Former Officer Charged for Not Responding to Florida School Shooting

(Reuters) – A former Florida sheriff’s deputy was arrested on Tuesday on felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from his lack of response in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead, the county sheriff said.

Scot Peterson, 56, who was taken into custody, faces multiple counts of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury, Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz said in a statement. The charges carry a combined maximum prison sentence of nearly 97 years, he said.

Peterson, at the time a Broward County deputy, was on duty as a school resource officer when a gunman entered the school building in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018, and opened fire, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others. He never went inside during the shooting, according to the sheriff’s office and surveillance video.

Nikolas Cruz, who was 19 at the time and had been expelled from the school, was charged with the murders. He is awaiting trial.

Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, said that while the law enforcement community is upset with how Peterson handled the incident and the harm to its reputation, his failure to act was not criminal.

“What concerns me…is we are setting a dangerous precedent by coming after law enforcement,” he said. “In the future, if we don’t break up a fight in a school, will that be negligent? When does it stop?”

“You have to be considered a caregiver to be charged with neglect and police officers are not caregivers, we are first responders,” he said.

Peterson is the first police officer to be charged with a crime based on his actions responding to an active shooter situation, his attorney Joseph DiRuzzo said in a written statement.

He plans to “vigorously defend” his client against the charges that “lack basis in fact and law.”

“Today the individuals who have made this charging decision have taken the easy way out and blamed Mr. Peterson for the actions on February 14, 2018, when there has only ever been one person to blame: Nikolas Cruz,” he wrote.

Peterson also faces legal trouble in civil court. In May 2018, Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Peterson. His son Hunter said on Twitter that he hoped Peterson spends the rest of his life in prison.

“He cowered in Parkland while my sister died defenseless and lied about his failure to confront the shooter,” he said.

DEPUTIES FIRED

Peterson was booked into the Broward County jail and his bond set at $102,000.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said on Tuesday he had fired Peterson and another deputy, Brian Miller, who he said neglected their duties during the shooting.

“We cannot fulfill our commitment to always protect the security and safety of our Broward County community without doing a thorough assessment of what went wrong that day,” Tony said in a statement.

Peterson resigned a week after the shooting. But his and Miller’s termination means they can no longer serve as law enforcement deputies for the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff said.

Peterson’s arrest follows a 14-month investigation that included interviews of 184 witnesses.

Some sheriff’s deputies held back too long as shots were fired instead of rushing toward the gunfire, according to a 485-page report by a state-appointed commission released in January.

The commission also found Broward County Sheriff’s Office training on active shooters was inadequate. The commission recommended arming teachers and spending more on school security and mental health to prevent similar mass shootings.

Seven deputies in all were under an internal sheriff’s office investigation to determine if their actions complied with department standards, Tony said.

Broward County Public Schools officials were not immediately available for comment.

Senator Rick Scott, who was governor of Florida when the shooting happened, said it was time for justice to be served.

“Had this individual done his job, lives would have been saved. Actions (or inaction) have consequences,” he said in a statement.

Three weeks after the shooting, Scott signed into law a bill imposing a 21-year-old legal age requirement and three-day waiting period on all gun purchases and allowing the arming of some school employees.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Richard Chang and Sonya Hepinstall)

Responses

  1. If he lied in court then he should be charged, however none of us really know how we will act in a live firefight. So he was afraid. He should lose his job, as he did. It is unfortunate and terrible that people had to die but it’s not the fault of this man. Blame the person that pulled the trigger not the man ?‍♀️that like everyone else was afraid.

  2. What about all the people along the way who were told of the problems this kid had and let it go? To me, they are just as negligent and should have some responsibility in this. If there had only been one or two concerns I can understand them missing it, but, if I remember correctly, there was over 40 complaints about this guy to various agencies before this happened.

  3. He’ll be found guilty of perjury and maybe- but likely not- culpable negligence. He lied about his actions that day- a coward is bad enough but he lied about what he did or did not do.
    If a police officer makes no attempt to do his job- protect and serve- act as a first responder, how can he not be charged for not responding? This makes no sense to me. But, I’m guessing he wasn’t much of a law enforcement officer to begin with- from what I’ve been told by a local law enforcement officer I know, the dept assigns lackluster L.E.O.’s to act as school resource officers- not much is expected of them, for the most part.

