A week ago today, former Broward County, Florida, Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, 56, was arrested for his actions — or lack thereof – during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Peterson’s arrest came nearly 18 months after Nikolas Cruz, who confessed to the attack, shot and killed 17 students and staff members on Feb. 14, 2018.
Peterson, who was the school’s lone security officer at the time of the shooting, was charged with seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury.
Peterson’s arrest followed an exhaustive investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reported it interviewed 184 witnesses and scoured “countless hours of video surveillance.”
The state agency said its investigation concluded that the former deputy “refused to investigate the source of gunshots, retreating 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.”
Records previously released by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office showed that while Peterson had said he was uncertain about where the shots were coming from, he quickly identified the building where it was taking place and ordered other officers to remain “at least 500 feet away.”
According to the arrest affidavit, Peterson last had active shooter training in April 2016 during which deputies were told about the importance of urgently responding during such an attack, because “every time you hear a gunshot in an active shooter incident, you have to believe that is another victim being killed.”
The Parkland shooter fired about 140 shots during the massacre, including firing about 75 times after Peterson arrived near the building, according to the affidavit signed by Keith Riddick an inspector with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Peterson “knowingly and willingly failed to act … instead retreating to a position of increased personal safety,” Riddick wrote.
“The FDLE investigation shows former Deputy Peterson did absolutely nothing to mitigate the shooting that killed 17 children, teachers and staff and injured 17 others,” Rick Swearingen, commissioner of the department, said in a statement. “There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.”
While the parents and loved ones of those killed and wounded in the attack might gain some measure of comfort by the arrest — there is little question that his inaction cost lives — we think it is a significant stretch for Swearingen to write, “There can be no excuse for his complete inaction.”
The unfortunate truth is that despite the best of training and the best of intentions, not everyone becomes a hero when the chips are down.
Peterson’s attorney, Joseph A. DiRuzzo III, said the charges appear to be a “thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution against Mr. Peterson.”
To an extent, we agree. While varying degrees of blame fall at the feet of local, state and national law enforcement agencies, the blame should also be aimed at state and national politicians who have done little — if anything significant — in the wake of a growing number of mass shootings.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office had received tips in 2016 and 2017 — months before the Parkland shooting — that Nikolas Cruz was threatening to carry out a school shooting.
Neither Congress nor the Texas Legislature took any meaningful action after the November 2017 Sutherland, Texas, church shooting that left 26 dead and 20 wounded.
Just weeks earlier, 58 were killed and 422 wounded in the Las Vegas concert shooting during which the shooter fired more than 1,100 rounds in 10 minutes, another act that left the nation stunned and Congress inactive.
Both political parties share in the blame for inactivity and the lack of any truly meaningful debate about what can be done to end this senseless slaughter. Focusing on scapegoats other than the shooters themselves — and the lawmakers who continue to ignore the issue of gun violence — will do little more than provide a false sense of security.