WAS THE PARKLAND COP A TRUE COWARD?

People said heads must roll. The chief of police? The cops? The NRA? The FBI? After all, there must be someone we can fault when things go wrong, particularly when life is lost.

    In the wake of the horrific slaughter of innocent people at Marjory Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, folks are anxious to cast blame on the most obvious culprits, guns and bad cops. This is reminiscent of Ferguson, Missouri, 2014, when Officer Darren Wilson was publicly scorned by citizens and media pundits for shooting a helpless “unarmed” teen to death before all the true facts were known. Never mind that the kid was 18, weighed 300 pounds, was charging the cop in a menacing fashion and had already assaulted the officer by trying to steal his gun.

     Fast forward to Deputy Scot Peterson, 54, the School Resource Officer at Parkland, Florida. This man served a stellar 33 year police career that ended sharply on February 14 when 17 people, mostly students, were murdered by a crazed, well-armed gunman inside the High School. We learned that Peterson was the officer outside the closed doors of the school when the shootings were happening and failed to enter and, perhaps, end the deadly assault. Are we right to castigate this man for failing to save lives?

     As always, 20/20 hindsight gives us clarity. It’s conceivable that Officer Peterson could have stymied or halted the assault by entering the door and shooting the killer. There were no rules or written procedures preventing him from doing so. Matter of fact, it was his job to confront and save lives, even if it meant risking his own life. That’s what makes ordinary people into heroes.

     Then, there’s reality. Officer Peterson heard a barrage of gunfire from outside that door. It was startling, sudden and confusing. One second, peace and tranquility, the next second, chaos. He didn’t know if there was one gunman or three gunmen, nor did he know the gunman’s position inside. He had no access to view the classroom from outside. It was very possible that he might be riddled with bullets the instant he cracked open the door, because he had no visual contact with which to evaluate.

     Would he have been committing suicide by attempting to enter that classroom? He would certainly have become a hero. Perhaps he considered the old adage, “I’d rather be a live coward than a dead hero.” Emotions aside, we truly don’t know if Officer Peterson was a classic coward or an utterly confused cop. But we do know that he served the citizens of Broward County honorably for 33 years. That should count for something.

     Contrary to what we see in movies and TV, shootouts are not common in most police careers. Cops rarely, if ever, fire weapons on the job unless they are assigned to a highly volatile, crime-ridden district.  I never engaged in a classic shootout, even though I worked in uniform and then many years in Homicide. I fired my pistol some four or five times in 30 years with Miami-Dade, and they were mostly warning shots. I was shot once, suddenly caught off-guard by a hysterical woman with a rifle.

     A cop can conceivably work 33 years on the job, or 12,045 days, and never once experience a typical movie-style confrontation involving gunfire. That’s a recipe for chronic “sedentary.”

     Training is certainly important. Police officers go through extensive training, including the act of dealing with deadly confrontations. Those boxes are checked off for every sworn officer. But training is not reality. We can launch all the simulated exercises in the world, but when that moment occurs unexpectedly, pure instinct takes over.

     Some have it. Some don’t.

     At age 54, Officer Peterson would be near retirement. Perhaps he selfishly thought about his family, his pension, not to mention, remaining alive. Yes, I wish he, or someone, would have stormed that classroom, if only to prevent some of the senseless killings. I’m sure the friends and relatives of the dead and wounded don’t want to hear excuses. I don’t blame them.

     That’s all history now. And so is Officer Peterson’s career. Forget about his 33 years. They don’t count any more. He will forever be remembered as the monster coward who coulda, shoulda, but did none of that. He will spend the rest of his life famed for one six-minute event, censured as a man who, some may say, allowed the needless deaths of young people to happen, even if he had to die as well.

     Then again, who are we to judge?

Former deputy Scot Peterson says why he didn’t go inside Stoneman Douglas during shooting – Sun Sentinel

32 Responses to WAS THE PARKLAND COP A TRUE COWARD?

  1. Cliff March 23, 2018 at 9:08 am #

    He could have crouched low and entered the door carefully and proceeded that way along a wall until he reached a line-of-sight to the, or a, shooter. Even saving one life would have been worth his risk. He was smart to think about multiple shooters, but there’s still a way to act. .

