A former Florida deputy who stood outside instead of confronting the gunman during last year's Parkland school massacre was arrested today on 11 criminal charges related to his inaction.
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz said in a statement that 56-year-old Scot Peterson faces child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury charges that carry a combined potential maximum prison sentence of nearly 100 years.
Peterson, then a Broward County deputy, was on duty as the school resource officer during the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but never went inside while bullets were flying.
Seventeen people died and 17 others were wounded in the attack, many on the building's third floor after Peterson arrived, investigators said.
One of the victims was 14-year-old Gina Montalto, whose father Tony Montalto said families wanted justice to be done.
"We are happy to see some accountability for this tragedy that took the life of my daughter Gina and 16 other wonderful individuals as well as terribly injured 17 others," said Montalto, president of the Stand With Parkland victim families' group.
Peterson's bail was set at US$102,000, Satz said. Once released, Peterson will be required to wear a GPS monitor and surrender his passport, and will be prohibited from possessing a firearm, the prosecutor said.
Peterson lawyer Joseph DiRuzzo didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, he has defended Peterson's conduct as justified under the circumstances. It also wasn't immediately clear when Peterson would make his initial court appearance, but typically that occurs the day after an arrest.
The charges follow a 14-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to that agency. The lengthy investigation involved interviews with 184 witnesses, reviewing numerous hours of surveillance videos and compiling 212 investigative reports, FDLE said.
"The FDLE investigation shows former deputy Peterson did absolutely nothing to mitigate the MSD shooting that killed 17 children, teachers and staff and injured 17 others," FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen in an email statement said. "There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives."
Senator Rick Scott, a Republican who was Florida governor when the shooting happened, initiated the FDLE probe and said today in a statement that he was glad the investigation was finished.
"Now it's time for justice to be served," Scott said.
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said Peterson has been formally terminated, although he announced his retirement shortly after the shooting. Another deputy, former Sergeant Brian Miller, was also fired, although he faces no criminal charges for his actions that day.
"It's never too late for accountability and justice," Tony said.
David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said key to the case will be the culpable negligence charge, which essentially means an "utter disregard for the safety of others."
"They are focusing on the care he was required to give to the students as a caregiver who was responsible for their welfare," Weinstein added.
The perjury charge stems from a statement Peterson gave under oath to investigators contending that he did not hear any shots fired after taking up his position outside the school, according to an arrest warrant. Investigators determined through video, witnesses and other evidence that was not true.
The Peterson arrest is the latest fallout from the Valentine's Day 2018 shooting. Governor Ron DeSantis suspended then-Sheriff Scott Israel for "neglect of duty and incompetence" over the department's actions that day. Israel is appealing that decision to the state Senate and said he intends to run again next year.
The case also spawned a state commission that issued a 458-page report detailing a litany of errors before and during the shooting, including unaggressive Broward deputies who stayed outside the school building and the policies that led to that — such as Israel's decision to change guidelines so that deputies "may" confront an active shooter rather than "shall" do so.
The commission also recommended voluntary arming of teachers, which state lawmakers approved this year.
The chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, said in an interview that the charges against Peterson are "absolutely warranted."
"Scot Peterson is a coward, a failure and a criminal," Gualtieri said. "There is no doubt in my mind that because he didn't act, people were killed."
Nikolas Cruz , 20, faces the death penalty if convicted of the first-degree murder charges filed in the attack. His lawyers have said Cruz would plead guilty in return for a life sentence, but prosecutors have refused that offer.
Cruz is expected to go on trial in early 2020.