The former sheriff’s deputy who failed to act during the Parkland high school shooting in 2018 when 17 people were killed has been found not guilty of child neglect and other charges.
Scot Peterson moved away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as children and teachers were inside with the gunman.
The ex-Broward County sheriff’s deputy was found not guilty on seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence in connection to the deaths and injuries of 10 people on the third floor of the school where the massacre took place, The New York Times noted. Prosecutors admitted that Mr Peterson would have been unable to stop any of the murders on the first floor of the school that occurred before he arrived, instead arguing that he may have prevented 10 deaths or injuries on the third floor. There were no deaths or injuries on the second floor.
Mr Peterson was also acquitted on a perjury charge after telling police that he only heard a few gunshots and that he didn’t see any students fleeing the area.
A father of one of the victims has told the former deputy to “rot in hell” and he was branded as the “coward in Broward” after facing criticism from some fellow officers for supposedly being too scared to take action.
The gunman, Nicholas Cruz, was sentenced last year to life in prison several years after the shooting that killed 17 people and injured another 17 on 14 February 2018 – Mr Peterson was the only armed resource officer at the school on that day.
Mr Peterson, 60, became emotional on Thursday as the Broward County Judge read the verdict at the Fort Lauderdale court. A few family members of the victims were in the courtroom as the verdict was announced.
The trial is thought to have been the first in US history to prosecute an officer for not taking appropriate action during a mass shooting. If the verdict had gone the other way, it could have prompted similar prosecutions against the officers responding to other mass shootings, such as the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas in May last year when 21 people lost their lives before the gunman was finally shot and killed by law enforcement.
The police responding to that shooting are under investigation after officers waited for more than an hour to confront the gunman.
But legal experts were thinking from the start that Mr Peterson was unlikely to be convicted. Since he was charged with child neglect, the prosecution had to argue to the jury that the officer was a “caregiver” who was in charge of students’ wellbeing, which is a category of staff that usually doesn’t include police.
The jury of six, split evenly between men and women, spent 19 hours deliberating over the course of four days after a trial that lasted for two and a half weeks.
In the end, they found that it had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Peterson should be seen as someone who’s “responsible for a child’s welfare”.
Calling the caregiver argument “ridiculous,” defence attorney Mark Eiglarsh, who represented Mr Peterson, told the jurors on Monday that “He’s not there to make sure that their bellies are full and that they are hydrated properly”.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office also failed in their prosecution of the gunman as they had sought the death penalty but he received a life sentence.
If he had been convicted, Mr Peterson could have been sentenced to 96 years and the removal of his annual pension of $104,000.
On the day of the shooting, Mr Peterson arrived at what was referred to as the 1200 Building about two and a half minutes after the shooting had started. He moved away from the building and stayed in the alcove of a stairway of a nearby building for the rest of the shooting, which went on for another four minutes. He stayed in the spot for another 40 minutes at which point some time had passed since the gunman had left the area and other officers had entered the building.
Those who were killed in the shooting were 14-year-olds Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Duque, Jaime Guttenberg, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Alaina Petty, and Alex Schachter, as well as Peter Wang and Luke Hoyer, both 15, Carmen Schentrup, 16, Nicholas Dworet, Helena Ramsay, and Joaquin Oliver, all 17 years old, Meadow Pollack, 18, Scott Beigel, 35, Aaron Feis, 37, and Christopher Hixon, 49.
Police training to wait for SWAT teams to handle mass shootings changed after the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
The head of training at the Broward Sheriff’s Office testified that Mr Peterson had received training instructing him to confront the shooter despite not having backup, according to The New York Times.
The director of operations at the National Association of School Resource Officers, Mac Hardy, said, “From my personal experience in my schools, the students were my students and it was my school”.
“When you put that gun belt on every morning and leave your house, you know your responsibilities and the things you have to do to be successful to keep your kids safe,” he added.
Assistant state attorney Chris Killoran said on Monday that Mr Peterson, “chose his life over everybody else’s”.
Mr Peterson told the authorities that he had been unsure of how many shooters there were and where the gunfire was coming from.
Mr Eiglarsh told the jury that Mr Peterson called in a “code red” to lock down the school and that he did his best in a stressful situation with restricted information and bad radios.
“He truly is innocent and did everything he could that day,” the lawyer said.
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