    I am judging him for not trying to approach deliberately. If more than one shooter appeared, he could have exited hastily rather than “take them on.”

    • Tom Robbins March 23, 2018 at 3:05 pm #

      I totally agree with you, Cliff. Who knows, if he had at least opened the door, and proceeded towards the action, he might have been looking at the shooter from behind, undetected, and could have drilled him before he could have fired another shot. Cops go into dangerous situations almost every day, it is their chosen profession, and sworn duty to face danger and take down the bad guy whenever necessary. One would think that after 33 years of service, this bad situation wasn’t his first rodeo. What was he doing guarding a school, if he wasn’t ready and able to confront a maniac with a gun? I don’t believe he was a coward, but that he just froze in the moment, was not mentally ready, for whatever the reason. Or, maybe he left his bulletproof vest at home or in the car that day, and was thinking about soon retirement with benefits?

  2. I RICHARD JACOBSO March 23, 2018 at 9:23 am #

    I always thought that good judgement was for him to wait for a swat team or additional help before charging into an unkown situation in which it was obvious to him from the sounds of the gunfire,that he would have been massively “outgunned “”

    • Adamsalan March 23, 2018 at 12:46 pm #

      You are only “outgunned” if you miss.

  3. Brenda L Homefield-Rosenzweig March 23, 2018 at 9:27 am #

    I truly do feel compassion for this deputy. He has to bear the blame, the ridicule and negative reputation for the rest of his life. He must somehow protect his family from this fallout and never-ending shame.

    Am I shocked that he froze? No, because the human instinct is built in to survive.
    Should there be intensive training given,specifically designed to enable officers to respond to the unexpected? Yes, that’s obvious to me…a concerned grandparent. No longer are these types of atrocities all that new nor are they unexpected. Therefore, what IS required are the most highly trained, TOTALLY PREPARED for the WORST, type of individuals who ARE willing to sacrifice themselves if necessary to effectively protect our kids.

  4. Charles Pierce March 23, 2018 at 9:33 am #

    I am a retired Army Officer, served my entire career in the Combat Army. Where fire is coming from is clear and base upon hind sight we known know that no shots were fired outside. The job, as put out by the leaders of the fire and police, is to move to the sound of the guns. Not to stand and hold your position. Coward, I can not judge, that is between the Officer and his God.

  5. Eileen March 23, 2018 at 10:21 am #

    Well written, Marshall. Yes, there’s a lot of “coulda, woulda, shoulda’s” in this case. The crime “coulda” been prevented if certain criteria had been in place long before it happened. Our lawmakers are finally making an attempt (perhaps an insufficient one, but at least it’s a start) to seriously address school shootings; but in today’s society, I doubt that home environments, where children’s (some who are future criminals) personalities develop, will change. I agree with Charlie about avoiding judgement as there are just too many conditions behind this tragic situation.

  6. Stu Milisci March 23, 2018 at 10:25 am #

    It has been my experience as a NYPD retiree that older officers, who have served close to 20 years or more, don’t have the instincts,reflexes or stamina as younger, more energetic officers.
    Being aware of this, many older officers were given the opportunity to work clerical jobs or
    given plum assignments such as school safety officers.
    Perhaps a younger officer might have acted differently.

  7. Helen Frigo March 23, 2018 at 11:07 am #

    But you ARE judging him, Marshall! And you’re judging everyone who thinks employees on the public payroll should resign when they are incompetent, as yelling “Heads must roll! That’s a judgement on your part, also. In contrast, the Stuart news has an editorial today about the State of FL’s actions in recent disasters. They just want facts, and accountability, and so do we.

  8. David Lee Valdina March 23, 2018 at 11:44 am #

    Marshall begins by saying:

    People said heads must roll. The chief of police? The cops? The NRA? The FBI? After all, there must be someone we can fault when things go wrong

    Here is a letter to the Editor I wrote, which has never been put into the paper.

    To the Editor:

    Sometimes there is no solution.

