After being dragged by his community, his police department, and even the president, the armed school deputy assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who failed to enter the building to confront the shooter and interrupt the killing spree is now attempting to justify why.
After the horrific massacre on February 14th, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel condemned the inaction of the school’s only armed school resource officer, Scot Peterson, after viewing footage of how he handled the incident.
Scot Peterson, a veteran deputy who was hired in July 1985 and had served at the school since 2009, remained outside the building as shooter Nikolas Cruz fired his semi-automatic rifle inside, killing 14 students and 3 school staff members.
During the six-minute rampage, Peterson, 54, instead took a defensive position outside. Sheriff Israel said that:
“What I saw was a deputy arrive at the west side of building 12, take up a position, and he never went in…[He should have] went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer.”
In a CNN interview with Jake Tapper, he also declared that he was “disgusted” with Peterson’s “dereliction of duty.”
After being placed under investigation and on suspension without pay, Peterson resigned from the force. Two other officers are also being investigated for their involvement with the incident.
Peterson has faced nationwide disgust and criticism for letting the shooter go unimpeded. “Shame on him…I know him. He was there my four years of high school,” student Ariana Gonzalez remarked to the Washington Post.
“And the fact that an officer couldn’t do their job and that Coax Feis and Coax Hixon had to sacrifice themselves for something that a police officer should have been in charge of, it’s inexplicable…we could have had a chance! This was never supposed to happen if he had just done his job!”
President Trump also blasted Peterson during a gathering of US governors at the White House. He called the performance of the Florida deputies “frankly disgusting,” adding that,
“I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that too…but the way they performed was really a disgrace.”
Trump voiced his support for arming teachers after the shooting in Parkland, Florida during a White House press conference, using Peterson’s behavior as proof that more educators should concealed carry for “offensive capability.”
“We need people who can take care of our children…people that love the children. See, a security guard doesn’t know the children, doesn’t love the children. This man standing outside of the school the other day doesn’t love the children, probably doesn’t know the children. The teachers love their children, they love their pupils, they love their students.”
However, Peterson’s lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, defended the former deputy, rejecting claims that his client “did nothing” or that Peterson’s behavior was based in incompetence and fear; instead, he asserts in his statement that Peterson reacted based on his assessment of the situation, in compliance with his training.
“Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the seventeen victims on that day, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need,” DiRuzzo said.
“However, the allegations that Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue.”
DiRuzzo presented his client’s perspective on the situation. He says that the initial call Peterson received was about firecrackers, not gunfire, in the area of the 1200 building. Peterson ran toward the 1200 building and heard gunshots, but thought they were coming from outside one of the buildings.
He says that,
“BSO trains its officers that in the event of outdoor gunfire one is to seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes to other law enforcement. His client says that he “took up a tactical position between the 700-800 buildings corridor/corner.”
As the first police officer arrived, Mr. Peterson told the officer that he “thought the shots were coming from outside,” which was confirmed by “radio transmissions [that] indicated that there was a gunshot victim in the area of the football field.” The officer then took up a position behind a tree.
DiRuzzo says that Peterson acted decisively and “initiated a ‘Code Red’ lockdown on the entire campus,” and DiRuzzo praised his “presence of mind to have the school administrators go to the school’s video room” to use the camera footage to locate and describe the shooter to law enforcement.
Peterson also provided his keys to the Coral Springs SWAT team and gave the BSO SWAT Command diagrams of the campus for student evacuation.
In addition, Peterson’s lawyer mentioned his client’s “decorated career…including receiving glowing annual performance reviews and being named the school resource officer of the year in 2014 for Parkland.”
Indeed, in 2015, Sheriff Israel wrote in a review of Peterson that “Your dedication and allegiance are the best illustration of service [the sheriff’s office] provides to the people of Broward County.”
In his statement, DiRuzzo criticized Sheriff Israel for “jump[ing] to a conclusion” and throwing his client under the bus while “the investigation remains on-going.”
Ellen Kirschman, a clinical psychologist who has worked with police departments for more than 3 decades, expressed to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel,
“I would not want to be in that man’s shoes. The guilt and self-blame he must be feeling, let alone what’s being heaped on him from the outside.
“After something like this happens, I’ve seen officers torment themselves sometimes to the point of suicide… The funny thing about police departments is that when you’re recruited, police are told, ‘We have your back.’ ‘The family in blue’ and all that. But in high-attention situations like this, you see departments quickly turn against their own officers when they need support most.”
Sheriff Israel himself is under fire for fumbling leadership and inability to prevent the shooting. Among the swirling conflict, Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran sent a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott, asking for Israel’s removal, with the supporting co-signatures of 73 other House Republicans.
However, Sheriff Israel maintains that he served properly and will not step down. In his CNN Interview with Jake Tapper, he said,
“I’ve exercised my due diligence, I’ve led this county proudly as I always have…I can only take responsibility for what I knew about…I’ve given amazing leadership to this agency…there’s a lot of things we’ve done throughout.”
The ongoing investigation of Scot Peterson is just the tip of the iceberg of the missed red flags and mishandling, which includes at least 18 calls about Nikolas Cruz’s threatening tendencies and the FBI’s failure to react according to a tip “about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”
On-scene of the shooting, an anonymous EMS responder told WSVN,
“Everything I was trained on mass casualty events says they did the wrong thing. You don’t wait for the scene to be cleared. You go in immediately armed. Retrieve the victims…We were asking to go in…The response every time was law enforcement did not clear the scene and would not allow the medical personnel in.”
The surveillance footage, which may incriminate or acquit Peterson, has yet to be made public. Meanwhile, as the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned on February 28th, the nation struggles to make sense of the massacre.
As new information emerges, America is embroiled in a fierce debate on gun control, mental illness, and other factors to prevent similar tragedies.