Scot Peterson Might Finally Face Justice
Scot Peterson Might Finally Face Justice
Yesterday, authorities announced that former Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson faces 11 criminal counts stemming from his actions–or more accurately, lack of action–during the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD). Seventeen students and staff members lost their lives that day. Another 17 were injured. All while Peterson, the school resource officer, waited outside, doing nothing to help save those in danger.
On February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz entered the school he’d once attended and opened fire. Afterwards, Cruz managed to temporarily evade capture by mingling with some of the students as they fled the school. Approximately an hour later, police captured Cruz and he confessed. He was subsequently charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
That should have been the end of it except Cruz was well-known not only to school officials but to law enforcement officials as well. The families of those injured and killed wanted answers. They wanted justice. They wanted more than a commission report telling them signs were missed and actions weren’t taken. The first indication they had that something might finally be done occurred when Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. The courts upheld the suspension and it looked like, finally, action might be taken against those who could have acted to either prevent the shooting or to mitigate what happened.
But that still left the question of why nothing was being done about Scot Peterson.
According to CNN and other media sources, here’s what Peterson did during the shooting.
When shots rang out at the Parkland school, Peterson didn’t run toward the gunfire.
Senior Brandon Huff claimed he saw Peterson standing outside behind a stairwell wall with his gun drawn “just pointing it at the building.”
He’s wearing a bulletproof vest … while school security guards, coaches pretty much, were running in shielding kids,” he said.
He did not enter the building while Cruz went through the building, shooting and killing students and staff. We’re not talking a matter of a few minutes of hesitation. We’re talking about 45 minutes of horror for those inside and their families who they’d called. Forty-five minutes when he watched and waited as people died.
According to the Washington Post,
Peterson has said he did not know where the shots were coming from, telling The Washington Post last year, “It was all so fast. I couldn’t piece it all together.”
Forty-five minutes and he couldn’t piece it all together. Right.
Yesterday, Peterson found himself in a role I doubt he ever anticipated when he became a sheriff’s deputy. He was arrested and booked into jail. The 11 charges against him include child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury and carry a potential maximum sentence of almost 100 years. Bond was set at $102,000 and, if he manages to post bond, he will be forced to wear an ankle monitor. In other words, he is finally seeing the judicial system in a way at least some of the families want.
I have no comment except to say rot in hell Scott Peterson. You could have saved some of the 17. You could have saved my daughter. You did not and then you lied about it and you deserve the misery coming your way,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the shooting.Ryan Petty, father of 14-year-old victim Alaina Petty, called the charges “another step in the search for accountability.”
Of course, not everyone feels this way. Peterson’s attorney,Joseph A. DiRuzzo III, had a few choice words about his client being charged. He calls the charges, “a thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution against Mr. Peterson.” He went on to say Peterson couldn’t be charged as a caregiver because he was acting as a police officer at the time. Then, in what is probably his most asinine excuse, he repeats Peterson’s claim that he couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from.
Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, expressed “concerns” over the charges, especially the neglect and negligence charges.
“In order for there to be neglect, the individual must be a ‘care taker’ of the individual,” Bell wrote. “Does that mean that every police officer from now on that works a detail where children are present are now subjected to child neglect charges if something happens?”
In December 2018, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit filed by students at MSD, claiming they “were traumatized by a mass shooting there in February and that county officials should have protected them.” In her opinion, Judge Beth Bloom said the police had no duty to protect the students from the shooter. It seems they weren’t in “state custody”.
The claim arises from the actions of Cruz, a third party, and not a state actor. Thus, the critical question the Court analyzes is whether defendants had a constitutional duty to protect plaintiffs from the actions of Cruz.
As previously stated, for such a duty to exist on the part of defendants, plaintiffs would have to be considered to be in custody.”
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled “the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.” However, this case, like the one Bloom ruled on, were civil cases. While Peterson’s attorney will surely rely on them in arguing for the charges against his client to be dismissed, it is Florida criminal law he will have to worry about.
And that means looking at Peterson’s actions and inactions that day.
The charges against Peterson come after an 18-month investigation. Among the conclusions reached during the investigation are:
The phrase “better late than never” comes to mind. There might not be a civil requirement for police officers to protect the citizens they’ve been hired to, well, protect. But they should not be allowed to prevent others from helping those in danger.
Peterson was a veteran law enforcement officer. He had undergone training, including training on what to do in an active shooter scenario. Yet he failed to act, to follow his training. Who knows how many of the dead and injured might have been saved had he acted. He didn’t have to go into the building himself. He could have simply continued to cower away for the action and let others go in. But no, he apparently prevented that from happening.
I don’t blame the parents for their bitterness toward Peterson, Scott Israel or the school administration. The system let them down, and it did so long before the shooting occurred. Hopefully now they will finally get some modicum of justice.
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Featured image: Scot R. Peterson booking photo. Broward Sheriff’s Office.