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Sheriff's Deputy Who Was On Duty The Day Of Parkland Shooting Arrested

Jun 4, 2019
Originally published on June 4, 2019 5:03 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's been more than a year since a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and killed 17 people. Today in South Florida, a resource officer and sheriff's deputy who was at the school that day was arrested. Scott Peterson responded to the sound of gunshots by going to the building where a gunman was active, but he never went inside. His arrest today follows a 14-month investigation by Florida's Department of Law Enforcement. Joining us now from Miami is NPR's Greg Allen. He's covered the shooting. Greg, first tell us a little bit more about Scott Peterson and more about how he responded to the shooting.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Yes. Well, as you may recall, Audie, Scott Peterson was the school resource officer there - a longtime officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He's a Broward - he was a Broward County sheriff's deputy who was stationed there. The day of the shooting, when the gunshots began, he went to the freshman building where a gunman was inside, but he stationed himself outside the building. He never made a move to enter.

When other sheriff's deputies arrived later, he told some of them to help set up a perimeter outside. The first officers to finally enter the school from another department - not from the Broward sheriff's department - was from the Coral Springs Police Department. But by then, the shootings were over. The gunman had fled by hiding himself in the crowd of students leaving the school. In all, you had 17 students, teachers and administrators killed that day, and 17 others were injured. And the whole time, Scott Peterson stayed outside.

CORNISH: What are the charges against him?

ALLEN: Well, he's facing 11 charges. Seven of them are child neglect. There are three counts of culpable negligence, one count of perjury. Several of the counts are felonies, and so they carry a pretty stiff sentence here of a maximum penalty of more than 96 years in prison.

CORNISH: Now, as we said, this follows a 14-month investigation. Can you talk about the process, the delay in taking legal action against Peterson?

ALLEN: Right. Well, immediately after the shooting, Scott Peterson retired. And he always kind of defended him - in the very few interviews he gave, he defended his actions, said in some cases, he didn't know where the shots were coming from. Those were kind of belied by other comments he made, and I think they might have something to do with the perjury charge against him. But he was quickly branded at that time by then-Broward Sheriff Scott Israel as a coward. Peterson drew the ire of the entire community, kind of went into hiding.

One issue that emerged after the shootings - and it's not really clear how this affects him, but it's kind of parallel to this - is that the Broward Sheriff's Department had a policy that did not require officers to go toward the gunfire and stop the shooting - stop the shooter at the time. The police - the policy at the time said an officer would use their judgment and they may go toward the gunfire. And that was one of many factors that led to Sheriff Scott Israel's removal from office earlier this year.

But in the meantime, there was this ongoing investigation. It took 14 months. And now, at the end of it, Scott Peterson is now under arrest.

CORNISH: You talked about him drawing the ire of the community. What's been the reaction in Parkland now to this arrest?

ALLEN: Well, this, of course, has been something people have been looking for for a long time. Family members of those who were killed are calling it a victory. Fred Guttenberg, father of Jaime Guttenberg said - this is a quote from him - he said, "he could have saved my daughter, and he didn't. May he rot in hell." Jaime Guttenberg was one of the last to be shot that day, and so that's some pretty raw feelings here about all this.

What we heard from a - the current sheriff in Broward County, Gregory Tony, said it's never too late to - for accountability and justice. He also fired another officer who was involved at the school today, as well. He's not charged. And we heard from Florida Department of Law Enforcement head Rick Swearingen who said there can be no excuse for Peterson's complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Thank you for your reporting.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.