  4. Not the right avenue to bring justice, I agree it sets a dangerous precedence if this starts..

  5. As grievous as this whole tragedy was, and as much bitterness and anger you may have towards Peterson, this will probably go nowhere. Why? For at least two reasons. 1) On June 27, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement has no Constitutional duty to protect a person from harm. 2) In reading this article, it says a state-appointed commission came to the conclusion that the “Broward County Sheriff’s Office training on active shooters was inadequate” thereby allowing the defense to claim Peterson was not adequately trained, and he had no legal obligation to enter into the school and do anything.

  6. WKEM A COP DOESN OT DO HIS DUTY SOMETIMES PEOPLE DIE. HE LOOKS TOO OLD TO HAVE THE JOB AND HE SHOULD BE ARRESTED AND SENT TO RISON IF HIS NOT DOING ANYTHING CAUDED DEATHS.

  7. We all said why didn’t he respond immediately and attempt to save some of the children’s lives. Dixon, Illinois school officer did.

    1. Some people run towards danger, some run away. When fear takes over we all think ? we will help but do we really know what we will do?

  8. First of all, that is one old looking 56 year old. And second, this is all theater. Thirdly, police don’t have a constitutional duty to protect anyone. And finally, I truly believe that it was a code red drill. First of all, that is one old looking 56 year old. And second, this is all theater. Thirdly, police don’t have a constitutional duty to protect anyone. And finally, I truly believe that it was a code red drill.

    From the NYTs: justices-rule-police-do-not-have-a-constitutional-duty-to-protect

  9. He can’t have it both ways. He was a school resource officer not a patrol officer, he cannot claim protection under the general service rule and be responsible for the safety, welfare and good order of the school, its students, faculty and staff.

  10. neglect of duty ? maybe, maybe not. Waiting for back up ?….he should have done something maybe. There is no law saying he should have went in , guns blazing, or under gunned! Walk in a persons shoes before judging..

    1. He had backup out in the parking lot – hiding behind their patrol cars. First reports in 2018 of the shooting said that Peterson was hiding in a stairwell. I’d call that “providing cover for the murderer.”

  11. ““You have to be considered a caregiver to be charged with neglect and police officers are not caregivers, we are first responders,” he said.”

    Exactly therefore when he FAILED TO RESPOND his actions were criminal. He neglected to act as a FIRST RESPONDER when he was in fact already present when the attack began.

    Had he responded the fact is there would not have been as many victims. In past cases just the SIGHT of an armed officer ended such attacks when the attacker shot themselves rather than face the responding officer or officers.

    Unless they had this officer DISARMED while at the school he had a chance to prevent a number of victims from being harmed had he ACTED by responding to the attack when it started instead of WAITING for someone else to arrive and deal with the attack.

    1. I know, I couldn’t believe he said that either.

    2. What cases are you referring for the fact that there would not have been as many victims. Just off the top of my head, that was not the case in the PP shooting where the armed campus policeman was the 2nd one of 3 killed, 5 of the responding armed police officers were shot as well as other victims. Also not the case in the PGH synagogue shooting. Not the case in the Las Vegas shooting. Not the case in the VA Beach shooting.

  12. As a former LEO I was trained to have complete information before running blindly into a situation that involved gunfire. Another training point is you wait for backup if you do not know how many, what type of weapons and where the firing is from where is the gunfire originating. In a school environment the echo of gun shots can be very confusing and even if it is a domestic shooting you wait for back up. You are no good to anyone if you are on the floor bleeding out profusely. Think about it, he most likely only had his sidearm.

  13. “What concerns me…is we are setting a dangerous precedent by coming after law enforcement.” No Mr. Peterson, your concern is that they are setting that precedent on you…

  14. The guys gone and reputation gone, do what the Lord would want us to do forgive him. He was not the shooter and if he ran in shooting he might have missed and killed more kids. I pray for all the lost children, I am a retired High School Teacher. And if anyone thinks arming teachers is the right move you have lost it. I go with Jesus and take what happens maybe if more did this would not happen so much.

