The lawyer for Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson said his client has been unfairly described as a “coward” for following protocol when he didn’t race into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during a gunman’s deadly rampage.
Peterson, who was the school resource officer, resigned last week amid severe criticism from Sheriff Scott Israel — and President Trump. The sheriff publicly chastised Peterson, saying the deputy stood outside for several minutes and did not enter the building to confront the shooter.
Seventeen students and staff were killed and more than a dozen injured in the shootings Feb. 14.
“Allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue,” his lawyer, Joseph A. DiRuzzo III, said in a statement.
DiRuzzo said Peterson believed the shooting was taking place outside the school and followed protocol for such an incident. That included taking up a “tactical position” outside the building and initiating a Code Red lockdown.
Peterson, DiRuzzo said, had the “presence of mind” to have school administrators go to the school’s video room and review the closed-circuit cameras to locate the shooter and then obtain a description for law enforcement.
The deputy gave his keys to the Coral Springs SWAT team and provided handwritten diagrams of the entire Stoneman Douglas campus for student evacuation, the lawyer said.
“It is our understanding that Sheriff Israel acknowledged that the investigation remains ongoing and that ‘investigations will not be rushed or asked to jump to conclusions,’ ” DiRuzzo said. “We question why this statement would not also apply to Mr. Peterson?”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is examining the response of all officers in the case. DiRuzzo said Peterson will cooperate with the inquiry that “we believe will ultimately clear Mr. Peterson’s name.”
Peterson has been the object of public scorn; Trump is among his biggest detractors. Monday, Trump described Peterson’s behavior as “disgusting” and said the deputy “choked.” But, he said, “you never know until you’re tested.”
Trump expressed confidence that he would have gone into the building.
“I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon,” Trump told a group of state governors gathered at the White House. “And I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too.”
Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said the group does not train school officers in Florida — it’s one of the few states the group doesn’t work in, he said.
Generally, Canady said, school resource officers meet three criteria: They’re sworn, certified law enforcement officers with at least three years on the job; they must be trained in community-based policing; and the program must be a collaboration between the school district and a local law enforcement agency.
“This job is not for every law enforcement officer. In fact it’s for a small portion of officers.”
Canady said he wasn’t sure whether the deputies assigned to the school in Parkland were school resource officers, or SROs. “I don’t know if they fit the definition of an SRO or not,” he said. “It’s a lot more than just being an armed guard.”
Fallout from the tragedy has landed on Sheriff Israel. Sunday, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran sent Gov. Rick Scott a letter signed by 74 lawmakers asking the governor to suspend Israel.
“The failures of Sheriff Israel and his deputies during and after the horrific shooting … and their failures to intervene regarding (accused gunman) Nikolas Jacob Cruz in the years, months and days leading up to that shooting are unacceptable and unforgivable,” the letter said.
The NRA blasted Israel, who has accused the gun lobby of failing to stand up for school shooting survivors. Israel supported a student-led campaign to ban assault weapons, a proposal the NRA opposes.
“No Sheriff Israel you were the one that didn’t PROTECT these children and that is your job,” the NRA said in a tweet, adding that “your office failed this community.”
Israel’s supporters include student Brandon Abzug. Abzug tweeted that it was apparent the FBI, sheriff’s deputies and politicians all made mistakes.
“But as Yoda once said, ‘The greatest teacher, failure is.’ Now is our opportunity to make things right,” Abzug tweeted.