In the first seven minutes of last year’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson told other officers to keep their distance, instead of going inside to help, according to police documents. During that period, six people, including five students, died.
Peterson was initially suspended and later resigned for his inaction during the shooting that killed 17 people last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. After a 15-month investigation, prosecutors slapped the 56-year-old with 11 criminal charges on Tuesday, including felony child neglect and perjury.
Peterson’s bond was set at $102,000, and he’ll be required to wear a GPS tracker, turn over his passport, and surrender any firearms. If convicted on all charges, he could spend a total of 100 years in prison.
“The investigation shows former Deputy Peterson did absolutely nothing to mitigate the MSD shooting that killed 17 children, teachers, and staff and injured 17 others,” said Rick Swearingen, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which carried out the investigation into Peterson. “There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.”
As the school’s resource officer at the time, Peterson has faced widespread criticism for his role in the shooting. President Donald Trump, for instance, called him a “coward” who “didn’t have the courage” when to act. But Peterson has repeatedly said that he followed his training.
The agents in the case interviewed 184 witnesses, parsed through hours of video footage, and wrote more than 200 reports. Here’s what they said Peterson did and did not do.
When the gunman — who’s now facing the death penalty — opened fire on the school on February 14, 2018, Peterson didn’t rush into the school, as video has shown. Instead, he hid for 45 minutes about 75 feet away the from the building as the shooting played out, according to the warrant for his arrest.
“I just saw him standing on the side of the building with his gun drawn, not really doing anything,” a student witness said of Peterson, according to the warrant.
Another student described seeing Peterson armed, in a bulletproof vest but only pointing his gun at the building, according to CNN.
An officer from the Sunrise Police Department, which also responded to the shooting, also described coming across Peterson as the shooting was happening, according to the warrant. He said Peterson was repeatedly saying, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe this,” but not taking action.
According to the Parkland Public Safety Commission report released in January, Peterson told the Broward Sheriff’s Office he was “taking a position on the east side of the doorway.”
"And I can also see down the sidewalk looking out west. I get a good … I get a good two dimensional of … of that whole building at that point,” he added.
What Peterson did do
Peterson reported gunshots shortly after the shooting began, although his attorney has said Peterson wasn’t sure where the shots were coming from. But on dispatch calls released last year, Peterson said he believed the shots were coming from around the 1200 building at the school, where the shooting was taking place.
Peterson also told the other officers he believed the shooter to be in 1200 building, according to their statements.
Peterson has said he followed his training for an active shooter situation by working to set up a perimeter around the school and calling a Code Red to trigger a lockdown. But investigators said officers are directed to confront shooters.
Still, Peterson said what happened will ”haunt him the rest of his life.”
15 months later
Civil lawsuits are common after school shootings, and dozens have been filed specifically against Peterson specifically. But it’s unusual for law enforcement officers to face criminal charges for their responses.
“This is the first time I have seen somebody so charged like this,” Clinton Van Zandt, a former profiler with the F.B.I. and an expert on mass shootings told the New York Times. “I think that every police officer, sheriff and F.B.I. 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.”
Upon the news of Peterson’s charges, some in the Parkland community reacted with a mix of contentedness and lingering anger.
“I have no comment except to say rot in hell,” tweeted gun reform activist Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in the school shooting. “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.”
Cover image: Former school resource officer Scot Peterson appears in magistrate court via television feed from the Broward County Main Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)