HARD TO JUDGE: PARKLAND SCHOOL OFFICER

 

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.

 

Guilty? Not guilty? Hard to judge school resource officer’s fate|Opinion

18 Responses to HARD TO JUDGE: PARKLAND SCHOOL OFFICER

  1. Laura June 13, 2019 at 8:27 am #

    What a mess this one is – no? This poor schlub did nothing and now there is a smell of blood. Of course, I’ve not lost a child to violence so I cannot speak to revenge. But, as your article points out …what is the point?

  2. Bill Schultz June 13, 2019 at 8:38 am #

    Dear Marshall:

    The McDuffie & King cases you cite involve jury decisions where the involved juries were confronted with actions performed by the officers in the line of duty. However, as you point out, this was a decision on the officer’s part to do nothing. I’m not sure that a jury will be as willing to forgive an officer for his failure to act.

    Would I be as willing to forgive you for your walking away from my plight as I would for your over-action to defend me (or mine)? I’m not sure that I would.

  3. Charles Pierce June 13, 2019 at 8:41 am #

    A very similar suit was dismissed in Federal Court. This one will end up in the same place. The supreme Court in Castle Rock vs Gonzalas ruled that police officers work to protect the government, not the individual citizens. Kind of stupid, as the citizens pay for police protection, perhaps we need less police and more CCP licenses.

  4. Helen Bennett June 13, 2019 at 8:44 am #

    What’s the point of having an armed guard at a school if he’s not going to act? The man is guilty, in my view–but doesn’t deserve a lifetime in prison.

    • PATRICK PESCE June 13, 2019 at 11:34 am #

      Agree. I too was in law enforcement, I can’t imagine hiding behind a wall or concrete pillar while there is an active shooter in of all places a school for children. Was he wearing his bullet proof vest? GUILTY!!!!

  5. Don G. June 13, 2019 at 8:52 am #

    Marshall,

    Great article. Not that it matters, but I agree with all of your points.

  6. Tom June 13, 2019 at 8:57 am #

    Yes Marshall it’s so easy to “Monday morning Quarterback”. Your analyses & comments reflect that of most of us who have worn the badge. I’m not so sure in his case however, that it’s better to be a live coward then a dead hero. I sure would hate to be in his shoes.
    Well written as always. Keep up the good work. Tom

  7. Glenn Moffett June 13, 2019 at 9:02 am #

    I’ve not heard all the evidence either, so you may be 100% correct about he being scared, confused, incompetent, or all three. But I remember initial media reports that Peterson was ordered by the female BSO Captain to stay outside and establish a perimeter. Given that senerio, what would his career standing be if he violated a direct order and got himself injured or others by his own rounds? Didn’t they discipline and/or fire or retire the Capt? Right or wrong decision, it seems like he would be screwed either way. Morally, yes that’s another story, but spending the rest of his life in prison and losing his pension is wrong I think. It seems to me like they’re just looking for a scapegoat to blame and punish someone else other than the shooter who is solely and individually responsible for the tragedy.

  8. Christopher Jones June 13, 2019 at 9:46 am #

    What a mess. After walking in his shoes (which I did) my opinion of him is rather slanted. We did train to go towards the gunfire, and we did NOT know where the shooters were. We actually simulated a shooting in a (closed for the summer) school, and someone was inside shooting with blanks. We went to the noise. Yes, we were extremely vulnerable.
    I don’t know what hands on training he had, so it is tough for me to determine if he was absolutely aware that his job was to lay his life on the line as an SRO, but it was. In my time as an SRO, I had only one experience where I headed off a potential shooter who was riding his bicycle towards the school with a hand gun. He was taken into custody without incident, and of course no one ever heard about it, as it was a nothing burger. Peterson has been thoroughly ruined career wise, and reputation wise. Maybe a year in the can is sufficient. The lives of all those people lost at Parkland will be on his conscience for the rest of his life, and that may be worse than anything we could do to him. We better step up our game training wise though.

  9. Bob James June 13, 2019 at 10:36 am #

    Marshall,

    All of the current publicity over Deputy Scot Peterson regarding his response to a mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is a red herring! It should not be an issue at this time. The main issue should be about the murdering punk, Nikolas Cruz, who murdered 17 souls at the high school and seriously wounded dozens more on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018. Why is he still alive? He should have been tried and executed over a year ago. Consider the way we used to deal with known pre-meditated murderers.

    On February 15, 1933, at Bayfront Park in Miami, FL, a left-wing radical socialist named Giuseppe Zangara attempted to kill President-elect Franklin Roosevelt with a 32 caliber handgun. He fired five shots at Roosevelt but missed Roosevelt and hit five other people, including Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was appearing with Roosevelt. Zangara was quickly captured at the scene, tried and convicted of attempted murder.

    He was sentenced to 80 years in prison. On March 6, 1933, just 19 days after the attempted murder, Mayor Cermak died of gunshot wounds from Zangara’s assault. This now made him guilty of first degree murder. He was quickly retried for murder, convicted and sentenced to death.

    On March 20, 1933, just 34 days after he shot and killed Mayor Anton Cermak, Giuseppe Zangara was put to death in the electric chair of the Florida State Prison in Raiford, FL. On the date of his execution, Zangara was not sorry for what he had done, but instead was enraged that there were no news reel cameras present to film his last moments of fame as a leftist revolutionary..

    Fast forward to Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018, when a 19-year old punk named Nikolas Cruz calmly walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida with a fully loaded semi-automatic rifle, and for no apparent reason, deliberately murdered 17 students and teachers with his rifle. Many others were wounded, some who yet may die from their wounds. Ironically, these two incidents of planned, pre-meditated murders occurred in South Florida, almost exactly 85 years ago to the day, just 46 miles from each other.

