Op-Ed Published June 13, 2019, in Florida Today
Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
That’s one way to sum up an analysis of Broward School Resource Officer Scot Peterson’s behavior, or lack thereof, as to why he did not take appropriate action when a crazed shooter went on a shooting rampage at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, killing 17 kids and adults, and wounding 17 more. After all, taking action was his job.
Peterson, age 56, with a 30-year law enforcement career behind him, has now been charged with 11 counts of criminal misconduct including culpable negligence, perjury and felony child neglect. Upon being arrested and fired from the job, the judge set a modest bond at $39,500. If convicted on all counts, Peterson could conceivably be sentenced to 97 years in prison.
What did he do? Nothing.
That’s the problem. Rather than take action, even if it meant risking his life, he took no action other than communicating on radio. This is a case of someone being charged with a crime for what he didn’t do, not what he did do. Several news reports relate how Peterson walked outside of the building, as multiple gunshots were heard from inside. Rather than jumping into the fray, Peterson adopted the famous cliché that it’s “better to be a live coward than a dead hero.” From the outside of the building and a closed door, Peterson had no knowledge where the shooter was stationed. Entering blindly without back-up would be perilous indeed. The shooter would have total advantage.
Regardless, it’s understandable that outraged family members of victims are calling for severe punishment, because it was Peterson’s job to enter and confront the shooter. After all, it was his job.
Prosecutors are going full steam ahead toward a criminal trial in hopes of terminating this man’s free life. It won’t be easy. Juries are well known for sympathizing with law enforcement officers in assault cases where their guilt seemed obvious. I was lead investigator in Dade County’s infamous Arthur McDuffie 1980 beating death by a gang of cops wielding batons. Several other officers on the scene testified against their fellow cops. The case should have been a slam dunk.
Not according to the jury. “Not guilty,” on all counts.
In 1991, a man named Rodney King lay on the pavement holding his head while a group of Los Angeles officers pummeled him with night sticks. Street cameras recorded the melee, showing several officers assaulting a defenseless man. Those officers were charged and tried by a jury. The evidence was clear.
“Not guilty,” all counts.
Who can explain it? I know of other instances when out-of-control police officers were exonerated of wrongdoing. These cases produced undeniable evidence of felonious assault and murder/manslaughter against a civilian.
But, in Peterson’s case, he tried to hurt no one. He assaulted no one.
Ironically, Peterson had attended several training classes about confronting mass shooters, and was an instructor as well. But when the real thing came along, the man obviously froze, became confused, afraid or incompetent, or all three. That’s not being a criminal, but it sure indicates he was a man in the wrong profession.
Politicians, prosecutors, teachers, cops and people related to the victims have expressed outrage demanding “justice” be served, i.e., revenge. That’s understandable, but it is not realistic.
From what I can evaluate, without knowing every detail, and judging from my past experience in law enforcement, I see a likely conviction for the charge of perjury under oath. If the lie is on record, then it’s cut and dry. For that, he can get a maximum of one year in prison. He also may lose his lifetime pension and remain publicly vilified for life.
I doubt we’ll see a conviction for any crimes otherwise. I think the prosecutors know that. But it’s important to placate the outraged. After all, someone has to pay for the crimes —besides the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who did it all.
Difficult to judge. I’ve not walked in his shoes.
Visit www.marshallfrank.com for list of his 14 published books, including six novels.