Scot Peterson Might Finally Face Justice

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.

Background

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.

Peterson and the Shooting

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.

The Charges and Reactions

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?”

Possible Roadblocks to Prosecution

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.

How Do the Authorities Say He Failed?

The charges against Peterson come after an 18-month investigation. Among the conclusions reached during the investigation are:

  1. He failed to follow his training to “immediately go to confront the shooter” and “move directly and quickly toward known threat.” Instead, he failed to investigate the source of the shooting, staying outside the building instead.
  2. He retreated to another building away from the gunfire and remained there until the shooting ended.
  3. He advised other officers to stay away from the building in question and not to make entry.
  4. The investigators also concluded he committed perjury when he said he didn’t hear any of the gunshots after the first few after he arrived at the building in question.

 Conclusion

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.

Welcome, Instapundit readers!

 

Featured image: Scot R. Peterson booking photo. Broward Sheriff’s Office.

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36 Comments
  • I can’t see what criminal statute he’s violated and I doubt he can be convicted in a fair trial. Courts have repeatedly held that law enforcement has no legal duty to protect anyone (SCOTUS’ Castlerock v. Gonzales is an example). Telling other officers to stay back is bad advice, tactics, strategy, not criminal. To call a school safety officer a “caregiver” simply changes the meaning of words in order to get someone.

    This is an awful man. But I cannot see how his failure is criminal.

    If we must criminally prosecute anyone, I’d prefer it to be the FBI agents and their administrators who ignored warnings, similarly to the way they ignored warnings about the Tsarnaevs. The FBI seems to be a political secret police rather than a law enforcement agency.

    • Amanda Green says:

      Unfortunately, you’re probably right. However, if they can get him on anything, it will be on telling the other first responders not to go in. No matter what happens on the local level, it will end up with SCOTUS in all likelihood.

    • GWB says:

      Except it wasn’t just the FBI that ignored warnings. The Sheriff’s office did, as well (actually, they practically enabled the shooter’s actions) – and I seem to recall that Peterson was part of that whole fiasco.

      There’s also the issue of sometimes a failure to protect is so very egregious that he failed to do exactly what he was hired to do. But you might be right about that being better as a civil claim.

      • Amanda Green says:

        Local cops, FBI and the school district, among others dropped the ball. And, yes, Peterson did fail to follow his training. At least that was the conclusion of the commission that looked into what happened. I really hope Peterson gets hit both civilly and that the criminal charges are upheld. People died because he failed to act and he acted in a way that prevented others from doing so.

    • Wfjag says:

      I suspect that the DA is building a case in which Peterson will feel compelled (likely against advice of counsel) to take the witness stand. The government will paint him to be a lying coward, and only he can rebut the perjury charge. But, once he takes the witness stand, everything is open for cross-x. What a weakling coward hates worse than anything is being shown to be that in public. Based on his interviews, my guess is that a jury will find him revolting. Some charges may get tossed of appeal, but that’s years down the road.

      • Amanda Green says:

        I don’t see how he can do anything but take the stand, especially if the perjury charge withstands pre-trial challenges. The audio tapes show the shots were audible where Peterson hid. So, unless he suddenly lost his hearing, he would have heard them. That means he has to either plead guilty to that one charge or try to explain away why he said what he did. Failure to do so will result in a guilty finding by judge or jury.

        Of course, the first thing his attorneys will do after trying to get the charges dismissed is to get the trial moved. If they don’t, he will have a case on appeal for inadequate counsel.

    • f1b0nacc1 says:

      It saddens me deeply to say this, but you are likely correct. This individual may be a disgrace to all police officers everywhere, but it is difficult for me to imagine anything good coming from elevating cowardice and stupidity to the level of criminal behavior.

      He will be judged, but it will have to wait until after this life is over for him. Let it be soon

      • Amanda Green says:

        The only good that might come from it is making those looking for an easy job as a “resource officer” think twice. If they know there are expectations to actually protect the students and staff, those who are there to simply coast to retirement or a quick pay check might look elsewhere for work.

    • Well, Castlerock v. Gonzales was very poor law beyond the initial finding that law enforcement was not charged with a mandate to enforce a restraining order under Colorado law. If they had just stopped there – but they had to go on to twist due process into such a knotted tangle that it will need a legal Alexander to resolve.

