Police union troubled by arrest of Scot Peterson
Former Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson was released from jail Thursday afternoon after a judge lowered his bond and allowed him to await trial without an electronic ankle monitor.
The decision came two days after state prosecutors, in a surprising move, charged Peterson with child neglect and culpable negligence for failing to enter Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High to try and stop mass shooter Nikolas Cruz.
Peterson, 56, was jailed Tuesday, and initially ordered held on a $102,000 bond. He appeared Thursday in court in shackles and an olive jail jumpsuit. His lawyer successfully argued that Peterson “should be treated like any other criminal defendant.”
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, at a hearing on Thursday morning, lowered his bond to $39,500.
“We’re very happy with the judge’s decision,” said his attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo. “We look forward to defending him against these charges.”
Peterson is facing 11 criminal charges, including one count of perjury, for his actions during the Parkland shooting that left 17 students and employees dead, and another 17 wounded. He was condemned across the country for not entering the school’s freshman building to try to stop Cruz, who was armed with an AR-15.
Cruz, 20, is facing the death penalty over the massacre on Feb. 14, 2018, in suburban Parkland, a shooting that galvanized gun-control advocates and led to changes in Florida’s firearms law. His case too is before Judge Scherer.
Prosecutors classified Peterson, a longtime schools resource officer who was assigned to Stoneman Douglas, as a “caregiver” who had the duty to protect students inside the school. They say he shirked that duty by “refusing to seek out, confront, or engage the shooter,” instead taking cover for more than 10 minutes outside the 1200 building, even as gunshots boomed inside.
State officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, and parents of the murdered Parkland students hailed the arrest. “Scot Peterson’s gross dereliction of duty cost lives,” DeSantis tweeted.
But police union officials across the state, while condemning Peterson’s inaction that day, skewered the arrest as politically motivated and a dangerous precedent for charging cops. In a statement to the press and court documents, DiRuzzo has also blasted the criminal charges, and says that Peterson should not be considered a caregiver under Florida law.
Broward prosecutor Tim Donnelly, during Thursday’s hearing, said Peterson’s lawyer is wrong about the law. “The definition of caregiver is very broad,” Donnelly said.
The governor’s office had asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the actions of police before, during and after the worst school shooting in the state’s history. During the probe, Peterson had moved to North Carolina, but returned to South Florida this week to attend a BSO internal affairs hearing on his case.
“As soon as the hearing was completed, they proceeded to take him into custody instead of allowing him the courtesy to self surrender and not have to be booked into jail, which I believe, under the circumstances, was entirely unfair and unprofessional,” DiRuzzo told reporters after the hearing.