Few people will ever forget how the Broward County Sheriff’s deputy assigned as a school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, did next to nothing in response to the horrific and deadly mass shooting that occurred in February 2018 and claimed 17 lives.
Former deputy and SRO Scot Peterson — who has since been dubbed the “Coward of Broward” — is known to have stood outside the building sheltered in relative safety while the tragic massacre occurred inside. Peterson is now facing accountability and justice for his inaction that fateful day that quite likely cost innocent lives.
Miami NBC affiliate WTVJ reported that 56-year-old Peterson was placed under arrest and booked into the Broward County jail on Tuesday, where he is being held on a $102,000 bond. Peterson faces seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence, and one count of perjury, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
If convicted on all charges, Peterson could face a maximum of 96 and a half years in prison. The criminal charges followed a 15-month investigation into the response of law enforcement to the Parkland shooting incident, an investigation which revealed that Peterson had retreated to safety rather than enter the building and engage the shooter, on top of his directing other arriving officers from entering the building as well.
In a statement about the charges, FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said, “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.”
“There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives,” the commissioner added.
The news garnered a positive reaction from Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, who replaced the now-suspended former Sheriff Scott Israel. Tony said in a statement, “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,” the new sheriff added.
The arrest also elicited a reaction from Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who was governor at the time of the deadly shooting. Scott said in a statement, “Had this individual done his job, lives would have been saved. Actions (or inaction) have consequences.”
“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,” Scott added.
A number of still-grieving family members who lost loved ones in the tragedy also released statements expressing their gratitude that accountability and justice were finally being served against the man tasked with protecting school children who instead cowered in fear while those children were slaughtered.
Aside from the lengthy investigation into the delayed and failed law enforcement response to the shooting rampage in Parkland, a state commission was created and tasked with producing a comprehensive report detailing everything that occurred before, during and after the shooting.
That commission’s 458-page report has led to a re-examination of policies for responding to active shooter situations and recommended the state allow teachers to voluntarily arm themselves to defend their pupils and colleagues, a recommendation the Florida legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis has now codified into law.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chaired that commission, summed up the arrest of Peterson quite succinctly: “Scott Peterson is a coward, a failure and a criminal,” whose arrest was “absolutely warranted.” Gualtieri added, “There is no doubt in my mind that because he didn’t act, people were killed.”
The arrest and conviction of Peterson will not bring back the precious lives lost to a deranged gunman while the deputy hid himself away from the action, and the modicum of cold comfort it will bring the parents of those lost children — while no doubt appreciated — means little in the big scheme of things.
That said, it is always a good thing to see accountability and justice applied to those who deserve it. There is little denying that Peterson’s fateful inaction that day in 2018 has earned him 17 lifetimes worth of accountability and justice that must be paid in full.
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