Scot Peterson: What we know now about cop at school shooting

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Officer, 54, resigned Thursday after withering public criticism on why he didn’t confront and kill the gunman

Wire Reports

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Far from shrinking in the face of danger, former Broward sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson once characterized himself as a proactive officer who quickly responded to reports of trouble.

Peterson, 54, resigned on Thursday after withering public criticism from Sheriff Scott Israel, who said the deputy should have confronted and killed the gunman who fatally shot 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

But in a 2015 video, Peterson is shown defending his own performance and his colleagues as he sought to persuade school officials to retain a program known as the Resident on Campus Security Program.

“These colleagues work hard,” he told one official who raised doubts about the program’s value. “We are crime prevention; an audit report will never show how much we prevent.”

In one example, Peterson mentioned an incident at Atlantic Technical College in Coconut Creek and described receiving a call about an alarm in the school’s cafeteria.

“And right there I knew, because I’ve been at the school for many years, I knew right when I heard the cafeteria, you know when you get the hairs on the back of your neck going up, I said, ‘That never goes off,’” he said. “I ran into my trailer, I grabbed my firearm and my ID and my shorts and my sneakers and I ran over to the cafeteria.

“As I got to the cafeteria, sure enough, there were four males inside the cafeteria. They saw me peeking through the glass, they obviously fled. I chased them, I’m getting older, but I started chasing them, I identified who I was and as ironic as it may seem, they ran right towards my trailer.

“So they ran past, jumped over the fence, I jumped into my car, I apprehended two of them … threw them in the back, kept going, grabbed the other two,” he said.

Peterson, a 30-year law enforcement veteran who started with the Broward Sheriff’s Office in July 1985, is an Illinois native who resides in Palm Beach County in a suburb of Boynton Beach. He attended then-Miami Dade Community College and Florida International University, where he graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He was divorced twice. One of the cases was so hotly contested that it went on for 16 years, court records show.

For a performance review period ranging from February 2016 to February 2017, an evaluator concluded that Peterson either met or exceeded the expectations of his superiors in a variety of categories, including initiative, work performance, customer service, interpersonal skills, critical thinking/decision making, safety, planning and organizing, and policy and procedures.

“Deputy Peterson is trusted as the School Resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland,” wrote the evaluator, a sergeant. “He values his position and takes pride in protecting the students, faculty and staff at his school. Deputy Peterson is dependable and reliable and handles issues that arise with tact and solid judgment. He is a positive influence on the students and they respect and appreciate his position.”

One Stoneman Douglas teacher came to Peterson’s defense on Thursday, arguing that the 6-foot-5-inch officer could not have stopped former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz’s deadly shooting spree.

“There is no one that is going to tell you a negative thing about Deputy Peterson,” said ninth-grade English teacher Felicia Burgin. “He was an Eagle, and he was committed to our school. I don’t know what he could have done other than literally died.”

But Todd Fitz-Gerald, a science teacher and baseball coach at Marjory Stoneham Douglas, said he knew Peterson as a good man. The two met when Fitz-Gerald accidentally knocked into Peterson’s service vehicle and caused some fender-bender damage. He said the latest news left him extremely disappointed.

“If I were armed, I would have gone into that building,” he said.

On Friday, President Donald Trump dissed the armed officer who stalled as he heard shots inside Stoneman Douglas High School, waiting outside as a gunman killed 17 people in the course of just minutes instead of charging in with his own gun.

“Look, you had one guard, he didn’t turn out to be too good, I will tell you that,” Trump said at a speech on Friday in front of the annual Conservative Political Action Committee “He turned out to be not good. He was not a credit to law enforcement that I can tell you. That I can tell you.”

Trump said the problem was one guy with a gun wasn’t enough, pointing out that it’s “a big, big school. You would have to have 150 real guns.”

Trump’s response to the officer, who has since resigned, speaks to a scenario where it seems like a massacre should have been stopped: An armed officer was on the scene. He could hear gunfire. Yet he didn’t go after the gunman — letting the shooting carry on for minutes that literally meant life or death.

According to Sheriff Israel, that’s exactly what happened at the shooting. Even with training and a weapon, the officer stalled — and allowed the shooting to continue for about four to six minutes as he stood outside the building.

“Devastated. Sick to my stomach. There are no words. These families lost their children. We lost coaches. I’ve been to the funerals,” Israel said at a press conference on Thursday. Asked what the officer should have done, Israel responded, “Went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.”

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