School resource officers fit Florida's legal definition of caregiver, Broward prosecutors say

Broward State Attorney's Office says first responders are not caregivers

By Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

Disgraced former Broward Sheriff's Office Deputy Scot Peterson listens to his lawyer while looking at the judge during a hearing, June 6, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - After prosecutors charged a former Broward Sheriff's Office deputy with child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury stemming from the February 2018 shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, first responders were concerned. 

If convicted, Scot Peterson, a former school resource officer from Broward County Public Schools, faces a potential maximum prison sentence of nearly 100 years. Investigators accuse him of failing to confront the gunman during the Parkland school massacre. 

Union leaders concerned about future liability and Peterson's attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo, have said a first responder should not face the neglect and negligence charge because by definition they are not legally a caregiver.

In a statement, Broward State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Paula McMahon addressed the inquiries about the impact the prosecutors' decision could have on first responders saying that "the circumstances of this case are very fact-specific and highly unlikely to be repeated."

McMahon said the culpable negligence and child neglect charges wouldn't usually apply to first responders. Prosecutors say that under Florida law, a school resource officer is a caregiver and could be liable if there is "no reasonable effort" to protect the minors on campus.

As a person responsible for a child's welfare in Florida, prosecutors say a school resource officer's duty is "to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person."

Investigators said Peterson, who was armed, chose not to confront the active shooter who used an AR-15 rifle to fire 140 rounds inside a school building killing 17 and wounding 17 others.  DiRuzzo said prosecutors are using a legal definition that doesn't apply to Peterson. 

"They are overreaching," DiRuzzo said. 

Peterson, 56, walked out of Broward County Jail Thursday after Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who is the presiding judge in the school shooter's case, reduced his bail from the initial amount of $102,000 to $39,500.

Scherer also lifted some restrictions, including an order that Peterson wear a GPS monitor.

"We expect that he will be treated fairly and appropriately on a going-forward basis and we look to defending against these charges," DiRuzzo said after the hearing.

While saying that Peterson was going to be on standard pretrial release, Scherer also allowed him to go back to his home in North Carolina. He used about $330,000 in real estate to secure his bond, and is not allowed to possess a firearm or work with children.

Although Peterson had already announced his retirement, Sheriff Gregory Tony fired Peterson on the day he was arrested. If convicted, he could face a maximum of nearly 97 years in prison. 

STATE'S INVESTIGATION

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