Former Florida Deputy on Trial for Not Confronting Parkland Gunman


Seven months after the gunman within the Parkland, Fla., college capturing was sentenced to life in jail for murdering 14 college students and three workers members, prosecutors on Wednesday will start making an attempt to persuade a jury {that a} former sheriff’s deputy must also be held criminally chargeable for his actions on the day of the bloodbath.

Opening statements are anticipated to start Wednesday within the trial of the varsity useful resource officer on obligation on the time of the assault, Scot Peterson, who faces 10 expenses, together with seven counts of kid neglect, for not confronting the gunman.

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 specialists 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 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Excessive Faculty, the place the gunman killed 17 folks and wounded 17 others. He as an alternative took cowl within the stairway of an adjoining constructing, and has mentioned he was not sure the place the photographs had been coming from and feared {that a} sniper was firing from outdoors.

Mr. Peterson, then a 27-year veteran, 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 america have been grappling with for the reason that Columbine college capturing in 1999, mentioned Robert Jarvis, a regulation professor at Nova Southeastern College in South Florida.

Earlier than Columbine, officers had been advised to attend for SWAT groups to confront mass shooters, however “since then, we’ve been anticipating cops to run in,” Mr. Jarvis mentioned. “It’s a extremely 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 workforce, and subsequent investigations faulted Texas police for failing to behave shortly.

Within the Parkland case, the costs in opposition to Mr. Peterson relate to the deaths and accidents on the third flooring of the constructing, which prosecutors say he had an opportunity to cease. In response to an investigation by the Florida Division of Regulation Enforcement, the gunman was making his method 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 trainer.

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

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

Noting that the Florida Supreme Courtroom and different state appellate courts had discovered {that a} trainer, a babysitter and even a kidnapper had been caregivers beneath the regulation, Decide Fein rejected the protection request, saying, “This willpower shall be made by the jury primarily based on the proof introduced at trial.”

Mr. Jarvis, the regulation professor, mentioned discovering a college useful resource officer to be a caregiver to 1000’s of scholars “would impose legal responsibility when nobody thought it will apply.”

He added that prosecutors additionally face a frightening activity 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 recognized that his actions — or inaction — put college students and workers in peril.

Mr. Peterson can be charged with a misdemeanor depend 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 working from it when he was within the stairwell together with his gun drawn.

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

Mr. Peterson mentioned he was not sure.

“I didn’t even assume it was even contained in the constructing ’trigger it was so clear and loud,” he mentioned, based on a Florida Division of Regulation Enforcement report. “At that time I knew it was near this constructing, however I wasn’t even positive if it was within the constructing.”

The protection has mentioned it should name 22 witnesses who additionally thought the photographs got here from outdoors, The Related Press reported.

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 advised The Washington Post in June 2018. “I’ve reduce that day up a thousand methods with 1,000,000 totally different what-if eventualities, 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 wanting. And that’s what we’re skilled to do,” he told NBC. “Once you — whenever you get a place and canopy it, we’re skilled to scan and look.”

However state investigators mentioned Mr. Peterson, who was an lively shooter incident teacher for the varsity system, ignored essential components of the coaching.

“If you’re on scene or within the space and listen to gunshots, you must instantly entry what you’ve got and put together to reply,” investigators wrote, quoting from the lively shooter coaching course. “Keep in mind, each time you hear a gunshot in an lively shooter incident, it’s a must to consider that’s one other sufferer being killed.”


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