A former school security officer was found not guilty Thursday after he failed to confront the gunman who massacred 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.
Scot Peterson, who was a Broward County deputy sheriff and worked as a resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was charged in 2019 with seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury.
He broke down in tears when the unanimous decision was read out Thursday.
The charges carried a potential maximum sentence of 96 1/2 years in state prison, the Broward County State’s Attorney’s Office said.
Seventeen students, teachers, and staff were killed in the February 14, 2018 shooting, and 17 others were injured.
Peterson’s previous attorneys have denounced the charges against him as «unprecedented» and «false.»
“The State’s actions appear to be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution against Mr. Peterson,” attorney Joseph DiRuzzo said in a statement to NBC News in 2019. “The charges against Mr. Peterson should be dismissed. immediately».
Peterson, 60, was the only other person at the school with a gun when the shooter opened fire. He was forced to retire after the school shooting.
He was detained in Broward County after a 15-month investigation that showed he “refused to investigate the source of the shots, withdrew during the active shooting while victims were being shot, and directed other law enforcement to arrive the scene to remain 500 feet away from the building,” according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Department commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a news release that Peterson did «absolutely nothing» to stop the shooting.
«There can be no excuse for their complete inaction and there is no doubt that their inaction cost lives,» Swearingen added.
The state attorney’s office said the law enforcement department interviewed more than 180 witnesses and reviewed video surveillance during the investigation.
A former student, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. In 2022, a jury saved him from the death penalty and recommended that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2018 massacre.
In an interview with NBC’s «TODAY» show about three months after the shooting, the former guard apologized to the families of the 17 victims.
«I’m sorry,» he said through tears in the interview.
The 33-year-old law enforcement veteran said at the time that it wasn’t fear that kept him from running into the school as the gunman stalked the hallways with an AR-15. It was the chaos, the miscommunication and his assumption that a sniper was shooting from outside.
«I didn’t do it right,» Peterson admitted. “But it wasn’t because of some, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go in that building. Oh, I don’t want to face someone there. It wasn’t like that at all.»