" when they arrived during the shooting, choosing "to remain safely outside" instead of entering Pulse and neutralizing the suspect. The lawsuit says that some of the officers entered the club at some point to engage with Mateen, but that the 20 officers later exited the club and did not return.
"Finally, approximately three hours later, after allowing Shooter to murder and injure many helpless people who had no hope other than these defendants, the police finally made their entry and neutralized Shooter," the lawsuit says.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, the city of Orlando and the Orlando Police Department said that they could not comment on the lawsuit because they had not seen it or been formally served with it.
"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," the statement says. "Our first responders are committed to the safety of this community, and they stand ready to protect and serve."
A man who answered a telephone number associated with Gruler refused to identify himself to BuzzFeed News and directed all comments to the city of Orlando and the police department.
According to a timeline of the shooting, from a presentation by Orlando police Chief John Mina, Mateen entered the club at 2:02 a.m. on June 12, 2016, and began rapidly firing at the packed crowd on the dance floor.
On hearing the shots, Gruler — who was in the club's parking lot — radioed for help and then exchanged gunfire with Mateen, who was standing inside the double doors at the club's entrance. Gruler then retreated and waited for backup while Mateen went further inside the club. Within a few minutes, other officers arrived at the scene and were told by Gruler that the shooter was in the patio.
At 2:05 a.m., Gruler — who was still outside the club — fired multiple rounds toward Mateen, who was on the main dance floor of the club, according to the Orlando police's timeline. At this point, the sound of gunshots from within Pulse stopped, and Gruler — with a team of four officers — approached the club to engage the shooter, the timeline said.
Six minutes and eight seconds after the shooting began, a team of five law enforcement officers entered the club and began rescuing victims, according to the timeline.
At 5:15 a.m., more than three hours after Mateen began shooting, a SWAT team shot and killed him.
Last May, Gruler received a "Pulse Valor Award" for displaying "courage and bravery despite clear and present danger of death and injury" and for communicating the "magnitude of what he was up against" with responding officers.
Democratic Rep. Val Demings, invited Gruler and his wife, Jaimi, to the 2018 State of the Union address, saying she was "deeply proud of the courage he showed from the first moments" of the shooting.
Gruler also made headlines after he and his wife adopted three young children last November.
"As Jaimi and Adam’s representative, I am overjoyed by the love and kindness they’ve shown as they grow their family in the wake of tragedy," Demings said. Like so many others in our community, Adam and Jaimi prove that in the end, love triumphs over hate."
Radner told BuzzFeed News that the none of the people who endured the horrors of the shooting considered Gruler a hero.
"People who were there at the time call him a coward, and the people who were not there give him awards," Radner said.
In February, Broward County Sheriff's deputy Scot Peterson was widely criticized for waiting outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida as a shooter opened fire on students and teachers, killing 17 people inside the school. In March, Orlando Chief Mina said that comparisons between the actions of Peterson and Gruler were unfair.
"Adam [Gruler] did engage the suspect," Mina told the Orlando Sentinel. "He did go toward the sound of gunfire. Just because he took a different route doesn’t mean he didn’t go toward the sound of gunfire.”
Radner acknowledged Thursday that a mass shooting was a "stressful situation" for police officers, but that it was also stressful for victims who were not armed and not trained for such an incident.
"When people's lives are at risk and your job is protecting people's lives, sometimes your best isn't good enough," Radner said.
This post has been updated to remove a quote that conflated two constitutional amendments.