Ex-deputy on trial for inaction during Parkland school shooting

The trial of a former sheriff’s deputy charged with failing to protect students during the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting has commenced. Scot Peterson, 60 years old, was the on-duty police officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when the deadliest school shooting in US history occurred. Seventeen people died, and 17 others were injured. Peterson is the first US officer to be charged with failing to respond to a school shooting, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers. He faces 11 charges, including seven of felony child neglect, three of culpable negligence, and one of perjury, which could result in up to 97 years in prison.

Prosecutors argue that Peterson, armed with a handgun but not wearing a bullet-resistant vest, did not follow his active-shooter training to minimise casualties during the six-minute attack. Video footage shows he did not enter the building as shots were fired. To convict Peterson, the jury must be persuaded that he knew the gunman was inside the building and that his alleged inaction endangered students. Additionally, they must prove he was legally a caregiver to the students.

Peterson has maintained that he believed the shots were coming from a sniper outside, insisting he would have entered the building to confront the attacker otherwise. Defence attorneys plan to argue that their client does not fall under the statutory definition of “caregiver”, as the neglect law is typically used to prosecute parents or daycare providers.

The misdemeanour perjury count Peterson faces is for allegedly lying to investigators under oath about his actions that day. David Weinstein, a Miami criminal defence lawyer and former prosecutor, told BBC that the prosecution will have an “uphill battle” proving that Peterson had the legal responsibility to be the caregiver of the children in this case.

In a statement on Tuesday, Peterson’s attorney Mark Eiglarsh said, “We have overwhelming evidence proving that my client didn’t know precisely where the shooter was during the attack and also, of the numerous actions that my client took during the attack to save lives.”

Peterson, who retired after 32 years as a deputy following the attack, was charged in June 2019. If convicted, he faces losing his US$104,000 annual pension. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found that Peterson “did absolutely nothing to mitigate” the shooting, with the gunman discharging his weapon about 140 times, 75 of which occurred after Peterson arrived on the scene. Critics, including then-President Donald Trump, labelled him a coward. The attacker pleaded guilty to the killings and was sentenced last year to life in prison without parole.

World News

Chris Hollingsworth

Chris studied journalism in the US and worked there for a few years before moving to Thailand in 2021, just as he thought Covid was coming to an end - sadly more lockdowns ensued as he came out of his 14 days of isolation! He now combines his passion for writing and journalism to cover US and global news for The Thaiger.

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