Former School Resource Officer Scot Peterson, the only person other than the gunman to face charges in the 2018 Parkland massacre when he was accused of failing to rush into the building to confront the mass shooter, has been found not guilty on all charges.
After the first not guilty verdict was read, Peterson placed his head on the table and sobbed while being consoled by his attorney Mark Eiglarsh. Peterson’s wife also wept in the courtroom gallery.
Prosecutors left the courtroom without commenting.
“I got my life back after 4½ years,” Peterson said outside the courtroom. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster.”
He said the only person to blame for the mass shooting “was that monster,” referring to Nikolas Cruz, who was sentenced to life without parole.
Peterson, 60, had faced six counts of child neglect with great bodily harm, one count of child neglect without great harm, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury.
The case was closely watched — Peterson is the only person other than gunman Nikolas Cruz charged in the shooting that took the lives of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, wounding 17 more. Peterson is also the first law enforcement officer charged with child neglect as a “caregiver,” a role that legally applies to parents, babysitters, teachers and even a kidnapper in one unusual case.
Police officers have not been listed among caregivers, but Peterson was not a first responder summoned to the scene to deal with the unfolding crisis. Prosecutors say he was a caregiver because he was the school resource officer assigned specifically to protect the students of the Parkland high school.
When he arrived at the 1200 building, the scene of the shooting, Peterson was armed and standing 10 feet from the east entrance. Cruz, the gunman, was 70 yards away, inside the building approaching the west entrance, where an unarmed man determined to confront him raced into the building. Cruz shot that man, football coach Aaron Feis, who fell dead on the spot.
The shots that killed Feis were the first that Peterson heard, and according to his lawyer, they he could not tell whether those shots came from inside the building or outside. Peterson, armed but not wearing a bulletproof vest, ran from the 1200 building and took cover nearby, reporting shots fired and calling a code red for the Parkland campus.
Peterson has also been named in numerous lawsuits filed by the families of the victims and chastised publicly by everyone from former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel to former President Donald Trump, who all labeled him a coward who failed to do his job.
But Peterson has said, in interviews and through his attorney, that he took cover because the shots could have been coming from outside the 1200 building. The sound of gunfire echoing off nearby buildings created confusion among other responding officers and witnesses, some of whom appeared to believe the shots came from as far away as the football field on the other side of the campus.
The child neglect charges allege that Peterson allowed harm to come to the teachers and children on the third floor of the building. By the time Peterson arrived outside the 1200 building, the damage on the first floor was done, so no charges are associated with the deaths or injuries that took place there. No one was killed or injured on the second floor.
Family members of some of the victims have attended parts of the trial, characterizing it as a referendum on accountability. Last year, the gunman was sentenced to life in prison after
If convicted, Peterson would face the possibility of decades in prison, though such a sentence is unlikely for someone who spent 32 unblemished years as a law enforcement officer with no prior criminal record. He would, in all likelihood, lose his pension.
Deliberations began late Monday and ran through Tuesday before resuming Wednesday morning.
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