10:58, June 05 252 0 abajournal.com

2019-06-05 10:58:06
Ex-deputy faces 11 charges for alleged failure to protect students during school mass shooting

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Photo by Katherine Welles/Shutterstock.com.

A former sheriff’s deputy accused of retreating during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was arrested Tuesday on 11 charges in connection with his actions.

Scot Peterson, 56, was charged with child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury, report the New York Times, the Orlando Sentinel, WLRN and the Miami Herald. Six charges are felonies and the others are misdemeanors. He could be sentenced to up to 100 years in prison if convicted.

Seventeen students and staff members were killed in the February 2018 shooting. Seventeen others were injured. The alleged gunman is former student Nikolas Cruz, who is facing the death penalty if convicted.

The perjury count accuses Peterson of lying about the number of shots he heard fired in a sworn statement to investigators. The other charges stem from people killed and injured on the third floor of the high school, an area where people might have been saved if Peterson had responded, authorities allege.

Seven counts of child neglect, six of them felonies, are in connection with harm to underage students at the school. Peterson was a school resource officer assigned to the school.

The warrant for Peterson’s arrest says Cruz fired his gun about 75 times after Peterson arrived outside the building .

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated and found that Peterson “did absolutely nothing to mitigate” the shooting, according to a statement by the department commissioner. The department also found that Peterson directed other officers to remain 500 feet from the school building.

Peterson told the Washington Post last year that he reacted by calling police, locking down the school and clearing children from the courtyard. He said he wasn’t sure whether the gunfire was coming from outside or inside the building while a fire alarm blared.

Student 911 calls were routed to the Coral Springs Police Department, rather than the Broward County Sheriff’s office where Peterson worked. As a result, he didn’t learn that students had pinpointed the location of the shooter and given a description, he told the Post.

A lawyer for Peterson said in a statement that his client would fight “these spurious charges that lack basis in fact and law.”

Clinton Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler and an expert on mass shootings, told the New York Times this is the first time he has seen such a charge against a law enforcement officer.

University of Florida law professor Darren Hutchinson told the New York Times that the culpable negligence and child neglect counts are usually applied to parents. The culpable negligence charge requires proof of conduct that is so reckless that it could be inferred that harm was intended, he said.

“Under a civil standard that’s a very tough load, and now they’re turning to the criminal standard, which is somewhat tougher, because they have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hutchinson said.

Peterson’s lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, said in his statement that law enforcement officers acting in an official capacity are excluded from the definition of caregivers covered by the neglect law.

“The actions taken today against my client should concern the American public and every public employee who, under the state’s misguided legal theory, could be criminally liable for actions taken as a ‘caregiver.’ ”