A recent lawsuit against deputy Scot Peterson by survivors and families of the Parkland High School shooting in February 2018 failed to deliver. Peterson’s attorney argued that he did not bear a legal responsibility to protect the children whom it was his job to protect. 17 people died in the Parkland shooting, and another 17 were injured. U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the students’ 14th amendment rights were not trampled by Peterson’s inaction and agreeing with Peterson’s attorney.
Where civil litigation may have failed, the criminal justice system might succeed.
Peterson was arrested nearly a week ago, and charged with 11 separate criminal counts, including child neglect, perjury, and culpable negligence, because of his inability to fulfill his sworn duty during the shooting.
Video footage shows Peterson rushing toward the school building with a couple of other staff members when the shooting began. Peterson drew his sidearm. And then he stood there, unwilling or unable to go any farther.
The 11 charges against Peterson are the result of a drawn-out, exhaustive investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). 184 witnesses were interviewed. Dozens of hours of video surveillance were analyzed. 212 investigative reports were compiled.
According to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, “There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.”
Families of the victims believe that this is as close to the justice they deserve as anyone is going to get. “We are happy to see some accountability for this tragedy,” said Tony Montalto, whose daughter was killed on that terrible day.
Senator Rick Scott said, “Now it’s time for justice to be served.”
Peterson’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment from investigative journalists who understandably bombarded him and Peterson with questions following the long-sought arrest.
Peterson was suspended following the Parkland shooting, but he opted to retire instead. Now it seems as if he may spend a large part of that retirement behind bars if convicted on the charges. It remains in the realm of possibility that Peterson will be cleared on all counts, because a jury will have to decide whether or not his inaction showed a complete disregard for the safety of the students he was charged to protect if the case moves forward to trial.
It’s important to recognize that Peterson’s attorney will likely argue once again that he had no legal obligation to protect the students, the same argument that resulted in the dismissal of civil litigation, the standard of proof for which is significantly lower. There is a strong possibility Peterson will remain a free man after all is said and done.
Two other members of the Broward Police Department were also fired following the shooting, but neither face criminal charges.