    We have many problems in our lives and in the world. It seems to me we have taken the view that every problem has a solution, and we argue about the possible choices. This is reflected in the media and in politics. Sometimes there are no real solutions. Violence, wars etc. have been with mankind since the beginning of our existence, and it will always be so. Pogo was right, “We have met the enemy, and he is us”

    Respectfully,
    /s/ David Lee Valdina March 1, 2018
    1084 Parkway Lane
    Barefoot Bay, FL 32976

  9. Dave Creelman March 23, 2018 at 11:46 am #

    You know what they say. ‘A thousand ‘atta boy’s’ are wiped out with just one, ‘Aw $hit’.

  10. Steve Gure March 23, 2018 at 11:48 am #

    Allow me to disagree with you. The video clearly shows that he was facing the building with his weapon pointing towards it. That shows he clearly knew where the threat was coming from – but he says otherwise. He did serve for 33 years and that should count for something. Perhaps his size served to protect him from threatening situations, but clearly, when the real threat occurred, he failed miserably. The final cowardly act, when confronted and threatened with punishment for his actions, he resigned. If I was wrongfully accused I hope that I would put up more of a fight. Law enforcement, in this instance, did not distinguish themselves – except for the Coconut Creek officer who recognized the suspect and arrested him.

  11. Art Martin March 23, 2018 at 1:19 pm #

    How should he be judged? Perhaps that question should be asked to the parents of the last child to be shot!

  12. Ron Fischer March 23, 2018 at 1:21 pm #

    There is no way to properly judge this officer’s actions based on the limited facts we have to work with. Frankly, I see him as one of the many victims that resulted from several previous failures that could have prevented this entire mess.

    These cops could have been casualties themselves and may even have inspired the shooter to kill more people if they had failed to drop him.

    That day could have been worse; they simply didn’t go well until the arrested the shooter and then the smoke began to clear. I feel very badly for all of the victims before, during and after this truly outrageous event in America.

    No, I’m not about to surrender my guns either. I know better.

  13. Kevin Dougherty March 23, 2018 at 2:58 pm #

    A recently retired buddy at BSO assures me that Peterson is no coward. He was in fact named the Broward County or National SRO of the year just a few years ago, for his efforts at MSD HS. My friend went on to add that revelations would soon reveal he wasn’t the screw up he was depicted in the media as being. A few days later, articles began appearing in the papers down here that a BSO Captain arrived on the scene (remember there was a 20 lag in the school’svideo feed) and advised all BSO units to form a perimeter, or BSO words to that effect.

    Apparently she was brought to BSO by Sheriff Israel from Ft Lauderdale PD, where he once served before being named as the Chief in North Bay Village. I had always heard of problems he had while at NBVPD, but never heard what they entailed.

    There were 2 SWAT officers (I believe from Miramar PD) who were in the area for training, or some such activity and they did respond and make entry (remember, the perp was gone with a 20 min lead). They received discipline from their department for not advising their location and their additional action to enter the building.

    Israel is currently avoiding the media as if they had the ebola virus.

  14. PATRICK PESCE March 23, 2018 at 3:09 pm #

    All I see in my minds eye is children in a school-emphasis on children, it could have been mine, and some one firing a gun in there. Is there any parent whose child was in that school not gone in, unarmed? My instinct GO IN. It’s an active shooter. Period.
    You might die without helping anyone and then again you might save a life. That cop was paid to do exactly that, risk his life. Cops risk their lives on a daily basis and never know when hell will break loose. He had 33 good years with the PD. Those dead kids will have none.

  15. Joe March 23, 2018 at 4:19 pm #

    I loved your piece on this poor Cop. It’s so easy to jump into the hysteria. I wasn’t to quick to judge this guy mostly because I wasn’t there. Today for the most part unless you die in the line of duty, any thing short of that and they throw you on the BBQ. I explained to most of the people in my Firehouse in regard to this incident, to not be to Judgmental .

    I think most cautious Law Enforcement and any first responder needs to confront emergencies conservatively and then after knowing information take a risks vs. rewards decision. Cops and Firefighters don’t have that opportunity, of time, however if he had gone in there guns ablaze and got mowed down with the rest, he did nothing to help the incident and for the most part, all he really did was add to the death toll. Alternatively, had he killed some of the children in the cross fire, how would that have had an impart on him and in the greater media.

