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Deputy accused of failing to act during school shooting says he's no coward

Deputy Scot Peterson accuses Sheriff Scot Israel of maligning him

PARKLAND, Fla. – Broward Sheriff's Office Deputy Scot Peterson released a statement Monday saying that his alleged failure to enter the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building during a shooting while on duty was not a sign of cowardice.

Peterson believes his actions on Feb. 14 were appropriate being that he first received a call of firecrackers -- and not gunfire. In response, Peterson and Kelvin Greenleaf, a school security guard, exited the school's 100 building and ran to the 1200 building. 

"Peterson heard gunshots but believed that those gunshots were originating from outside of any of the buildings," his attorney wrote in a statement. "BSO trains its officers that in the event of outdoor gunfire one is to seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes."

Attorney Joseph A. DiRuzzo, who released the statement to Local 10 News after the Miami Herald reported his response, said the criticism of Peterson's actions was "unfounded" and accused Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel of maligning him. 

File: Scot Peterson statement

"The allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue," DiRuzzo wrote. 

Peterson claims that consistent with his training he "took up a tactical position between the 700-800 buildings corridor" and was the first BSO deputy to advise BSO dispatch that he had heard shots fired and was initiating a "Code Red" lockdown. 

Peterson said he told the first Coral Springs Police Department officer who responded that he "thought that the shots were coming from outside," so the officer, who had a rifle, also took cover.

"Radio transmissions indicated that there was a gunshot victim in the area of the football field, which served to confirm Mr. Peterson's believe that the shooter, or shooters, were outside," DiRuzzo wrote. 

Peterson claims he had the school administrators go to the school's video room to review the closed-circuit cameras to locate the shooter and obtain the suspect's description. Nikolas Cruz, 19, later confessed to having killed people in the first, second and third floors of the building. 

"Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the 17 victims on that day and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need," DiRuzzo wrote in a statement. 

Peterson claims he provided his keys to the Coral Springs SWAT team so that they could enter the 1200 building, where Cruz confessed to having fired his AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon to kill in the first, second and third floors. He said he also provided BSO SWAT Command with handwritten diagrams of the school for student evacuation. 

"Peterson is looking forward to cooperating with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's investigation, which we hope will detail the events of that tragic day and which we believe will ultimately clear Mr. Peterson's name," DiRuzzo wrote. 

Israel accepted Peterson's decision to resign/retire Thursday before he was suspended without pay during the duration of the investigation of his actions during the Valentine's Day massacre. Israel said that when he saw a video showing Peterson taking cover he felt sick to his stomach and said he believed that Peterson should have "went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer."

Peterson's attorney said his client is confident that his actions on that day were appropriate under the circumstances and that the video will exonerate him.

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.