      As for any finding, by any court, that public school students are not “in the custody” of the school (and through them, the State) – those should be completely thrown out and the judges censured. Anyone who is required, under penalty of law for non-compliance, to be in a certain place at a certain time, or to take certain actions that place them at risk, is absolutely in the custody of the authority requiring such appearance or actions. (I know, courts have so far managed to avoid defining the extent and limits of “special relationships” – a good article on their failure at https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2101&context=ndlr).

      • Amanda Green says:

        Writing Observer, exactly–and that will also be the sticking point. The students are in the custody of the school. But the question will then become what is the relationship with the school resource officer who is, when everything said and done, not a school employee but a member of the local PD? There will have to be some discussion about the role of contractors and sub-contractors at that point and how it all applies to criminal law. As I said before, this is going to be in the courts for years unless Peterson takes a plea.

        • GWB says:

          The problem for that tack (as a defense) is that both are The State. They are ultimately the exact same “company”. It’s why the SRO is there – he was sent from one part of the company to another part, to do a specific job that division is unable to do (restricted from doing, actually).

          That’s not to say that they couldn’t convince a jury composed of 12 Florida Men otherwise.

  • Charles N. Steele says:

    I’ll add that civil suits against this guy strike me as proper and much more likely to succeed than criminal prosecution.

    • Amanda Green says:

      Except there are ways around those judgments and, as with the criminal charges, there are already conflicting rulings about whether he can be held liable or not. As I said in my previous comment, SCOTUS may be seeing this case (or related cases) before all is said and done.

  • C G Gill says:

    Since when is cowardice a criminal offense?

    • Amanda Green says:

      When your cowardice prevents others from acting?

      That’s a real question and one the courts will be deciding.

  • Louis says:

    Ask any public school student what the purpose of the “School Resource Officer” is….you won’t get any “to protect us” answers.

    This jackass acted accordingly.

    • Amanda Green says:

      Fortunately, there are some “resource officers” who do act. They don’t get the recognition they should. Instead, we hear about idiots like Peterson who never should have put on the uniform.

  • Scott says:

    I agree that the child neglect is not an appropriate charge, for reasons cited by Charles, and even this scums lawyer, as he was not a “caretaker” of any of these children. I will disagree with you Charles, when you state ” Telling other officers to stay back is bad advice, tactics, strategy, not criminal. ” I think that the negligence charge should be an easy one to make stick.
    As a firefighter / paramedic, I keep up on cases in that realm much closer than in law enforcement, but as they are all in the public safety realm, I’ll make an assumption (yeah, I understand the risks of that) that they are similar. In my realm, both medics, and Fire Chiefs have been held accountable criminally when they fail to follow their training or the law, and others are harmed by their actions / inactions, and petersons failure to follow his training, as well as encouraging others to do the same does not bode well for him. Lying about it later just proves that he knew what he did was wrong, and makes the case against him stronger. To exaggerate the example, imagine a Dr. performing a procedure on a pt. The Dr. knows the proper procedure / technique, but for reasons of personal benefit, he instead decides to do something outside of standard practice, and harm results to the pt. There’s no doubt he could be convicted, especially when it’s shown that he knowingly violated standard practice, that he had been trained in.
    All that being said, I believe that a properly prosecuted case can easily get him convicted in a fair trial.

    • Amanda Green says:

      Scott, I think you hit exactly what the state will be relying on in their prosecution of Peterson when you said, “when they fail to follow their training or the law, and others are harmed by their actions / inactions.” The original commission report found Peterson’s actions were in contravention of his training. The charges against him seem to rely on this. Add in the perjury charge based on him saying he didn’t hear any shots after the first several and he will have a lot to explain.

    • Charles N. Steele says:

      Re fire chiefs and medics, that’s really interesting and I didn’t know about it.

      I’ve heard a little more about this case, too, and I think the perjury charge seems pretty strong.

  • Pete says:

    This just reinforces my view that in a crisis, go with your gut instinct and don’t listen to the “professionals”.
    Why did responding officers even listen to him and stay out of the building?

    • Amanda Green says:

      A question I’ve been asking since first hearing he told them to hang back. My only guess is their training and procedures were to follow the orders of the first officer on-scene until the brass arrived.