    Firefighters are being asked to drag out the victims from these MCI events, without Firearms, they enter a Hot Zone under the protection of Law enforcement, but we try to do so under the best of circumstances. Adding to the Death toll compounds the problem. Aurora Colorado a case in point saw the Fire Department standing outside the Hot Zone so to speak, and in some articles they were criticized for doing so. Secondary devices, Chemical weapons, Multiple Shooters are all risks and unknowns in any incident. This guy may have acted prudently to protect himself, and in essence hesitating until he could act positively and effectively.

    I applaud your article, Fine Job

    Joe

  16. Patti in So. Calif March 23, 2018 at 4:24 pm #

    School resource officer, Scot Peterson, was recorded in his call-in stating the number of the building and that the shooting was from within that building. Additionally he ordered everyone responding to stay 500+ feet away. WHY? Why did he not approach and even ordered everyone else to keep their distance. I have seen no news item discussingt this recorded info.

    Still I reserve judgement of this officer. It has been proven in the military that intense training will help a person react appropriately – reflex action. However a hero can’t be predicted.

  17. Anonymous March 23, 2018 at 5:32 pm #

    Sheriff Israel is quick to throw this deputy under the bus. Maybe because of his lack of leadership and proper training, Peterson would have been better prepared.

    As a retired police officer I know that in the waning years of your career, you tend to become more lackadaisical in the job and tend to lose the skills necessary to confront situations such as this. School resource officers feel like this is the ideal job leading to retirement and you lose the keen edge that you have trained for in the past. The problem is with the bureaucracy that lets this attitude fester.. Israel’s amazing” leadership is sorely lacking and he is a political dupe for the democrats in Broward County who has pontificated on the airways for gun control. His TV presence is an embarrassment to BSO. He needs to be muzzled and an investigation started to find out why this maniac was not questioned or Baker acted prior to this travesty.

    As a law enforcement training advisor in a police academy I was taught that “the way you train is the way you perform” Obviously the training for this deputy was lacking and that goes directly to the command staff for not providing that training. Israel is culpable and should not be in that leadership position.

    Scott Peterson’s life is ruined, he will be forever remembered as the coward who did not enter the building to save lives. Unfortunately,none of us were there and should not even try to judge him. His family will forever suffer the consequences of his lack of action and/or the media attention that was focused on this horrible situation. This happened because of a crazed lunatic who was known to the BSO and the FBI and they did not take any action to prevent this horrible tragedy.

    To blame Scott Peterson is a travesty and something that will affect his life and his future. He was a dedicated officer for 33 years who lacked the skills and training because of his agency’s policies. Israel is the culprit here and should be fired.

  18. Ed MacDougall March 23, 2018 at 5:58 pm #

    I will always remember my days in Vietnam and as a retired Miami Dade P.O.
    I also remember those
    moments when you have to move to the terror.

    If you can’t Lean into It! It is time to leave the job it. That officer failed in his duty, period.

    What would he have done if a fellow officer was under fire?

    • Steve Gure April 4, 2018 at 1:31 pm #

      Right opn the mark

  19. Mike Carr March 23, 2018 at 5:59 pm #

    I’m confused. Did Peterson think the shots were coming from INSIDE or OUTSIDE the building? Marshall, you said he “heard a barrage of gunfire from outside that door”. The way I interpret that sentence is that he thought the shots were coming from OUTSIDE the building. If that was the case, why not then go INSIDE the building to try and eyeball the shooter from a classroom? Neither one of us was there so we are left to decide who is telling the truth. Additionally, WHY did he resign so abruptly? There is a “fish smell” here that may or may not get answered.

  20. peter aydelotte March 23, 2018 at 8:13 pm #

    well, if anyone who knows me knows I do not cower , I will not judge an officer who when the current policy is to perimeter and call in specialized units. In my day, to call in specialized units, your squad has failed to control the situation, but then again I am old
    school and rushed in when others would have standed by….

  21. E. John Reinhold March 24, 2018 at 7:56 am #

    Glad it wasn’t me. One can never predict their reactions when very suddenly ordnance is going off and total chaos erupts. Some emerge surprising heroes while others faint.

