Scot Peterson was the School Resource Officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida when shooter Nikolas Cruz entered the school and began killing people. Not only did Peterson not enter the building where the shooting was taking place, it’s believed his calls over the radio helped dissuade other officers from entering the building. For his complete failure to act he was dubbed the “Coward of Broward” in the media.
“He was pointing his gun at nothing.” Student says he watched as @browardsheriff school resource officer Scot Peterson hid behind a staircase during the Stoneman Douglas shooting. @wsvn pic.twitter.com/IWRQorRrcL
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) February 23, 2018
Peterson retired as soon as he was suspended and is still receiving a pension. But five years after the shooting, he’s going to trial for his inaction that day.
Scot Peterson – who retired from the Broward Sheriff’s Office as scrutiny of his conduct during the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mounted – has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges, including seven counts of felony child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury in connection with the shooting and statements he made afterward.
Peterson, 60, failed to follow his training by remaining behind a position of cover for at least 45 minutes, prosecutors say, while the 19-year-old shooter roamed the halls of the school’s 1200 building, killing 14 children and three staff members and leaving 17 others injured. After Peterson arrived outside that building, prosecutors allege, the gunman fired his weapon some 75 times, killing six people and injuring four…
Peterson has maintained he did nothing wrong. He has claimed, in part, he didn’t enter the 1200 building because he didn’t know where the gunfire was coming from – which other officers have testified he told them as they arrived – and could not have found and engaged the shooter in time to protect the victims. And his attorneys argue he was not properly equipped to confront a shooter with an AR-15. “There was no duty on the part of Peterson to protect the victims,” they wrote.
The trial itself may be the first of its kind.
“I’ve never heard of a case like this” said Mac Hardy, a spokesman for the National Association of School Resource Officers, a nonprofit based in Hoover, Ala…
The Peterson case hinges on prosecutors proving he was working that day in the capacity of a caregiver, which could be difficult, as the term usually does not refer to a law enforcement officer — underscoring the challenges in criminally prosecuting officers for missteps in a crisis.
Some of the parents of the victims are present for the trial. They are hoping the results are more satisfying than the outcome of the Nikolas Cruz trial.
Many were convinced the evidence pointed toward capital punishment. Cruz’s defense attorneys said aggravating factors including mental illness disqualified him.
Jurors needed to reach a unanimous verdict to sentence Cruz to death, but three on the 12-member panel voted against it. The verdict sparked a debate in Florida over the state’s death penalty law, and earlier this year, lawmakers voted to allow a jury to sentence someone to death if eight of 12 jurors approve, scratching the unanimity requirement.
For Peterson’s critics, his case — though not a death penalty trial — offers one more opportunity to find a sense of justice and accountability. They also believe that it could set a precedent for other law enforcement officers.
Cruz murdered 17 people and got a life sentence thanks to one juror who convinced two others to oppose the death penalty (the jury foreperson explained it here). Relatives of the victims were outraged. I wrote about some of their statements at the sentencing. Here’s just one example.
“He had well over 200 individual sessions with mental health professionals! Does that sound like someone that fell off the grid?!” – Max Schachter giving a passionate victim impact statement speaking directly to the defense team. pic.twitter.com/RW5kI9oVZ7
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) November 1, 2022
If convicted on all counts, Peterson could face 100 years. I don’t think that will happen but it’s outrageous that he could abandon his training and stand around for 45 minutes while students were being shot and dying and then collect a pension as if nothing happened. Legally, I don’t know if this is a solid case but cops who fail to protect children ought to face some kind of repercussions. In Uvalde, many of the officers who stood around for an hour haven’t even lost their jobs.