A former Florida sheriff’s deputy faces almost 100 years in jail over charges stemming from his lack of response to a mass shooting at a US high school in which 17 people were killed.
- Scot Peterson was school resource officer on the day a gunman entered a Parkland, Florida school and opened fire.
- Mr Peterson never went inside the school during the mass shooting, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office says
- Nikolas Cruz, who was expelled from the school, has been charged with murder
Scot Peterson, 56, has been taken into custody on charges of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury, Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz said in a statement on Tuesday (local time).
The charges, laid over Mr Peterson’s response to the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, carry a combined maximum prison sentence of nearly 97 years, he said.
Mr Peterson, at the time a Broward County deputy, was on duty as a school resource officer when a gunman entered the school building in Parkland, Florida and opened fire, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others.
He never went inside during the shooting, according to the sheriff’s office and surveillance video.
Nikolas Cruz, who was 19 at the time and had been expelled from the school, was charged with the murders. He is awaiting trial over the second-deadliest shooting at a public school in US history.
Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, said that while the law enforcement community was upset with how Mr Peterson handled the incident and the harm to its reputation, his failure to act was not criminal.
“What concerns me … is we are setting a dangerous precedent by coming after law enforcement,” he said.
“In the future, if we don’t break up a fight in a school, will that be negligent? When does it stop?
“You have to be considered a caregiver to be charged with neglect and police officers are not caregivers, we are first responders.
Mr Peterson is the first police officer to be charged with a crime based on his actions responding to an active shooter situation, his attorney Joseph DiRuzzo said in a written statement.
He planned to “vigorously defend” his client against the charges, which he said lacked “basis in fact and law”.
“Today the individuals who have made this charging decision have taken the easy way out and blamed Mr Peterson for the actions on February 14, 2018, when there has only ever been one person to blame — Nikolas Cruz,” he wrote.
Peterson also before civil court
In May 2018, Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Mr Peterson.
His son, Hunter, said on Twitter that he hoped Mr Peterson spent the rest of his life in prison.
“He cowered in Parkland while my sister died defenceless and lied about his failure to confront the shooter,” he said.
Mr Peterson’s arrest follows a 14-month investigation that included interviews of 184 witnesses.
Some sheriff’s deputies held back too long as shots were fired instead of rushing towards the gunfire, according to a 485-page report by a state-appointed commission that was released in January.
The commission also found Broward County Sheriff’s Office training on active shooters was inadequate.
The commission recommended arming teachers and spending more on school security and mental health to prevent similar mass shootings.
Senator Rick Scott, who was governor of Florida when the shooting happened, said it was time for justice to be served.
“Had this individual done his job, lives would have been saved. Actions (or inaction) have consequences,” he said in a statement.