  22. Christopher Jones March 24, 2018 at 8:59 am #

    I cannot comment on what Florida trains its officers to do, but in S.C., the first officer on the scene goes in immediately to confront the shooter(s). I questioned this when we were doing some training over the summer at a high school that was vacant, and was told that in this case, the shooter has no intention of negotiating, and you (the officer) are essentially expendable. We were told if you wouldn’t do it, basically you should find another job.
    While working in a middle school as an SRO, and about the same age as Deputy Peterson, I heard a radio call of a teenager cruising down a street behind my middle school “waving a handgun in the air”. I RAN to my cruiser, and met the teen a block from the school, and another officer who arrived at the same time and I took him into custody. My thought was this kid should not get near my school, and he didn’t. He was carrying a hand gun but wisely did not brandish it or threaten us.
    I look at the actions of the officers of the NYPD (and of course the firefighters) who dashed into the World Trade buildings, headed to a problem, only to literally have the world crash down on them. I don’t know if Peterson was a hero or a coward. Maybe he was not properly trained. But I DO know his job was to stop the carnage without regard to his personal safety, and he did not do that.

  23. Thomas Ault March 24, 2018 at 9:10 am #

    Too often we forget that the question , “What would I have done under the same circumstances?” is the question that should be asked first. It is very easy to say you would do this or that before actually giving it full consideration and thought.

    This man no doubt was confused, also knew the danger, and made a decision…only he knows for sure what the decision was based on. It is not my responsibility to make a judgement on something like that unless I was the person involved.

    I would like to see fair judgement made in this situation.

  24. Lee Martines March 24, 2018 at 9:13 pm #

    I have never been a LEO, and as a Computer Programmer, the US Air Force never required me to train for the situation that Scott Peterson faced. I don’t know whether or not he received the proper training for his position, but regardless of the amount or type of training received, there is no guarantee of how an individual will respond to an emergency situation dealing with life or death.

    There’s a very critical balance: too much caution and you’re labeled a coward; mot enough caution and you may be signing your death warrant.

  25. Helen Frigo March 25, 2018 at 11:56 am #

    The police man in France did what was required.

  26. Jerry March 25, 2018 at 2:47 pm #

    Marshall there is plenty of blame to go around, but those most responsible are somehow avoiding scrutny, and they are Obama, the superintendent of Broward County Schools and sheriff Scott Isreal! I feel they are the primary decision makers behind the Promise Program that allowed Cruz to avoid arrest before the shooting.

    Obama came up with this program to circumvent the judicial system and minimize blacks and minorities from a school to prison pathway. In doing so, he offered grant incentives if arrests were down, so arrests went down, not because of any behavioral change, bad behavior was being ignored, essentially falsifying the education systems crime statistics.

    The Broward School Superintendent bought into the program and asked the sheriff to agree and facilitate the program. Thus we now have a program that hides the true nature of criminal behavior in the school system, and paved the way for Cruz to kill 17 people. These people are far more responsible than anyone else for this herendious criminal act!

  27. Kevin March 25, 2018 at 10:16 pm #

    Marshall,
    As always, well written & well thought out. The first thing which came to mind when I heard of this was the training before Sandy Hook, that being Observe, Evaluate, Communicate. Maybe that prior training was what when through the Officer’s head. As for judging his actions on that date, none of us REALLY know what we would have done in his shoes on that date in that situation. To say otherwise in my opinion is hogwash.

  28. Denis March 26, 2018 at 10:34 pm #

    Great article Captain Frank. It got a lot of us thinking. I think Anonymous touched on something that should also be explored. The lack of professional leadership at BSO is becoming very apparent. The escape of a dangerous murderer from the court house, the Airport Shooter Fiasco, and the hiring of Roger Stone as a political advisor are just a few of the snafu’s. After the shooting at the MSD high a deputy on guard duty there to make the returning students feel safe was caught sleeping in his patrol car. The Governor had to assign FHP Officers to augment BSO. Really. Just like all the other incidents, our Sheriff is going to turn this incident into another funding mission. He will find some officers who are not members of the union and fire them but little else will change. The Chief of Coral Springs PD was not complimentary of much the BSO did that day and was more than a little upset when the High Sheriff arrived to take charge in front of the cameras.