FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A legal aid group filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Broward County state attorney, the assistant state attorney for Broward County, Broward County Judge Kim Theresa Mollica and Broward Sheriff's Office Capt. Sherea Green, claiming they have violated the constitutional rights of the brother of Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz.
Zachary Cruz, 18, has had several run-ins with the law since his brother confessed to killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in a mass shooting on Valentine's Day. After the shooting, Cruz visited the school campus in Parkland several times, eventually leading to trespassing charges.
Cruz was arrested this week for violating the terms of his parole. Authorities said he was driving a car without a license and found within 25 feet of a school. He is still in custody.
Nexus Services Inc. said Cruz has been unfairly treated because of his brother's actions. Cruz was held in jail for several days after he was arrested on March 19.
"After he posted his $25 bail, authorities conspired to hold him in custody, reset his bond to an excessive $500,000, and then engaged in a campaign of intimidation and torture once he was in the Broward main jail facility," Nexus Services said in a statement.
Nexus Services President and CEO Mike Donovan held a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Broward County Justice Center in Fort Lauderdale to discuss the lawsuit.
He said the $500,000 bail was "a bail that offends our sensibilities as Americans and our understanding of what it means to have due process and the right of liberty pending trial for accusations we're not yet convicted of."
Prosecutors argued for the higher bail for a number of reasons. They said they became concerned after learning Cruz mentioned his brother's notoriety and the pair discussed a "fan club" that could attract girls. Cruz was given a mental health evaluation and authorities also searched his home for weapons under a new law passed after the mass shooting. No weapons were found.
The group alleges that Cruz was harassed and intimidated by guards while he was held at the Main Jail in Fort Lauderdale. Cruz was also subjected to sleep deprivation tactics and had to wear a restraint vest at all times, the group said.
"Given the impossibly high bail, coupled with dehumanizing treatment in jail, Cruz was ultimately and unjustly forced to accept a guilty plea, just to escape the horrors of custody in the Broward main jail facility," the group said.
Donovan said that Zachary Cruz was unfairly jailed for more than 10 days, but BSO documents show that he was actually in a hospital on a Baker Act hold from March 20 to March 26. He was released from jail on March 29.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money, including that the plaintiffs cover all attorney fees and costs associated with the litigation.