Jury acquits Scott Peterson, the deputy who failed to confront the Parkland gunman

A former Florida sheriff’s deputy who failed to confront the gunman at Parkland High School five years ago, and instead walked away from the building while students and teachers inside endured the deadly assault, was released on Thursday at the Children’s Hospital. Found not guilty of neglect and other offences. ,

Former Broward County sheriff’s deputy Scott Peterson was acquitted of seven counts of child neglect and three counts of culpable negligence for the deaths and injuries to 10 people on the third floor of the building where the shooting took place. He was also found not guilty of one count of perjury, as he had claimed to the police that he had only heard a few gunshots and had not seen any children running away.

When Mr Peterson’s behavior was revealed after the shooting, critics – including some fellow police officers – described him as too fearful to face a heavily armed gunman. His actions angered the Parkland community, and Mr. Peterson was cast as the central character in a morality tale about cowardice and law enforcement’s duty to protect children. The father of one victim told him to “rot in hell” and he was ridiculed in national media outlets as a “coward in Broward”.

Overall, 17 people were killed and 17 were injured in the shooting, which was said to have been carried out by a former student. The gunman was sentenced to life imprisonment last year in the same courtroom where Mr Peterson was acquitted on Thursday. Mr. Peterson was the only armed resource officer assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the February 14, 2018, massacre.

On Thursday, when Broward County Circuit Court Judge Martin S. Mr. Peterson, 60, broke down in tears as Fein announced the verdict in a courtroom in downtown Fort Lauderdale where only a few members of the victims’ families were present. Mr. Peterson, standing with folded hands in prayer, nodded and silently thanked the jurors as he filed the nomination.

“After four and a half years we have got our lives back,” Mr Peterson, still emotional, said outside the courtroom, standing next to his wife. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster for so long.”

It is believed to be the first trial in the country against a police officer for inaction during a mass shooting, and a conviction has opened the door for prosecutors to pursue charges against other law enforcement officers in response to the mass shooting. would have paved the way for Police in Uvalde, Texas, are investigating after officers waited more than an hour before entering two classrooms at Robb Elementary School during the May 2022 shooting that killed 21 people.

But from the outset, experts believed Florida prosecutors’ chances of succeeding were long. Since she accused Mr. Peterson of child neglect, which was an unusual legal approach, she had to convince jurors that the former deputy was a “caretaker” responsible for the students’ welfare, a position usually held by police officers. do not apply. Even the judge, appearing for the bench, expressed doubt on the argument that the loss could be said to have been caused by the inaction of the former deputy.

His defense attorney, Mark Eiglersch, said, “It’s not just a win for Scott.” “This is a victory for every law enforcement officer in this country who does their best every day. How dare prosecutors try to second guess the actions of honorable, decent police officers?

It was the second crushing defeat for the Broward State Attorney’s Office related to the Parkland shootings. Prosecutors sought the death penalty for the gunman, but received a life sentence instead.

Democrat and elected state attorney Harold F. Pryor said, “For the first time in our nation’s history, prosecutors in this case have tried to hold an armed school resource officer accountable for not doing her job.” in a statement Peterson’s decision. “We did this because we think it’s important not only for our community, but for the entire country.”

The jury of three women and three men, which deliberated for nearly 19 hours over four days after a two-and-a-half-week trial, found that prosecutors had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Peterson, who did not testify , should be considered a person “responsible for the welfare of the child”.

“It was a massacre,” Mr Peterson said after the verdict. “The only person to blame was that monster.”

“We did our best with the information we had,” he said. “And God knows we wish we had more.”

Although the state investigation found widespread failings, including other police shortcomings, Mr. Peterson was the only person other than the gunman charged with the shootings. If convicted, he faced a maximum sentence of 96 years and the loss of an annual pension of $104,000.

Mr. Peterson said he mourns the deaths in Parkland and stands ready to sit with the families of the victims. But after the parents of the two victims heard the court ruling that they had no interest in such a meeting, they said they were once again in disbelief and very disappointed.

Tony Montalto, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Gina, said, “I feel my faith in the American justice system is shaken.” “And I think the people of Broward County need to learn how to hold people accountable when they fail. How can you get 17 people killed in a school and call everyone a hero?”

Tom Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son Luke was murdered, said, “I don’t know what our kids and our teachers are supposed to do at school when the person who’s supposed to be protecting them doesn’t.”

About two and a half minutes after the shooting began, Mr. Peterson arrived outside the building known as the 1200 Building. He retreated and remained on the stairwell porch of an adjacent building for the remaining approximately four minutes of the shooting – and for more than 40 minutes after that, until the gunman had fled the building and other police officers entered .

In addition to Luke Hoyer and Gina Montalto, among the students and adults killed in the shooting were 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duke, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feiss, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Christopher Hixon, 49; Kara Lofran, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16, and Peter Wang, 15.

The 2019 charge against Mr Peterson raised a fundamental question of whether he was under pressure – and whether such a reaction is a crime for a sworn police officer appointed to a school.

Police officers were once trained to wait for SWAT teams to confront mass shooters, but that changed after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo. The head of the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s training unit testified that Mr. Peterson had been trained in trying to confront a gunman, even without police backup, to prevent murder.

“From my personal experience in my schools, students were My student and it was My schools,” said Mac Hardy, director of operations for the National Association of School Resource Officers. “When you put on a gun belt and step out of your home each morning, you know your responsibilities and what you need to do to be successful in keeping your children safe.”

Prosecutors accepted that Mr Peterson could not have prevented any deaths or injuries on the first floor of the three-storey building which had occurred before his arrival. But he said he may have had a chance to prevent 10 deaths or injuries on the third floor. No one was hurt on the second floor.

“He chose his life over everyone else’s,” Assistant State Attorney Chris Killoran said Monday.

Mr Peterson told investigators he was not sure where the gunfire was coming from or how many shooters there were. They called “code red” to close the school and did their best under tense conditions with limited information and poor radio.

Defense attorney Mr. Aiglersch said that Mr. Peterson was a scapegoat for the former sheriff, whose office faced intense scrutiny after the shooting, and that he never learned about the shooting before Mr. Peterson was fired. Had taken

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