A judge has rejected a deputy’s claim that he had no duty to confront the gunman during the school shooting in Parkland.
Refusing to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a parent of a victim, Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning found after a hearing Wednesday that ex-deputy Scot Peterson did have a duty to protect those inside school where 17 people died and 17 were wounded on Feb. 14. Video and other evidence shows Peterson, the only armed officer at the school, remained outside while shots rang out.
The negligence lawsuit was filed by Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed. He said it made no sense for Peterson’s attorneys to argue that a sworn law enforcement officer with a badge and a gun had no requirement to go inside.
“Then what is he doing there?” Pollack said after the ruling. “He had a duty. I’m not going to let this go. My daughter, her death is not going to be in vain.”
Peterson attorney Michael Piper said he understands that people might be offended or outraged at his client’s defense, but he argued that as a matter of law, the deputy had no duty to confront the shooter. Peterson did not attend the hearing.
“There is no legal duty that can be found,” Piper said. “At its very worst, Scot Peterson is accused of being a coward. That does not equate to bad faith.”
The ruling came as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission began considering proposals including whether to arm trained, volunteer teachers; make it harder for outsiders to enter Florida’s nearly 4,000 public schools; mandate armed security on all campuses with explicit orders to confront shooters; improve communication systems on campus; and impose more statewide uniformity in how troubled students are identified, helped and, if necessary, dealt with by police.
The commission must file its initial report to Gov. Rick Scott, incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature by Jan. 1.
During its periodic meetings since April, the 15-member commission has learned that the suspected gunman, former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, 20, had a long history of disturbing behavior, including threats to shoot up the campus.
Minutes before the shooting, Cruz was recorded entering campus through an unguarded gate and then going into a classroom building. Investigators say he fired down the hallway and through door windows into first-floor classrooms where students didn’t or couldn’t hide. He climbed to the third floor to continue the attack, where students and teachers didn’t know what happened two stories below.
That’s because teachers couldn’t quickly communicate with administrators, each other, or law enforcement. Loudspeakers could only be heard inside classrooms. Teachers, trying to secure their classrooms, could only lock the doors from the outside.
In addition to Peterson’s failure to confront the gunman, there were no kits to stop the wounded’s bleeding, and responding officers from different law enforcement agencies couldn’t easily communicate over the radio to coordinate a counterattack and share information.
The commission includes law enforcement, education and mental health professionals, a legislator and the fathers of two slain students. It will continue meeting after Jan. 1 and make additional recommendations.
Cruz has pleaded not guilty, but his lawyers have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.