June 30, 2023: In a recent trial, Scot Peterson, a former school security officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, was found not guilty on all charges related to his failure to confront a gunman who carried out a devastating shooting in 2018—the emotional trial left bitter feelings on both sides.
Peterson, who worked as a Broward County sheriff’s deputy and served as a resource officer at the school, had been charged in 2019 with seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence, and one count of perjury. However, the jury cleared him of all charges, leading to his acquittal.
During the trial, it was revealed that Peterson was the only armed person at the school when the shooting occurred. He was forced to retire after the incident. The charges against him could have resulted in a maximum potential sentence of 96½ years in state prison.
The shooting on February 14, 2018, tragically claimed the lives of 17 students, teachers, and staff members and injured 17 others. Peterson’s inaction during the shooting came under scrutiny, and he was accused of failing to investigate the source of the gunshots, retreating while victims were being shot, and directing other law enforcement officers to stay away from the building during the active shooting.
Following the verdict, Peterson expressed his emotions, saying, “We got our life back after 4½ years… and being able to put the truth out of what happened.” He described the whole experience as an emotional roller coaster.
On the other hand, Broward County State Attorney Harold Pryor, who had led the prosecution against Peterson, defended their decision to charge the former officer. He stated that it was not a political move but rather an attempt to hold an armed school resource officer accountable for not fulfilling his vital duties of protecting the children and staff members.
The trial was significant as it was believed to be the first time in the nation’s history that a police officer was prosecuted for inaction during a mass shooting. Despite the acquittal, some community members, including victims’ families, expressed disappointment and believed that Peterson’s actions had contributed to the pain caused by the tragic event.
In an interview after the shooting, Peterson had apologized to the victims’ families, acknowledging that he didn’t get it right that day. He cited chaos, miscommunication, and the assumption that the shots were fired from outside as reasons for his inaction.
The verdict has sparked mixed reactions, with Peterson’s lawyer celebrating it as a victory for law enforcement officers who do their best daily. Meanwhile, some community members remain convinced that Peterson should be held accountable for his role during the tragic incident.
This trial highlighted the complex issues surrounding law enforcement’s responsibilities during mass shootings and the emotional toll it takes on everyone involved. It may serve as a precedent for future cases involving police officers’ actions during such devastating events.