    • GWB says:

      Actually, the officers from the neighboring dept (I don’t recall the municipality name) did NOT listen. They went in – at least one, iirc, without body armor, because he felt the urgency to act.

      (Amanda, I’m not sure it was so much policy – unless you mean those procedures in the CYA policy.)

      • Amanda Green says:

        At least one first responder did go in. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but it was after Peterson ordered everyone to hold well away from the building. As for CYA, there’s been too much of that since before the shooting happened.

  • Former Army Guy says:

    Why would the officers who arrived after the incident not also be charged with Neglect? The “I was just following orders’ defense has, IIRC, long been discarded.
    What about the school administrators themselves who probably could then be culpable, by the above neglect standard, as well?
    Or is this just about a way to get the defendant to surrender his pension?

    These charges just seem to me to be a slippery slope if you take them to their logical conclusion.
    Also, we know prosecutors routinely overcharge defendants, does this case not, at the very least, border/raise that issue as well?

    • GWB says:

      It’s always a possibility. And it might be a poor way to really get at the folks who let this happen.
      But, in any just world, he would face a lifetime in a very dark hole.

      As to the other officers, I think you have a good argument for the other Broward deputies. But the guys from the neighboring town DID go in. (And, iirc, they actually beat the other Broward deputies to the school, too.)

  • rbj1 says:

    Peterson was a School Resource Officer. What is the purpose of an SRO? Is it not to intervene in situations where there’s trouble?

    Consider a school yard fistfight (those have been known to happen.) If the SRO comes across such a fight, isn’t the expectation that he (or any school employee) would break it up, not just stand there and watch it?

    This could be an odd instance where he can’t be civilly liable, but can be criminally liable, per SCOTUS.

    It does come down to the definition of “caregiver” under Florida law. Which the FL SCt. is the ultimate decider of.

    • Amanda Green says:

      All we can know for sure right now is this case will go on for years unless Peterson accepts a plea bargain. But here’s hoping for some justice for the families who have been victimized, imo, by not only Scott Israel with his CYA but by Peterson and the idiot students and politicians who have used what happened to push their own political agendas.

  • Kathy says:

    Whatever happens with this slime, others will possibly think twice about taking a job where they might actually have to make this kind of decision. And those that might face preventing any harm to others might consider the misery this creature has had and will have so they do the right thing.

    More than justice for the families and friends could be a result.

    • Amanda Green says:

      Yep. Perhaps it is time for school districts and law enforcement agencies to look at SROs as something more than an easy assignment best left to officers who are on medical re-assignment or who are coasting toward retirement.

      For ex., when my son was in middle school and high school, the school resource officers were young and physically fit and didn’t hesitate to wade in when necessary. They would have made a point of “educating” Peterson on how wrong his actions were.

  • A. C. says:

    Unless former sheriff Scott Israel is charged with crimes for the lack of effective training of his deputies, repeated failures to arrest Cruz and other failures that led up to this, Peterson is facing retaliation, not justice.

    • Amanda Green says:

      Israel is guilty of a lot of things but, from what I’m seeing, Peterson is being charged as he is because he was adequately trained and failed to follow that training. In fact, iirc, the commission that looked into the shooting came to that conclusion.

  • Kim says:

    If he’s still an active police officer and violated his department’s rules he should be fired and lose his pension. But the law is the law and not sure it should be bent! He wasn’t anyone’s caregiver and it doesn’t seem like the law was actually broken. A selfish jerk maybe, but if he loses, who is ever going to sign up to be a cop or guard a school again? They should sue whoever refuses to put kids bags through a metal detector every morning! My school was ultra high security and thus nothing ever happened there!

    • GWB says:

      My school didn’t have a metal detector anywhere, and we never had any problems with shootings.

    • Amanda Green says:

      He has been fired. So has another deputy. As for whether he was a caregiver or not, that is going to depend on the legal definition. Where I see him actually facing conviction is with regard to the perjury charge and possibly with telling the other first responders not to go in. But, again, the latter will depend on the actual wording of the Florida criminal statues being relied on for the charges.

  • JAMES GRAHAM says:

    I recall watching live television of the Columbine shooting when several armed policemen remained outside during the killing of children.

    If they had entered the building and simply fired their weapons at the ceiling that may have been enough for the killing to end, perhaps with the suicide of the perp.

    We will never know because they did not enter.

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