    Just like in 1933, when there was no doubt whatsoever of the guilt of Guiseppe Zangara of pre-meditated murder of Mayor Anton Cermak, there is likewise no doubt whatsoever of the guilt of the punk Nikolas Cruz in the pre-meditated murder of 17 innocent souls. The motive for the murderous actions of Zangara were clearly political; he hated Roosevelt. What is not clear or understandable is why a punk like Nikolas Cruz chose to enter a high school and stroll about, murdering as many people as he could. This should have put him at the head of the line for a very speedy capital murder trial and conviction. This vicious, amoral beast should have been found guilty, executed and disposed of over a year ago. The trial of Nikolas Cruz, not Scot Peterson needs to proceed. Every day this murdering punk lives is an insult to all of those who lost loved ones that Valentine’s Day in 2018.

    If the justice system in 1933 was able to conduct a trial, convict and execute a murderer 34 days after the crime, it would have made perfect sense for Nikolas Cruz to have been tried and found guilty of the murder of 17 souls, sentenced to death and executed within 34 days of a crime of far, far greater magnitude than Zangara’s. His execution could have been on or about March 19, 2018, almost 85 years to the day of Guiseppe Zangara’s execution. Just like Zangara’s execution, there should be no news persons present to feed his ego or make him a martyr of some kind.

    Leave Scot Peterson alone for now. All eyes should be on the fate of the murdering punk, Nikolas Cruz. He has lived entirely too long.

  10. Roger L. Cox June 13, 2019 at 11:09 am #

    He didn’t do his sworn duty. Many lives might have been saved if he had acted. Shame on him also.

  11. Steve Gure June 13, 2019 at 11:23 am #

    Peterson chose to keep receiving and enjoying his large pension. If there is any justice in this world, it should be taken away from him. In your description of previous cops’ criminal actions which juries ignored , I believe the people serving on those juries decided that even if the cops acted incorrectly, the perps deserved it and I do not know if they were wrong.

  12. PATRICK PESCE June 13, 2019 at 11:48 am #

    Marshall, I just can’t imagine a trained law enforcement officer hiding behind a wall or concrete pillar while there is an active shooter in of all places a school. Yes he may be at a tactical disadvantage-TOUGH SHIT ! he was well trained. He could have tried to enter the building tactically and hopefully wearing his issued bullet proof vest. I too was a law enforcement officer and encountered many harrowing circumstances. As far as I am concerned this guy was a COWARD, living or dead! He failed in his sworn duty to protect and serve. Had he upheld his oath of office he may have been able to save a life if not more than one. He disgraced our profession and should go to jail for a VERY LONG TIME!!!!! When I think of the horror those kids were facing while he was hiding his ass makes me want to vomit.

  13. Thomas J. Ault June 13, 2019 at 12:27 pm #

    There are always several sides to a situation. If persons are to seek revenge, they are wrong in doing so because in the heat of an argument, an action, or in this case a dire situation how do any of us know how we will act? I don’t.

    I do believe, in this particular case, the man (and his supervisor) should both be relieve of their jobs. They seem to not be of the type to be officers of the law. It does not say anywhere that this is your job and you need to die for it…that would just add one more death to the scenario, but it does seem some action other than walking back and forth does not seem like the action a dedicated officer of the law could live with.

    I firmly believe in forgiving, but no one ever forgets.

  14. Mike Carr June 13, 2019 at 12:52 pm #

    My 2 cents. The man was hired for ONE reason: to protect the unarmed students from a crazed armed gunman. He TOTALLY FAILED in his one single duty. I’m sure his training covered those “how do I react if the real thing happens?” Innocent until proven guilty. Let the chips fall where they may.

  15. Ron June 13, 2019 at 2:06 pm #

    Many articles have been written regarding this situation and many different opinions expressed. I was in law enforcement for 34 years. Can I say I know how I would react.No I can not until I am faced with that situation.I do know that many stories were written here in South Florida and one of them stated that the policy of the BSO at the time of the incident was that no one should go into a situation that could be considered a suicide mission.Other articles have since been written stating how that policy has now been changed to state you will go in.What punishment will the school board folks,the FBI, and others who had been alerted to this persons mental state and previous actions be served with since they did nothing to interact with him or check him or his home further and discover he had these types of weapons.Peterson is being used as a scape goat since he is at the bottom of the pecking order and no one wants to hold higher ups accountable. And then to “fire him” after a year since he retired.That is just trying to exact another pound of flesh.I believe also ( may be incorrect) that a court ruling within the last year or two in a similar case ruled that a law enforcement officer had no duty to respond in such situations. I was shocked when I saw the ruling in the news,but I do believe that was the case.I do not recall the location of that incident or which court ruled.Time will tell how this turns out.

  16. Peter Aydelotte June 14, 2019 at 8:06 am #

    The SCOTUS has ruled that there is no duty to protect, unless the person is in custody.The SOP at the time was to perimeter and call in SRT, bad procedure. I have never hid and have gone into things I probably should not have, but it does not matter what you do if things turn out right, if they do not turn out right then the SHTF, In this case he is being scapegoated and it is wrong.
    A COWARD DIES A HUNDRED DEATHS, a hero only once…. an old Indian saying,
    TODAY IS A GOOD DAY TO DIE…………………………..

  17. Anthony Frigo June 20, 2019 at 7:36 am #

    Great article.

Leave a Reply