Today in Security - Former Parkland School Deputy Faces Charges

Today in Security: Former Parkland School Deputy Faces Charges

Scot Peterson, the former sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, made his first court appearance Wednesday morning on charges connected with failing to protect students during the mass shooting there on 14 February 2018, The New York Times reported.

The Parkland shooting, one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, left 17 students, teachers, and staffers dead. Another 17 people were wounded.

Authorities are charging Peterson, 56, with seven counts of felony neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence, and one count of perjury, according to authorities.

Peterson was the sole resource officer at the school during the 2018 shooting. The investigation into Peterson's response concluded that the career lawman did nothing to stop a gunman from walking onto the school campus and opening fire. Officials charge that Peterson retreated to a position of safety during the attack.

Peterson spent 28 years of his career as a school deputy, including nine years at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In a comprehensive​ accounting of the shooting, The Parkland Commission Report found that Peterson was in a position to engage the shooter and mitigate further harm to others, but he willfully decided not to do so.

Peterson’s lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, cast doubt on the state’s ability to prosecute his client. In a statement, DiRuzzo said the charges leveled against Peterson are “a thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution…We will vigorously defend against these spurious charges that lack basis in fact and law."

Some experts say that criminally charging a law enforcement officer for negligence in his response to a mass shooting is new ground. 

“This is the first time I have seen somebody so charged like this,” Clinton R. Van Zandt, a former profiler with the FBI, told the Times. “I think that every police officer, sheriff, and FBI agent understands that you have to go to the threat and stop it and that we are no longer going to wait for SWAT or set up perimeters.”

Peterson appeared for a bond hearing in magistrates court in Fort Lauderdale via video link from the Broward County Jail, according to the Times. He was booked into the county jail on a bond of $102,000 and appeared from there at Wednesday’s bond hearing wearing a beige jail uniform.

For more discussion of the Parkland shooting and the debate over how to protect schools from shootings, see the Security Management article, “Solutions Post-Parkland.”