Broward Sheriff Scott Israel: Douglas school cop ‘never went in’
Four years ago, he was crowned school resource officer of the year in Parkland.
In Scot Peterson’s annual performance reviews, the decorated Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy was described as someone who always took “initiative” on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High campus, handling issues “with tact and solid judgment.”
On Thursday, however, he was suspended without pay after Sheriff Scott Israel announced in a hastily called press conference that Peterson rushed to the building when he heard gunfire in the mass shooting that would kill 17 people at the school — but never went inside.
“I am devastated,” Israel said. “Sick to my stomach. He never went in.”
The 32-year veteran deputy chose to resign and retire after questions arose regarding his response during the massacre. He is 54.
On Thursday, officials described a deputy who “did nothing” while 19-year-old accused shooter Nikolas Cruz, armed with an AR-15 rifle and loads of ammunition, shot and killed 14 students and three faculty members at the school.
Peterson, who is not a member of BSO’s union, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Jeff Bell, head of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, called the allegations of Peterson’s inaction “concerning.”
“After Columbine, we no longer wait for SWAT. We go inside. Every second we wait to go inside, there are going to be more lives lost,” Bell said.
Peterson’s personnel file paints a completely different picture of what authorities portrayed in the Stoneman Douglas shooting. In the nearly 600-page docket released Thursday by BSO, Peterson has received dozens of commendations. He attended countless law enforcement conferences and earned numerous certificates in specialized fields.
Year after year, Peterson signed a loyalty oath, vowing to “well and faithfully perform the duties of deputy sheriff for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.”
Records show the officer went from patrolling the roads to protecting school hallways around 1991. He was stationed at William T. McFatter Technical High in 1993. He became Douglas’ school resource officer in 2010. He was hired in 1985 after working as a security guard and a deli worker.
Records show Peterson graduated from Miami Dade College with honors, earning an associate’s degree. At some point, Peterson attended Florida International University, where he was working toward a degree in criminal justice administration. It is not clear if he completed the program.
“He communicates and uses appropriate resources at his disposal including mental health professionals,” said Lt. Michael DeVita in Peterson’s 2016/2017 review. “Deputy Peterson works at one of the largest high schools in Broward County and he is active in counseling and mentoring the students.”
In 1994, the Florida Association of School Resource Officers awarded him the most outstanding school resource officer in the state. Peterson, who was heavily involved in a student safety organization, organized award ceremonies yearly for students who did not receive citations or traffic violations.
Numerous evaluation sheets described him as someone who is “dependable” and has significant “command presence.”
“He takes pride in protecting his students, faculty and staff at his school,” DeVita said in a March 2017 Deputy of the Year nomination letter.
Meanwhile, people who gathered at the high school in honor of the victims were shocked to learn about Peterson’s reaction during the shooting.
Former student Lucas Macaluso called Peterson’s failure to act a “huge mistake.” But he sympathized saying that Peterson’s role was generally just to break up fights in the lunchroom and Peterson wouldn’t have expected this.
“You can’t judge someone staring down the barrel of a gun,” said Risa Millar, a teacher in New York who came down to support relatives living in Parkland. “I can’t make judgments on what it would be like to stare down the barrel of a machine gun.”
According to BSO’s active shooter response procedure policy, the deputy who is on the scene first is expected to take action.
“If real time intelligence exists the sole deputy or a team of deputies may enter the area and/or structure to preserve life,” the document says. “A supervisor’s approval or on-site observation is not required for this decision.”
Miami Herald Writer Sarah Blaskey contributed to this report.