    Ronald Wray
    retired educator

  15. When will the leader of the pack be brought to justice?

  16. Yes he is culpable. He failed miserably at performing the duties of his job and lied about it also. He was the wrong man for that job. Another person could have taken heroic action.
    However……given ALL these massacres over the recent years, is this the best we can do???

  17. This is insane. A gun is no match for military rifles. Sane gun laws NOW

    1. That is no where near a military type weapon. Quit wasting your time watching msnbc and cnn both have brainwashed you. Join the military milk toast and see what a real military weapon is.

    2. READ THE National Firearms Act ACTUAL military weapons have been restricted for decades in fact the law was amended in the 80s prohibiting any MILITARY guns manufactured after that date from being sold to CIVILIANS.

      They were NOT military rifles there were NO fully automatic or SELECT FIRE weapons present in this crime and police have used their “MILITARY” (if we go by your definition of military weapons) PISTOLS to stop criminals armed with common HUNTING/TARGET guns for decades.

      In the vast majority of these massacres the SUICIDAL attackers have shot themselves the second they were confronted by any ARMED resistance during their attack.

    3. No one has military rifles there are look alike but are not the same

  18. Too bad there is not a charge for cowardice in the face of danger.

  19. Not that many years ago, soldiers in the US military were lined up in front of a firing squad for cowardice.

  20. Broward = Coward. Go after Scott Israel next. First responders my ass.

  21. I do not see this ending with a successful prosecution. There are multiple court precedents that consistently state that law enforcement officers (LEOs) can be neither criminally prosecuted nor held civilly liable (sued) for “failing to protect” any specific group or individual. They can be punished administratively by their departments up to and including termination, but NOT held criminally responsible or sued. At least two of the cases involve failing to respond to rapes in progress where the victims could not escape a residence. In one of those, the police drove past the residence, “didn’t see anything going on”, and kept driving. In the other, the officers knocked on the door several times, received no answer, looked into windows (the victims were being held at gun point by their assailants in interior rooms), and then left. The courts held that the LEOs held immunity from both prosecution and civil liability from “failing to protect” the victims.

    Depending on State law involving minors, the courts could modify or overturn the precedents, but think of the political costs and unintended consequences. The LEO community would certainly begin refusing duty as school-based resource officers, knowing that if a student were harmed, they could be held criminally or civilly liable for “not responding soon enough or forcefully enough”. The LEO unions would demand modifications to their contracts allowing officers to refuse to accept such assignments without punishment or damage to their careers.

    1. In those two cases, the LEOs didn’t see any crime in active progress. The victims were not in view, no gunshots heard. They attempted to ascertain and saw nothing. Reasonable assumption and care. In the case of the Parkland shooting, there was evidence galore that an active crime was in progress, and he did not enter the premises but chose to stay outside. He was following orders to ‘stand down’, given by the then Broward County sheriff, Scott Israel. That’s where he screwed up. He showed that he is actually a Deep State cabal operative, doing their bidding. This is where they’re going to get him on.

    2. We all want this POS to suffer, but the law is clearly on his side, just as Stephen says. The perjury charge might possibly stick, but the others are not going to stand. His lawyers will get them dismissed or beat them on appeal. In the end, Scot Peterson has to live with himself. Hopefully, it is a miserable existence for him.

  22. That Sheriffs officer should be sent to jail, all other sheriffs officers that hesitated should be fired…ALL those officers are NOT above the law, they are no better than the populist that they swore to PROTECT AND SERVE !!!!

  23. LONG overdue!! This LEO COWARD from Broward County should have been in prison soon after the Valentine’s Day massacre. Ninety-seven years in prison is NOT nearly long enough!

    I find it ironic that Peterson’s bail of $102,000 is almost identical to his annual retirement pay after having been fired.

    NEXT, charge the former Sheriff – Scott Isreal – for the same and add a few more charges to that. HE is the inept misfit behind the badge who had his deputies hide in stairwells (as Peterson did) and behind their patrol cars in the MSD parking lot. Seventeen people – 14 students and 3 adults – were murdered as the COWARD County deputies provided cover.

    1. There is no punishment severe enough for these cowards to face to make up for the lives lost. There are also, no words to express my absolute disgust for their refusal to even honor their oath to protect and serve.

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