Florida shooting survivors sue police over response tactics

ORLANDO, Fla./NEW YORK, June 7 (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.

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An aerial view shows the Pulse gay night club after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse night club, where as many as 20 people have been injured after a gunman opened fire, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Demetrice Naulings sobs outside the Orlando Police Headquarters where police are interviewing witnesses in the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Concerned friends and family of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting wait outside of the Orlando Police Department on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Ray Rivera, DJ at the Pulse nightclub, is consoled by a friend outside of the Orlando Police Department on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Police stand in front of one of the houses that officials indicated was connected to the Orlando shooter in Port St. Lucie, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
An aerial view shows the Pulse gay night club after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Police stand in front of one of the houses that officials indicated was connected to the Orlando shooter in Port St. Lucie, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Officers arrive at the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
An aerial view shows the Pulse gay night club after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Orlando Police Chief John Mina and other city officials answer the media's questions about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski
Police lock down Orange Avenue around Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman in a shooting rampage in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski
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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)

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