What to Know
- Ex-deputy Scot Peterson, 56, was arrested on 7 counts of neglect of a child, 3 counts of culpable negligence, and 1 count of perjury
- Peterson was the school resource officer at MSD High School during the 2018 shooting that left 17 dead and 17 others injured
Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Deputy Scot Peterson appeared in bond court Wednesday after he was arrested on negligence and child neglect charges related to last year's shooting at the Parkland school.
Peterson, 56, was arrested in Broward County on Tuesday on seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence, and one count of perjury, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials said.
Wednesday, Judge Jackie Powell kept a $102,000 bond on Peterson during a morning hearing in Fort Lauderdale while denying a motion by Peterson's lawyer to allow the former deputy to return to his North Carolina home to retrieve his passport as a condition of his release.
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The arrest comes after a 15-month investigation into the actions of law enforcement after the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at the school that killed 17 students and staffers and left 17 others injured. Peterson was the school resource officer at MSD High School during the shooting.
"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 statement. "There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives."
The investigation showed Peterson refused to investigate the source of gunshots, and retreated during the active shooting while victims were being shot and directed other law enforcement who arrived on scene to remain 500 feet away from the building, FDLE officials said.
"I was pleased the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in conjunction with the State Attorney’s Office conducted a thorough investigation that yielded the arrest of Scot Peterson. All the facts related to Mr. Peterson’s failure to act during the MSD massacre clearly warranted both termination of employment and criminal charges. It’s never too late for accountability and justice," Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said in a statement.
The charges carry a maximum prison term of 96 and a half years if convicted.
In a statement Tuesday, Peterson's attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo, called the charges "unprecedented" and said they lack basis in fact and law.
"Mr. Peterson was not criminally 'negligent in his actions as no police officer has ever been prosecuted for his/her actions in responding to an active shooter incident," DiRuzzo said. "Let there be no mistake, 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.' To that end, the State’s actions appear to be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution against Mr. Peterson as no other individual employed at the Broward Sheriff’s Office or Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School has been criminally charged."
Jeff Bell, the president of the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, called the charges "a stretch at best," and that Peterson was never viewed as a "coward" by the union.
"In order for there to be neglect, the individual must be a 'care taker' of the individual," Bell said in a statement. "Does that mean that every police officer from now on that works a detail where children are present are now subjected to child neglect charges if something happens?"
Family members who lost loved ones in the shooting reacted to news of the arrest Tuesday.
"He needs to rot. He has continued to abuse the families by continuing to lie about how he failed my child and 16 others and he deserves to rot," said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was killed in the shooting. "He is responsible in large part for why my daughter is gone and I have no sympathy for him, I'm glad he's been arrested."
"It's about time. There's finally action being taken and accountability, and there's a lot more to be done than just that," said Gena Hoyer, who lost her son Luke in the shooting.
"I'm so happy that justice is finally being served and there's accountability for the lack of action of the coward of Peterson was and is," said Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter, Alyssa, was killed in the shooting. "He needs to go to jail and he needs to serve a lifetime in prison for not going in that day and taking down the threat that led to the death of our loved ones, and he needs to be held accountable for his lack of action that day."
Peterson was a 30-year deputy who had been assigned to Stoneman Douglas for nine years. He resigned days after the shooting when he was told he was going to be suspended without pay and subject to an internal affairs investigation.
In an interview with NBC months after the shooting, Peterson defended his actions that day.
"The families need to know, I didn’t get it right, but it wasn’t because of 'I don’t want to go into the building (or) I don't want to face somebody in there,'" Peterson said. "It wasn’t like that at all."
"I never thought even for a moment of being scared or a coward because I was just doing things the whole time. It never entered my mind."
Florida Sen. Rick Scott said now that the investigation is over, "it's time for justice to be served."
"Had this individual done his job, lives would have been saved. Actions (or inaction) have consequences," Scott said in a statement. "We need more accountability, and that includes at the FBI, which has yet to show me a single example of how they’ve improved their processes following the failures in the lead-up to the Parkland shooting."
The Peterson arrest is the latest fallout from the shooting. Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended then-Sheriff Scott Israel for "neglect of duty and incompetence" over the department's actions that day. Israel is appealing that decision to the state Senate and said he intends to run again next year.
The case also spawned a state commission that issued a 458-page report detailing a litany of errors before and during the shooting, including unaggressive Broward deputies who stayed outside the school building and the policies that led to that. The commission also recommended voluntary arming of teachers, which state lawmakers approved this year.
The chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, said in an interview that the charges against Peterson are "absolutely warranted."
"Scott Peterson is a coward, a failure and a criminal," Gualtieri said. "There is no doubt in my mind that because he didn't act, people were killed."
Nikolas Cruz, 20, faces the death penalty if convicted of the first-degree murder charges filed in the attack. His lawyers have said Cruz would plead guilty in return for a life sentence, but prosecutors have refused that offer.
Cruz is expected to go on trial in early 2020.