Armed officer Scot Peterson who stood outside a Californian school as a gunman shot dead 17 people, in the worst high school shooting in US history, has been arrested and charged over his inaction. He was labelled a "coward" by US President Donald Trump.
Armed officer Scot Peterson who stood outside a Californian school as a gunman shot dead 17 people, and was called a “coward” by US President Donald Trump, has been arrested and charged over his inaction.
Scot Peterson was a security guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when expelled student Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students and staff members, wounding another 17, with a semi-automatic rifle on February 14, 2018.
Cruz’s mass killing is the deadliest high school shooting in US history, surpassing the Columbine High School massacre that killed 13 in Colorado on April 20, 1999.
Peterson, who was the only armed guard on campus, has been charged with seven counts of felony neglect of a child for not doing more to protect students. He was also charged with culpable negligence and perjury, State Attorney Mike Satz said in the announcement.
The armed guard did “absolutely nothing to mitigate” the mass shooting, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, New York Times reported.
Then a Broward County deputy, he never went inside the school as Cruz went on his killing spree. Satz said the charges carried a combined prison sentence of nearly 100 years. Peterson’s bail was set at US$102,000. Once released, he will be required to wear a GPS monitor and surrender his passport, and will be prohibited from possessing a firearm, State Attorney Mike Satz said.
Just before he was charged, he was sacked at a disciplinary hearing by new Sheriff Gregory Tony. The firing could affect Peterson’s retirement pay, Tony said.
Days after the February 14 massacre, video footage emerged of Peterson taking a position near the 700 and 800 buildings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he stayed for more than 45 minutes. He was criticised by Sheriff Scott Israel and others for not going into the nearby 1200 building when he heard gunshots.
In an arrest warrant affidavit, authorities state Cruz killed five students and one teacher and wounded three students and one teacher after Peterson arrived at the 1200 building, then moved 23 metres (75 feet) to another position.
It also alleges the gunman fired approximately 75 times after Peterson arrived.
The warrant says Peterson made a knowingly false statement to investigators by saying he only heard two or three shots when he arrived at the building.
Peterson’s lawyer, Joseph A. DiRuzzo III, said the charges appeared to be “a thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution against Mr. Peterson”.
He said that he cannot be prosecuted as a caregiver since he was acting as a law enforcement officer in an official capacity.
“We will vigorously defend against these spurious charges that lack basis in fact and law,” DiRuzzo said.
DiRuzzo has said previously that it’s a “gross over-simplification” to characterise Peterson’s actions as cowardly, and said Peterson believed the gunshots were coming from outside the building.
With more than 30 years on the job, Peterson’s personnel file shows an exemplary record with two nominations for School Resource Deputy of the year.
The father of a girl who was killed in the school shooting applauded the charges.
“Peterson failed in his duty to protect lives that day, standing behind a cement pillar for 48 minutes while students and teachers were slaughtered,” Alaina Petty’s father, Ryan, said. “After a year of in-depth investigation, I am pleased that the (state authorities) have brought formal charges against former deputy Scot Peterson.”
The father of Jaime Guttenberg said the guard could have saved lives.
“I have no comment except to say rot in hell, Scot Peterson,” Fred Guttenberg said. “You could have saved some of the 17. You could have saved my daughter. You did not and then you lied about it and you deserve the misery coming your way.”