FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Closing arguments are scheduled Monday in the trial of a former Florida sheriff’s deputy accused of failing to confront the shooter who murdered 14 students and three staff members at a Parkland high school five years ago.
Prosecutors and the attorney for one-time Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson spent his trial contesting what he heard, saw and knew during the six-minute attack inside a three-story classroom building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
Peterson, 60, is charged with felony child neglect and other charges for his alleged failure to confront former student Nikolas Cruz before the gunman reached the 1200 building’s third floor, where six of the victims died.
Peterson is not charged in connection with the deaths of 11 people killed on the first floor before he reached the building.
It is the first time a U.S. law enforcement officer has been tried in connection with a school shooting.
Prosecutors, during their two-week presentation, called to the witness stand students, teachers and law enforcement officers who testified about the horror they experienced and how they knew where Cruz was.
Some said they knew for certain that the shots were coming from the 1200 building. Prosecutors also called a training supervisor who testified that Peterson did not follow protocols for confronting an active shooter.
During his two-day presentation, Peterson’s attorney Mark Eiglarsh called several deputies who arrived during the shooting and students and teachers who testified that they did not think the shots were coming from the 1200 building.
Peterson, who did not testify, has said that because of echoes, he could not pinpoint the shooter's location.
Eiglarsh has also emphasized the failure of the sheriff’s radio system during the attack, which limited what Peterson heard from arriving deputies.
The jury will also have to decide whether Peterson was a “caregiver” to the juvenile students who died and were wounded on the third floor — a legal requirement for him to be convicted of child neglect.
Florida law defines a caregiver as “a parent, adult household member or other person responsible for a child’s welfare.” Caregivers are guilty of felony neglect if they fail to make a “reasonable effort” to protect children or don’t provide necessary care.
Security videos show that 36 seconds after Cruz’s attack began, Peterson exited his office about 100 yards from the 1200 building and jumped into a cart with two unarmed civilian security guards. They arrived at the building a minute later.
Peterson got out of the cart near the east doorway to the first-floor hallway. Cruz was at the hallway’s opposite end, firing his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.
Peterson, who wasn’t wearing a bullet-resistant vest, didn’t open the door. Instead, he took cover 75-feet away in the alcove of a neighboring building, his gun still drawn.
He stayed there for 40 minutes, long after the shooting ended and other police officers had stormed the building.
Peterson faces up to nearly 100 years in prison if convicted, although because of his clean record a sentence anywhere near that length is highly unlikely.
He could also lose his $104,000 annual pension. He had spent nearly three decades working at schools, including nine years at Stoneman Douglas. He retired shortly after the shooting and was then fired retroactively.