Ex-Officer's School Shooting Trial Is the First of Its Kind

Scot Peterson faces felony child neglect charges in Parkland shooting
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2023 8:57 AM CDT
Ex-Officer Who Failed to Stop Parkland Shooter Goes on Trial
Defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh uses a diagram of the school campus during his opening statement.   (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

In a case that could have major implications for policing across America, the former school resource officer who failed to enter the building where a gunman massacred 17 people in 2018 has gone on trial. Scot Peterson faces charges including seven felony counts of child neglect in connection with the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the New York Times reports. In opening statements Wednesday, prosecutors said that when Peterson arrived at the scene with his gun drawn, he took cover in an alcove instead of entering the three-story Building 1200—and remained there for more than 40 minutes, until long after the shooting had stopped. Prosecutors said he could have saved lives if he had followed his training and entered the building to confront the shooter.

The trial is the first of its kind in US history, the AP reports. Peterson's lawyers have argued that the child neglect charges are unjustified because police officers are not classed as caregivers under Florida law. The neglect charges relate to four students who were killed and three who were wounded on the building's third floor after Peterson arrived at the scene. He also faces three counts of misdemeanor culpable negligence related to adults who were shot—and one count of perjury. Prosecutors say Peterson was lying when he told investigators that he only heard two or three shots from Building 1200 and didn't see students running from it.

A former student testified Wednesday that she helped classmates provide first aid to the injured for 20 minutes before authorities arrived, CNN reports. "It felt like an eternity, and the whole time we were all just waiting for the police to come, just to have somebody knock on the door and take us out of that horror," Danielle Gilbert said.

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Peterson, 60, retired soon after the shooting and was fired retroactively. He has said that he couldn't tell where the gunshots were coming from and sheltered in the alcove because he thought there could be a sniper. In his opening statement Wednesday, defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh said his client was "thrown under the bus" by a sheriff who needed to find a scapegoat. "He is not a criminal," Eiglarsh said, per the Times. (More Parkland school shooting stories.)

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