The 60-year-old Scot Peterson is on trial in Florida on 11 counts, including criminal child neglect and culpable negligence. He entered a not-guilty plea.
The case of Mr Peterson has added a moral and legal dimension to a contentious national discussion over law enforcement’s obligation to safeguard pupils during school sh00tings, which are frequent in the United States.
His trial takes place a year after the elementary school sh00ting in Uvalde, Texas, which sparked outrage and investigations after police waited more than an hour to enter the building while a sh00ter was inside, ki!!ing young children.
Legally speaking, police personnel are not required to give their life up in the line of duty. But because of these recurrent catastrophes, law enforcement frequently defends students from armed attαkers.
“The entire country is watching this trial,” said Bob Jarvis, a lawyer and professor at Florida’s Nova Southeastern University, said the BBC. “It is precedent setting. It will tell us, in the form of the jury, what average people expect of cops.”
“It is either going to open the door to a floodgate of claims against cops for not rushing in in the future,” same website Mr Jarvis stated, “Or it will slam the door pretty tight on the possibility of future prosecutions like this.”
The Caregiver Question
On February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz, then 19 years old, rampaged through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Mr Peterson did not hurry inside. There were 17 fatalities among the students and personnel and the other 17.
Cruz reached the third story of the 1200 classroom building 73 seconds before Mr Peterson entered the building with his revolver drawn.
He sought refuge in an outdoor alcove while waiting for assistance. He and his attorneys claim that he did this because he was unsure about the source of the gunshots.
That is the official tweet in which Scot Peterson did not confront the Parkland school shooting:
Ex-Deputy Scot Peterson is set to stand trial for not confronting the Parkland school shooter during the 2018 massacre that left 17 dead.
What do YOU think? ⚖️👇
— Court TV (@CourtTV) May 30, 2023
While a Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy at the time, Mr Peterson allegedly violated his training and duties by refusing to enter the building.
At the same time, the sh00ter opened fire on the students. In what is considered a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, they are attempting to hold him legally liable for failing to confront Cruz.
Police officers are not legally required to put themselves in harm’s way or endanger their lives during a sh00ting.
Instead, for the four student fatalities and three student injuries that occurred on the third floor once Mr Peterson arrived on the scene and the three adults who were shot there, prosecutors charged Mr Peterson with seven felony counts of child maltreatment.
The key to getting a conviction is convincing the jury that Mr Peterson was the children’s caregiver and had a duty to keep them safe.
According to Mr Peterson’s attorney, he was not a caretaker.
“He’s not a teacher, he’s not a parent, he’s not a kidnapper who’s responsible for the well-being of a child. He’s not hired by the school system,” As the trial started, attorney Mark Eiglarsh spoke to CNN.
Given its new use, Mr Jarvis claimed that the caregiver case was legally dubious. And even if a jury found in favour of the prosecution.
He said the trial judge or an appeals court might conclude that Mr Peterson did not meet the legal requirements for caregiver status and reverse the jury’s finding.
A New Legal Frontier
If Peterson is found guilty, it brings up a new set of legal issues for school employees involved in mass sh00ting and police officers.
Some states have passed a controversial law allowing teachers to carry weapons on school grounds. One expert stated that if Mr Peterson were to be found guilty of criminal child neglect, it might not just affect the police but also the educators.
“What does that mean for all the teachers who have guns in schools?” claimed University of California, Los Angeles professor and authority on school violence Ron Astor. “Are they going to be held responsible if they choose not to [confront a shooter]?”
Mr Astor pointed out that even seasoned police officers frequently request assistance when they cannot manage a situation independently.
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He also mentioned that not all security officers or school resource officers receive the training that would enable them to deal with a g*nman with an assault-style weapon.
“Is it a reasonable thing to do for somebody who’s not a swat team member, or trained in the military?” he asked.
A “Moral Obligation”
Leaving legal reasons aside, the case has prompted debate over the moral obligation of school resource officers, police officers, and other law enforcement personnel to run into g*nfire.
Parents from Parkland and community people who work as school resource officers have criticized Mr Peterson’s response.
“Our role in that situation, our obligation, is to go after the threat and do everything we can to stop it,” stated Mo Canady, the National Association of School Resource Officers’ executive director.
Mr Canady informed the BBC that he could not comment on Mr Peterson’s education or experience. “I do know I’ve seen many school resource officers respond in the proper way, which is to attack the problem, not to sit back and wait for the cavalry.”
“It is your moral obligation,” he stated to BBC. “When you are sworn in, you’re swearing to protect and serve.”
Although Mr Peterson’s case won’t end the discussion over how to stop school sh00ters, it will probably act as a lesson for police who might have to deal with a sh00ting.
However, Mr Jarvis was less optimistic that Mr Peterson’s conviction would lead to significant change.
“It is human nature to find someone to blame, and Scot Peterson is an easy punching bag,” said Mr Jarvis. He claimed that prosecuting Mr Peterson was more superficial than dealing with the more complicated problems of the US’s easy access to guns and the scarcity of mental health services, especially for young men and boys.
“There are many, many failures,” Mr Jarvis stated to BBC, “that led to Nikolas Cruz being able to do what he did.”
Patricia Gault is a seasoned journalist with years of experience in the industry. She has a passion for uncovering the truth and bringing important stories to light. Patricia has a sharp eye for detail and a talent for making complex issues accessible to a broad audience. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a commitment to accuracy and impartiality, earning a reputation as a reliable and trusted source of news.