South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Rafael Olmeda | August 19, 2021
Scot Peterson, the former deputy accused of taking cover while dozens were shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, will have to convince a jury that he’s not guilty of criminal negligence, a Broward judge ruled Thursday.
Peterson, 58, asked Broward Circuit Judge Martin Fein on Wednesday to dismiss the criminal charges he’s facing because he does not meet the legal definition of a caregiver as defined in Florida law. Peterson is charged with multiple counts of criminal neglect of a child by a caregiver. Peterson’s lawyer, Mark Eiglarsh, argued that the laws defining a caregiver explicitly omit law enforcement officers.
But it will be up to a jury to decide whether a school resource officer, whose duties include protecting children on campus, should be considered a caregiver as well, Fein ruled. The jury instruction for the specific charge asks the jury to determine whether the defendant is a caregiver, Fein noted.
Stoneman Douglas was the scene of a mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. Gunman Nikolas Cruz, who faces the death penalty if convicted, is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and another 17 counts of first-degree attempted murder.
While the gunman was making his way through the hallways of the freshman building on the Parkland campus, Peterson was outside taking cover, according to surveillance video. Peterson’s failure to act resulted in a mountain of criticism as well as the negligence charges.
On Wednesday, he was near tears outside a Broward courtroom, saying his actions at the scene had been misjudged and that he never would have stood by while children and friends were being killed.
“The public has been fed a false narrative about Scot Peterson,” his lawyer, Eiglarsh, said Thursday. “We have overwhelming evidence proving that the numerous actions that my client took during the attack was done to save lives.”
In previous cases, Florida courts have ruled a baby sitter, a landlord and even a kidnapper met the definition of caregiver under the statute, Fein noted.
Eiglarsh said he was disappointed in the ruling. “We take solace knowing that the truth will come out at trial. My client is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and did all he could to save lives during Nikolas Cruz’s abhorrent massacre.”