Ex-sheriff’s deputy on trial for inaction during Parkland school massacre

The trial of a former sheriff’s deputy accused of failing to intervene during the 2018 Parkland school shooting in Florida has begun, marking the first time a law enforcement officer has been criminally prosecuted for inaction during a school shooting in the United States. Scot Peterson, who served as a school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, faces 11 criminal charges, including child neglect and culpable negligence. He has pleaded not guilty.

Peterson’s defence team, led by lawyer Mark Eiglarsh, has warned that a successful prosecution could set a dangerous precedent. Eiglarsh argued that Peterson had been “sacrificed” to deflect public scrutiny from the Parkland incident, which left 17 people dead and 17 others injured and remains one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. The defence lawyer claimed that Peterson’s prosecution was an attempt to shift blame away from other officials, including Scott Israel, the Broward County sheriff at the time.

On the other hand, Broward County Assistant State Attorney Steven Klinger presented a different account of the events on February 14, 2018, when then-19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student, opened fire in the school. Klinger pointed out that Peterson left his office 36 seconds after Cruz began shooting but ultimately remained outside the building where the attack was taking place, taking shelter 23 metres away.

“He’s the lead security person at that school,” Klinger told the six-member jury. “He is trained how to handle a situation where he is the only law enforcement person there to handle an active shooter.”

According to Klinger, Peterson had a duty to act: “You’ve got to get in there, and you’ve got to find the shooter.” The shooting lasted for around six minutes, but Peterson held his position for nearly 40 minutes.

In addition to three misdemeanour charges of negligence and seven counts of felony child neglect, Peterson faces a misdemeanour count of perjury for his statements to investigators following the massacre. At the time, he said he only heard “two, three” shots coming from the building, which prosecutors have framed as a lie.

Defence lawyer Eiglarsh countered this narrative during the trial, emphasising the confusion many witnesses at the scene experienced. He plans to call 22 of them to testify. Eiglarsh also explained that Peterson’s “two, three” shots comment referred only to what he initially heard, not an overall assessment of the gunfire that day.

Peterson has since expressed remorse in the US media for what happened that day. “Those are my kids in there,” he told the TODAY Show in June 2018. “I never would have sat there and let my kids get slaughtered.”

If convicted on all charges, Peterson faces a combined sentence of 97 years. The gunman, Cruz, was sentenced to life without parole in November. The outcome of this case could have implications beyond Florida, as school shootings continue to plague the US. In the aftermath of an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 21 people, police officers have also faced investigations for failing to stop the violence.

World News


With a Bachelor's Degree in English, Jenn has plenty of experience writing and editing on different topics. After spending many years teaching English in Thailand, Jenn has come to love writing about Thai culture and the experience of being an ex-pat in Thailand. During long holidays, she travels to North of Thailand just to have Khao Soi!

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