Ex-deputy needs to pay for retreating during Parkland shooting, parents say

Scot Peterson charged with child neglect, culpable negligence, perjury

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Broward County school board member Lori Alhadeff said the former Broward Sheriff's Office deputy who chose not to confront a gunman last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland needs to go to prison for life.

Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, was killed during the Valentine's Day massacre, said she remembers sending a text message to her daughter saying that help was on the way.

"Well, Peterson was that help, but he froze, and he failed us all that day," Alhadeff said. "He was supposedly the good guy with the gun who was supposed to go in and meet the threat, and he let us all down."

After a 14-month long Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, Scot Peterson was arrested Tuesday after he attended an administrative discipline hearing at the BSO headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. He remained at Broward County's main jail in Fort Lauderdale early Wednesday. 

Scot Peterson, 56, has been charged with seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury.
Scot Peterson, 56, has been charged with seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury.

Peterson, 56, is charged with child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury, which stems from a statement under oath saying that he did not hear any gunshots when he took cover. The shooting left 17 people dead.

Tony Montalto, whose daughter, Gina, also 14, died in the attack, is the president of the Stand With Parkland victim families' group. She said the families of the victims want justice to be done.

"We are happy to see some accountability for this tragedy," Montalto said. 

In a statement, FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said Peterson "did absolutely nothing to mitigate" the tragedy that left 14 students, ages 14 to 18, and three staff members, ages 35 to 49, dead.

"There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives," Swearingen said. 

FDLE investigators reviewed surveillance video and compiled about 180 witness testimonies. Surveillance video shows Peterson chose to hide for 48 minutes outside of the school's building 12, even though he was the only one armed with a gun when the shooting started.

Investigators also found Peterson directed other deputies to remain 500 feet away from building 12. He refused to testify in front of the state's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

Peterson "is a coward, a failure and a criminal," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairman of the commission, said. "There is no doubt in my mind that, because he didn't act, people were killed."

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, who replaced former Sheriff Scott Israel, fired Peterson and former Sgt. Brian Miller, the first supervisor at the scene, for neglect of duty. Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Israel for neglect of duty and incompetence. 

Peterson's attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo III, said the "spurious charges" will be hard to prove because they are "a thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution." He also said he will take on the extraordinary case and "vigorously defend" Peterson.  

Jeff Bell, the BSO's union president, said the charges against Peterson concern him because, in order for the child neglect charge to be applicable, "you have to be a caretaker of the individual child, so is Deputy Peterson a caretaker of the children at that school or is he a resource officer assigned to that school?"

If Peterson is released on a $102,000 bond Wednesday, he will have to wear a GPS monitor and surrender his passport. If he is found guilty of the seven felonies and four misdemeanors, he faces up to 96 years in prison.

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