PARKLAND, Fla. - Several parents of victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre said that if former Broward Sheriff's Office Deputy Scot Peterson, who stood outside the school for several minutes while bullets rang out, had done his job, their children might not have lost their lives.
"I think Peterson is the lowest form of life available," said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was gunned down on the third floor. "My daughter would be alive if not for him."
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel publicly criticized Peterson for his inaction during the shooting that left 17 dead and others wounded, but he didn't fire the 54-year-old deputy, instead allowing him to resign. Local 10 News caught up with Peterson outside his home in Boynton Beach, where he is living on his $100,000-a-year public pension. The deputy, who had yet to face any media, simply turned and hurried inside, saying only, "Don't come on my property."
But now, a report that recently surfaced has some victims' families calling for a renewed investigation of Peterson for a case he handled four years to the day prior to the massacre. The case involved two 17-year-old students bullying a 14-year-old freshman, with one holding down the younger boy by his ankles while the other kicked the victim, grabbed his genitals and then took the victim's own baseball bat and began shoving it against his buttocks, simulating rape, through the boy's clothes.
One of those assailants, the boy who allegedly held down the victim, was Israel's son, Brett. Defense attorney Alex Arreaza, who represents shooting victim Anthony Borges, who was shot five times in the Valentine's Day massacre but survived, said the case could have led to felony charges.
"He could be charged with a lewd and lascivious, and I'm being conservative," Arreaza said.
Peterson claims in the report that it was a "simple battery" under the board's discipline matrix, and he decided to give both of the boy's attackers a three-day suspension.
"What is that? Is that like an alternative universe law?" Arreaza said. "What happens? Because you're in the school you don't have to obey regular laws?"
In fact, the disciplinary matrix includes "sexual misconduct" and "serious" battery, both of which, arguably, apply in this case.
"You will never see somebody grabbing somebody's crotch and poking some kid in the butt with a bat and getting a simple battery for it," Arreaza said when asked if he believed the sheriff's son received preferential treatment.
When Local 10 relayed the facts of the incident to him for the first time, Guttenberg said it "infuriated" him.
"Scot Peterson failed to do his job again," he said. "It's just another example of a bad crime and somebody not being held accountable. It's kind of interesting the intersection of the same people."
For Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was also killed on the third floor at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the case appears to be another incident of undue leniency for students accused of crimes, much of it stemming from the controversial PROMISE program designed to keep minors out of jail. The school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, never faced any charges despite numerous incidents inside and outside of school, including one that led to a referral to the PROMISE program, with which Superintendent Robert Runcie claimed Cruz had never been associated.
Pollack also said he believed Peterson's handling of the incident may have provided Peterson job security at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"[Peterson] was lazy and this could have given him protection to keep his job at the school during those four years," Pollack said.
In a written statement, Borges' father, Royer Borges, said, "Maybe if Deputy Peterson would have been made to answer for this, he may have been replaced by a more competent deputy."
"If this wouldn't have been the sheriff's son, would a sexual assault have been reduced to a simple battery?" he went on to say.
Peterson noted in his report that the victim's parents were notified of the discipline and "did not request additional law enforcement action." The mother of the victim confirmed this to Local 10, saying the family members only wanted to put the matter behind them and that her son had made peace with the sheriff's son.
Israel didn't reply to multiple requests for comment from Local 10.
Both Borges and Guttenberg said they believe Peterson's handling of the assault should be investigated.
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