Former Florida Deputy Goes on Trial for Not Confronting Parkland Gunman


Seven months after the gunman within the Parkland, Fla., faculty capturing was sentenced to life in jail for murdering 14 college students and three employees members, prosecutors on Wednesday started making an attempt to persuade a jury {that a} former sheriff’s deputy must also be held criminally liable for not intervening to cease the bloodbath.

The deputy, Scot Peterson, served as the college useful resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Excessive Faculty on the time of the shootings in 2018. For not confronting the gunman, he’s going through 10 expenses, together with seven counts of kid neglect — a uncommon prosecution of a regulation enforcement officer concerned within the response to a mass capturing.

In opening statements, the prosecution repeatedly famous that after arriving on the scene on the afternoon of Feb. 14, Mr. Peterson stayed in a stairway of an adjoining faculty constructing whereas the shootings happened in Constructing 1200.

“The defendant won’t ever go away that alcove whereas the shooter is in that constructing,” stated Steven Klinger, an assistant state lawyer in Broward County. “In reality, he doesn’t go away it for 30 or 40 minutes when all the pieces is completed.”

The protection provided a blunt response.

“We’re right here as a result of my shopper was sacrificed,” stated Mark Eiglarsh, Mr. Peterson’s lawyer, arguing that Mr. Peterson was on trial solely as a result of extra highly effective regulation enforcement officers had sought to assuage the anger of grieving dad and mom by scapegoating him. “He was thrown below the bus. He isn’t a felony.”

The sound of gunfire was echoing off buildings on the 45-acre faculty campus because the shootings happened over roughly six minutes, Mr. Eiglarsh stated, and Mr. Peterson ”couldn’t discern exactly the place the photographs have been coming from.” The protection, he added, had 22 witnesses who have been equally confused that day.

“There was a pronounced echo and reverberation that the witnesses will speak about, that left them listening to the identical photographs and questioning ‘The place is that coming from?’” Mr. Eiglarsh stated.

Just one individual was guilty, Mr. Eiglarsh stated, posting a photograph of the convicted shooter, Nikolas Cruz, for the jury to see and calling him a “sick, twisted monster.”

Mr. Peterson, wearing a blue swimsuit and pink tie, listened carefully and took notes all through the opening statements. The courtroom was packed to capability with spectators, together with his spouse and daughter.

A conviction of a member of regulation enforcement for inaction throughout a mass capturing might have sweeping repercussions for policing in Florida and past, authorized consultants say. Mr. Peterson faces a decades-long jail sentence on the accusation that he failed in his position as a caregiver for the scholars.

Mr. Peterson was the primary officer on the scene, and by his personal account he didn’t rush into Constructing 1200 at the highschool, the place the gunman killed 17 individuals and wounded 17 others. He as an alternative took cowl within the stairway of the adjoining constructing, partially as a result of he stated he feared {that a} sniper was firing from outdoors.

Mr. Peterson additionally directed different officers away from the place the gunman was firing an AR-15-style weapon on the campus in Parkland, an prosperous neighborhood about 20 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale.

The trial, which is predicted to final two months, is more likely to expose points that police departments throughout the US have been grappling with for the reason that Columbine faculty capturing in 1999, stated Robert Jarvis, a regulation professor at Nova Southeastern College in South Florida.

Earlier than Columbine, officers have been instructed to attend for SWAT groups to confront mass shooters, however “since then, we’ve been anticipating cops to run in,” Mr. Jarvis stated. “It’s a very attention-grabbing query as to what we count on cops to do.”

That expectation was underscored in Might 2022 when the police in Uvalde, Texas, waited greater than an hour earlier than getting into a classroom at Robb Elementary Faculty, the place an 18-year-old man had fatally shot 19 college students and two lecturers. The gunman was finally killed by members of a U.S. Border Patrol tactical staff, and subsequent investigations faulted Texas police for failing to behave shortly.

Within the Parkland case, the fees towards Mr. Peterson relate to the deaths and accidents on the third flooring of the constructing, which prosecutors say he had an opportunity to cease. Based on an investigation by the Florida Division of Legislation Enforcement, the gunman was making his approach to the third flooring 73 seconds after Mr. Peterson arrived in a golf cart at Constructing 1200. Mr. Peterson was armed with a service revolver and was not carrying physique armor.

Mr. Peterson is charged with seven felony counts of kid neglect within the deaths of 4 college students and the wounding of three others, aged 14 to 17. He additionally faces three misdemeanor counts of culpable negligence for the deaths of an 18-year-old pupil and a 35-year-old cross nation coach and the wounding of a instructor.

Within the lead-up to the trial, Mr. Eiglarsh, the protection lawyer, tried to influence Decide Martin Fein of Broward County Circuit Court docket to dismiss the kid neglect expenses, arguing that they weren’t justified below Florida regulation.

To be convicted of kid neglect, state regulation says, the individual have to be a caregiver to the kid. Mr. Eiglarsh argued that the regulation doesn’t embrace the police within the definition of a caregiver.

Noting that the Florida Supreme Court docket and different state appellate courts had discovered {that a} instructor, a babysitter and even a kidnapper have been caregivers below the regulation, Decide Fein rejected the protection request, saying, “This dedication shall be made by the jury based mostly on the proof introduced at trial.”

Mr. Jarvis, the regulation professor, stated discovering a faculty useful resource officer to be a caregiver to hundreds of scholars “would impose legal responsibility when nobody thought it could apply.”

He added that prosecutors additionally face a frightening job in making an attempt to persuade the six jurors and 4 alternates that Mr. Peterson is responsible of culpable negligence. To take action, they need to present Mr. Peterson knew or ought to have identified that his actions — or inaction — put college students and employees at risk.

Mr. Peterson can be charged with a misdemeanor rely of perjury, with prosecutors accusing him of mendacity to investigators in telling them that he heard solely two or three photographs coming from the constructing and that he didn’t see any college students operating from it when he was within the stairwell together with his gun drawn.

Whereas different witnesses described the confusion that surrounded the capturing, many instructed investigators that it sounded to them as if the gunfire was coming from Constructing 1200.

Mr. Peterson stated he was uncertain.

“I didn’t even suppose it was even contained in the constructing ’trigger it was so clear and loud,” he stated, in line with a Florida Division of Legislation Enforcement report. “At that time I knew it was near this constructing, however I wasn’t even certain if it was within the constructing.”

Mr. Peterson, who would lose his $104,000 annual pension if convicted, retired after the capturing and was fired retroactively. He was launched on bond and moved to North Carolina.

He has expressed deep regret for the deaths.

“It’s haunting,” he instructed The Washington Post in June 2018. “I’ve reduce that day up a thousand methods with one million completely different what-if situations, however the backside line is I used to be there to guard, and I misplaced 17.”

However Mr. Peterson additionally insisted that he adopted police procedures.

“I’ve my gun out and I’m scanning, and I’m trying. And that’s what we’re skilled to do,” he told NBC. “While you — once you get a place and canopy it, we’re skilled to scan and look.”

However state investigators stated Mr. Peterson, who was an energetic shooter incident teacher for the college system, ignored essential components of the coaching.

“In case you are on scene or within the space and listen to gunshots, it’s best to instantly entry what you may have and put together to reply,” investigators wrote, quoting from the energetic shooter coaching course. “Bear in mind, each time you hear a gunshot in an energetic shooter incident, you need to consider that’s one other sufferer being killed.”


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