Trial begins for Parkland deputy

Trial begins for Parkland deputy
(Broward County Public Schools via AP, File)

Whenever we bring up armed security being an important part of protecting our kids from mass shootings, someone is bound to bring up Parkland.

To be fair, it’s not unreasonable to do so. There was a school resource officer on the scene and he did, well, nothing.

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That’s not entirely fair. He did something. We went outside and waited while kids were being gunned down. That counts as something, even if it was a terrible something.

However, now that school resource officer is facing criminal charges and a trial that just began.

A Florida prosecutor and a defense attorney traded opening arguments on Wednesday at the trial of a former sheriff’s deputy accused of failing to protect students during the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Scot Peterson was on duty as a school resource officer when a gunman entered a building in Feb. 14, 2018 and opened fire, killing 17 and wounding another 17. Peterson never went inside while the shooting was underway, according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and surveillance video.

Peterson, 60, was charged in 2019 with 11 criminal charges of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury, carrying a combined maximum prison sentence of nearly 97 years. It is highly unusual for law enforcement officers to be charged with failing to take action or provide care, raising the possibility that Peterson’s trial will set legal precedents.

Broward County Assistant State Attorney Steven Klinger told the 6-member jury on Wednesday that the contract between the county sheriff’s office and the school endowed Peterson with a unique duty to protect members of the school community.

“He’s the lead security person at that school,” Klinger said. “He is trained on active shooter scenarios; he is trained how to handle a situation where he is the only law enforcement person there to handle an active shooter.”

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I’ve been pretty harsh in my criticisms of Peterson since Parkland happened. I stand by all my criticisms, too. The man didn’t do his job, and while his defense attorney says that he lacked sufficient information to act, no one is buying that.

But is this really a criminal case?

I’ll be honest, I thought the charges were justified initially, but as time rolls on, I’m concerned about the ramifications of a successful prosecution here.

There are a lot of potential punishments I could see that are perfectly warranted, but prosecuting him for not putting his life in danger is troubling.

Why? Because how long before someone decides armed citizens should also be prosecuted for failing to act? After all, many of us argue that armed citizens can act as an initial response to a mass shooter. What happens when someone decides that failing to act in what a prosecutor thinks is an appropriate manner–say, getting one’s family to safety rather than focusing on engaging the shooter–warrants child endangerment charges because a kid was shot?

I have no sympathy for Peterson, no matter what he claims about his lack of information at the time. His lack of initiative is troubling, but is it really criminal?

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Should it be?

The courts have long ruled that law enforcement has no duty to protect you as a person. I don’t see how this has changed in jurisprudence, which means Peterson will likely walk.

And, honestly, that might be good news for gun owners in the long term. After all, if a cop doesn’t have a duty to protect individuals, there’s no reasonable way to say armed citizens have such a duty.

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