Judge in Parkland school shooting deputy’s case denies defense’s motion

Defense attempts to use jury instructions to plant doubt on child neglect charges

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Scot Peterson was the armed Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy who was working at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland.

Peterson, now a disgraced former deputy criticized over his alleged inaction while 17 died and 17 were injured, is facing charges of child neglect, culpable negligence, and perjury.

During a pre-trial hearing Thursday, Peterson’s defense argued that state law doesn’t define a school resource officer as a “caregiver,” the job prosecutors argue Peterson was being paid to do.

“No law enforcement officer has ever been charged under this statute,” Attorney Mark Eiglarsh, who represents Peterson, argued in court about the Florida law that defines a “caregiver” neglecting a child as a crime.

Broward County Circuit Judge Martin S. Fein considered the defense’s requests to give applicable special instructions to the jury and to allow a questionnaire about journalists’ coverage of the case.

Prosecutors have surveillance video showing Peterson’s alleged inaction as a 19-year-old former student fired an AR-15-style rifle inside a three-story building with 30 classrooms and two unarmed school employees rushed inside during the shooting and died.

Peterson resigned after former Sheriff Scott Israel suspended him. In 2019, Peterson was arrested after a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation concluded he “did absolutely nothing” and BSO held an administrative discipline hearing under Sheriff Gregory Tony.

“Our greatest fear, in this case, is not the facts, but making sure that we get a fair and partial jury,” Eiglarsh said. “There is no question that the publicity has been unfavorable because people don’t know what really happened.”

Fein denied the motion denied the defense’s requests on the special jury instructions, but he did allow a questionnaire on journalists’ coverage of the case.

Prosecutors charged Peterson with seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence, and one count of perjury. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in May.

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

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.