Cautious? Cowardice? Criminal? The MSD Parkland community wants justice for the inaction of Broward County SRO Scot Peterson, but they may be let down twice

Posted by on June 9, 2019

Many in the Parkland, Florida, school-community believe that “justice” is being served with the arrest and charges against former Broward County School Resource Officer (SRO) Scot Peterson for not entering a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building as shots were being fired in February, 2018. Peterson has been called a coward by many. He may believe he was being cautious. But more than a year later, he is now alleged to have been a criminal.

Peterson was charged last week with child neglect for not going in the building as shooting was going on and children were killed. For more than two decades, since the Columbine High School attack in 1999, it has been a best practice for law enforcement officers to go in after the shooter rather than wait outside as a school shooting unfolds. The MSD case is not only rare because the officer did not enter while shots were being fired, it is also rare because more than a year later, a SRO was charged with child neglect for not doing so.

MSD parents and school-community members are angry. They want someone to be held accountable. Some, including the new sheriff, referred to Peterson’s arrest and charges as justice being served.

MSD school-community members may, however, ultimately be let down twice. By no means am I condoning Peterson’s failure to enter the MSD school building to neutralize the shooter. But what I do know, having served as an expert witness in school security civil litigation and monitoring cases involving criminal charges against police officers, is that these cases often hinge on issues that go far beyond what is considered in the court of public opinion.

The litigation of the case against former Broward County SRO Scot Peterson might potentially explore issues including the officer’s training, the Sheriff’s department policies in effect at the time, the officer’s perspective of the totality of the circumstances in a rapidly evolving and uncertain context at the moment on scene, the applicability of the charges to the facts of the incident, prior related case law, and other factors. Finding an unbiased jury pool may be challenging. The case may never even get to a trial.

The court of public opinion convicted Peterson long ago. But this verdict has not calmed public anger, especially from those directly impacted by the MSD attack. The climate in Broward County and in the MSD community is still very emotionally and politically charged. The charging of a SRO — a police officer — criminally for neglect in the manner done in this case adds to the tension and now raises more questions for SROs and police in general across the nation.

Charging Peterson criminally may understandably give members of the MSD school-community a feeling of justice they desire. But when the dust settles and the final verdict is in, Peterson may very well win against the neglect charges. The MSD community may then be disappointed for a second time.

Ken Trump

National School Safety and Security Services

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