Scot Peterson, the Broward Sheriff's Office school resource officer who failed to protect Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students in the February 14, 2018 massacre, was fired today and arrested on 11 criminal charges related to his conduct the day of the shooting. Broward State Attorney Mike Satz and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced the state has charged Peterson with seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence, and one count of perjury.
"The FDLE investigation shows former Deputy Peterson did absolutely nothing to mitigate the MSD shooting that killed 17 children, teachers, and staff and injured 17 others," FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a media release. "There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives."
A 41-page arrest affidavit prepared by FDLE Inspector Keith Riddick includes interviews with numerous school personnel and students who were on campus at the time of the shooting. The report faults Peterson for failing to investigate the gunshots fired inside the school’s 1200 Building, where Cruz went on his rampage.
"Deputy Peterson knowingly and willingly failed to act pursuant to his law enforcement training and sworn duties, which directed him to promptly address the active shooter (Cruz) within the 1200 Building; instead retreating to a position of increased personal safety," Riddick wrote.
Peterson has claimed he followed the Broward Sheriff's Office's training and policies for an active shooting. But his arrest warrant says the agency taught deputies that time was critical, and that they should prioritize the lives of hostages or victims over their own. The first deputies on a scene should "immediately go to confront the shooter," the training said, according to the FDLE's investigation.
"Remember, every time you hear a gunshot in an active shooter incident, you have to believe another victim is being killed," deputies were taught.
Two school security monitors who were with Peterson on a golf cart while the shooting was unfolding say Peterson was aware of gunshots inside the 1200 Building. A Coral Springs police officer who later arrived at the scene said he saw Peterson taking cover behind a concrete section of the building with his gun drawn. Another officer, a lieutenant with the Sunrise Police Department, told investigators he saw Peterson pacing outside the 1200 Building saying, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this” — but not taking any action.
At the same time, multiple students and teachers described the situation as confusing and rapidly unfolding. Many said they believed the noise from the gunshots was just the sound of fireworks or construction.
Peterson’s February 16, 2018 interview with BSO detectives was redacted from the arrest report, but FDLE does quote two interviews Peterson did with the Washington Post and the Today Show as evidence. The state seemingly uses the media interviews to bolster its charge of perjury against Peterson, which strictly concerns his alleged false statement to BSO detectives two days after the shooting.
"Based on an analysis of related witness testimony, video security/body worn camera footage, and police radio transmissions obtained or reviewed during this investigation, it was determined that Deputy Scot Peterson knowingly made a false statement when he, while under oath, stated that he did not hear any shots fired after he arrived at the 1200 Building, except for the first two or three shots he heard when he first arrived at the 1200 Building," the report states.
Peterson, age 56, has long defended his actions that day: In an 18-page May 2018 letter to the state commission investigating the tragedy, he claimed the "actions on February 14, 2018, were consistent with the training I had received for the past 30 years. I assessed the situation and acted accordingly to the real-time intelligence I assessed on the scene." He claimed then-BSO Sheriff Scott Israel made him a "scapegoat."
On Tuesday, attorney Michael Piper, who represents Peterson in civil cases, expressed shock at his client's arrest on criminal charges, according to the Sun Sentinel.
“Having represented law enforcement agencies and law enforcement officers in civil matters for more than 30 years, from both a legal and professional perspective I am surprised — to put it as gently as possible — at what has transpired today and in the manner in which it has been orchestrated," Piper told the newspaper.
Newly installed BSO Sheriff Gregory Tony announced today he had fired both Peterson — who allegedly failed to confront Stoneman Douglas shooter Nikolas Cruz — and BSO Sgt. Brian Miller, another cop who allegedly remained outside the school as students were murdered inside.
"We cannot fulfill our commitment to always protect the security and safety of our Broward County community without doing a thorough assessment of what went wrong that day," Tony said. "I am committed to addressing deficiencies and improving the Broward Sheriff’s Office."
Students and parents touched by the tragedy have so far mostly tweeted praise for Satz's and Tony's decisions:
Rick Scott, current Florida senator and former governor, also released a statement blaming Peterson for the massacre:
In his message, Scott also took a swing at the FBI, which said two days after the massacre that the agency had received a warning that Cruz planned to shoot up the school but failed to investigate the warning.
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"We need more accountability, and that includes from the FBI, which has yet to show me a single example of how they've improved their processes following their failures in the lead-up to the Parkland shooting," Scott said.
Of course, Scott's own administration isn't off the hook here, either. Funding for mental health services and child-welfare agencies remained staggeringly low under Scott's watch. And, likewise, his own Department of Children and Families interacted with Cruz but also likely missed warning signs that could have prevented the tragedy.
Perhaps the harshest words for Peterson came from Fred Guttenberg, father of slain student Jaime Guttenberg.
"I have no comment except to say rot in hell Scott Petersen," he tweeted. "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."