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Ex-School Resource Officer Facing 11 Criminal Charges in Wake of Parkland Shooting

Policeman's hand on gun
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 05, 2019

Scot Peterson was the Broward Sheriff's Office deputy on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida the day former student Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle. Peterson never entered the school building or otherwise confronted Cruz during the shooting, which lasted six minutes, and Cruz snuck away from the school by blending in with fleeing students.

Peterson has certainly suffered his share of online ridicule and professional criticism -- he was suspended immediately, then retired, then fired. And now he has been arrested and charged with child neglect, culpable negligence, and perjury.

"No Question That His Inaction Cost Lives"

“The [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] investigation shows former Deputy Peterson did absolutely nothing to mitigate the MSD shooting that killed 17 children, teachers and staff and injured 17 others," said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen. "There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives."

And that's perhaps the nicest way to describe both Peterson's actions and inactions that day, when he directed other law enforcement who arrived on scene to remain 500 feet away from the building, refused to investigate where the gunshots were coming from, and retreated during the gunfire, all contrary to Broward County Sheriff's Office training for active shooter situations. Parents of the victims were not so kind:

  • "He should rot, that's how I feel ... My daughter was one of the last to be shot. My daughter absolutely could have been saved by him and she wasn't ... I'm pleased an effort is being made for justice here ... I hope they make his life as miserable as possible."
  • "If Scot Peterson had done his job my son would be alive today ... One hundred-percent had he done something, the active shooter would not have made it to the third floor, had he done his job, instead of standing outside like a coward."
  • "He needs to go to jail and he needs to serve a lifetime in prison for not going in that day and taking down the threat that led to the death of our loved ones ... It was his duty to go into that building and to engage the threat and he froze and he did nothing."

"100 Percent Speculation"

Peterson was arrested this week on a total of 11 criminal charges: Seven felony counts of child neglect with great bodily harm, three misdemeanor counts of culpable negligence and exposure to harm, and one misdemeanor count of perjury relating to sworn statements made to investigators after the shooting occurred. He could be facing almost 100 years in state prison, but the case is no slam dunk.

This could be the first time a police officer has been criminally charged for failing to do their job, and under Florida statutes, prosecutors must prove the failure was the result of a "reckless disregard for human life."

"We don't know what his lack of action legally caused," H. Scott Fingerhut, a law professor at Florida International University told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "What we think morally is one thing. But our criminal justice systems are based on legal liability or guilt, meaning what can be proved." Matthew Mayer, a professor at Rutgers University who studies violence in educational settings added that any assumption that Peterson could've changed the outcome of the shooting "rests on him being in the correct place at the right time and getting there and successfully and firing shots. That is 100 percent speculation."

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