Courtesy of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office via AP
If gun rights advocates could blame a single person for much of the ill that has befallen the Second Amendment in the last year or so, we’d probably point to former Broward Count Deputy Scot Peterson. As a school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he waited outside as the gunman stalked students and teachers, killing 17 of them.
As a result, he was branded a coward by many, including me.
He even had to face a civil lawsuit, which was thrown out. That probably had Peterson feeling like he was free and clear. Well, that might have been a little premature.
On Tuesday, [Broward Sheriff Gregory] Tony announced the termination of Peterson and Sergeant Brian Miller who were found to have neglected their duties.
“We cannot fulfill our commitment to always protect the security and safety of our Broward County community without doing a thorough assessment of what went wrong that day,” Tony said in a statement. “I am committed to addressing deficiencies and improving the Broward Sheriff’s Office.”
Peterson’s arrest by the FDLE came as a result of a 15-month investigation into the actions of law enforcement following the shooting. He’s been charged with seven counts of neglect of a child and three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury.
“The FDLE investigation shows former Deputy Peterson did absolutely nothing to mitigate the MSD shooting that killed 17 children, teachers and staff and injured 17 others,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a statement. “There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.”
As news circulated on social media, many applauded the move, but also noted that the courts have ruled over and over again that the police have no obligation to protect. That’s why the earlier civil suit was tossed. That led many to believe that the charges against Peterson wouldn’t hold up. Him being fired would sabotage his retirement, but there was no way the charges themselves would hold up. Again, the courts have been pretty clear on that.
That is certainly accurate. The Constitution confers no duty to protect by law enforcement.
However, Peterson stands accused of something different. You see, the charges against him revolve around neglect. By failing to act, it’s alleged, Peterson allowed people to die. In our system, there are times when not acting is seen as a criminal act.
That’s what Peterson is facing.
Further, this might stick. You see, while the courts have routinely found the police have no duty to protect, there is an exception.
There are exceptions, Mr. Hutchinson said, as when a crossing guard who is specifically assigned to protect children traveling across a street allows a child to get run over while, say, the guard is being distracted by a smartphone. The crossing guard is in a “special relationship” with the children, in legal eyes.
When an officer has a “special relationship” with people, or acts to “enhance the risk” of harm, the officer can be liable for any resulting injury under state negligence laws, Mr. Hutchinson said.
This is likely how Judge Henning found that Mr. Peterson did have a duty to protect those inside the school and refused to dismiss the negligence lawsuit filed by Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed.
The county lawsuit argued that Mr. Peterson had a “special relationship” with students and staff members at the school because he was specifically assigned to offer them protection.
That doesn’t look good for Peterson, especially since that’s an accurate description of the role of a school resource officer.
According to the United States Department of Justice, “SROs are sworn law enforcement officers responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools.” In other words, his job was to protect. That means it was his duty.
While I can’t definitively say that Scot Peterson is guilty of neglecting that duty, I can certainly say that my opinion is that he did and I’m glad he will potentially face punishment for that. Not all of the slain that day at Parkland can be laid at Peterson’s feet, but enough of them can that I’m amazed he can live with himself.
However, these are just charges. It remains to be seen if Peterson will be convicted of anything, even if a large number of people think he should. Most of us aren’t attorneys, after all, nor have I ever played one on TV. For most of us, we’ll have to wait and watch.