Ex-sheriff's deputy appears in court accused of failing to protect students in Florida school shooting

VIDEO: REUTERS

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (NYTIMES) - Scot Peterson, the former sheriff's deputy and school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, made his first court appearance on Wednesday (June 5) on charges connected with failing to protect students during the mass shooting there on Feb 14, 2018.

He appeared for a bond hearing in magistrates court in Fort Lauderdale via video link from the Broward County Jail.

The attack, one of the worst school shootings in US history, left 17 students, teachers and staff members dead.

An additional 17 people were wounded.

In an unusual prosecution launched on Tuesday, authorities charged Peterson, 56, with seven counts of felony neglect of a child, culpable negligence and perjury.

The former deputy, who was the only armed guard on campus but retreated to a position of safety during the attack, was found to have done "absolutely nothing to mitigate" the carnage, according to law enforcement officials following an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

He was booked into the county jail on a bond of US$102,000 (S$140,000) and appeared from there at Wednesday's bond hearing wearing a beige jail uniform, showing no sign of emotion.

 

During the hearing, his lawyers raised the issue of whether Peterson, who had worked as a school resource officer for eight years, met the statutory definition of "caregiver."

The criminal statutes under which Peterson was charged for his behaviour during the shooting were not specifically drafted for law enforcement officers and are usually applied to parents.

Police officers are not thought of as caregivers for children, legal experts said.

The lawyers also asked if Peterson could travel to North Carolina to retrieve his passport so that it could be surrendered to satisfy one of the conditions to gaining bond. The judge denied both requests, and the hearing was over in a matter of minutes.

Afterward, his defence lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo of Fort Lauderdale, said he expected that his client would be able to post bond and be released.

"We expect Mr Peterson to be treated fairly, just like every other person," he said.