Weather Forecast


Florida deputy who chose not to enter school thought gunfire was outside, acted appropriately, lawyer says

Students embrace after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 14, 2018. With mass shootings in schools, theaters, churches, and workplaces, experts in threat assessment have come up with advice about what to do. (Saul Martinez/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

The former Broward County sheriff's deputy who did not enter a Florida high school during a shooting rampage this month believes he acted appropriately because he thought the gunfire was outside, not inside, a building on the school's campus, according to his lawyer.

The former deputy, Scot Peterson, was the school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when a gunman opened fire there on Feb. 14. Peterson's actions have been sharply criticized since the shooting, with President Donald Trump calling him a "coward" and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel saying he was "disgusted" and "just demoralized" by his actions.

Peterson's lawyer pushed back at "unfounded criticism of his actions . . .. and uncalled for attacks upon his character" in a lengthy statement Monday. In the statement, Peterson said that when he got to the school building where the massacre was taking place, he "heard gunshots but believed that those gunshots were originating from outside of any of the buildings on the school campus."

Rather than rushing inside, which is the generally accepted police response when facing a potential active-shooter, Peterson's lawyer said he acted properly in following his training for possible outdoors gunfire by seeking shelter and trying to assess what was happening at the Parkland, Florida, high school.

He does not say when the officer realized the gunfire was coming from inside the building.

Israel, the sheriff, announced on Feb. 22 that he had suspended Peterson after viewing surveillance video showing that the officer took up a position outside the school building and never go inside. After being suspended, Peterson filed his retirement paperwork and left the agency he joined in 1985.

The sheriff said that Peterson should have "went in and addressed the killer. Killed the killer."

Joseph DiRuzzo, Peterson's lawyer, said Israel's comments last week denouncing the deputy's actions left "the clear implication that Mr. Peterson was responsible for failing to help the students" during one of the country's deadliest school shootings.

"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," said DiRuzzo's statement, the first comment offered on Peterson's behalf since the officer was publicly identified last week. "However, the allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue."

Authorities have faced intensifying questions about their response to the shooting as well as how they handled tips and warnings about the suspected shooter's potential for violence before the attack. Officials had received a number of alarming warnings over the years, including at least four that linked Cruz to a possible school shooting, but it appears the most alarming warnings prompted no investigation. The Broward Sheriff's Office has said it is investigating how some of those calls were handled, while it has also begun looking into allegations that other deputies responding to the shooting also remained outside.

Israel, who has resisted calls that he resign over his office's handling of both, has continued to assail Peterson's actions, saying in a CNN interview Sunday that he should not be blamed for the deputy's behavior.

"At this point, one person didn't do what he should have done," Israel said. "It's horrific. The victims here, the families, I pray for them every night. It makes me sick to my stomach that we had a deputy that didn't go in, because I know, if I was there, if I was on the wall, I would have been the first in, along with so many of the other people."

DiRuzzo called Israel's account of what Peterson did that day a "gross oversimplification" of what happened, and he also noted that Peterson had received "glowing annual performance reviews" and was named the school resource officer of the year in 2014. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has launched an investigation into the police response to the shooting at the request of Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and DiRuzzo said he hopes that probe will "ultimately clear Mr. Peterson's name."

Trump has also continued to criticize the deputy for his behavior. On Monday, speaking to governors assembled at the White House, Trump said he believed he would have "run in, even if I didn't have a weapon."