Handcuffed and wearing tan jailhouse clothes, a fired Florida deputy sheriff appeared in court Wednesday morning to face a slew of charges stemming from his alleged inaction in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
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Former Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson appeared for a bond hearing in Broward County Circuit Court a day after he was arrested on seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury stemming from the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting in Parkland that left 17 students and staff members dead.
“The court does find probable cause,” Judge Jackie Powell said during the brief hearing.
She set Peterson’s bail at $102,000 and ordered him to surrender his passport.
Peterson, 56, had been a sheriff’s deputy in Broward County for more than 30 years until he was terminated from his position Thursday when the criminal complaint was filed against him.
An internal probe by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office found that Peterson, who was assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas as a school resource officer, “did absolutely nothing to mitigate the MSD shooting,” according to a statement released by the agency.
The agency also fired Sgt. Brian Miller, saying in a statement that both he and Peterson “neglected their duties” by failing to confront the alleged teenage gunman, Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school, as he rampaged through a building full of freshmen at the South Florida campus.
Miller was not charged criminally.
Surveillance video and police radio transmissions showed that as the mass shooting was unfolding inside Building 12, Peterson remained outside for 27 minutes.
“He’s guilty. He’s part of this problem. He was a coward that day,” Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin, was killed in the massacre, said in an interview with ABC News Wednesday. “He was there to save students, teachers. He did nothing. Now he needs to pay for his mistake and I’m glad this is happening now.”
Linda Beigel, the mother of Scott Beigel, a 35-year-old teacher who lost his life in the shooting, also called Peterson a “total coward” in an interview Wednesday with ABC News.
She said that the gunman may have never made it to the third floor of Building 12, where her son was shot to death, if Peterson, who was armed, had immediately entered the building and confronted the shooter.
“If he did, I honestly believe there was no one on the third floor who would have been killed that day,” Beigel said.
Peterson didn’t say anything during Wednesday’s court hearing. His attorney, Joseph A. DiRuzzo, attempted to make a motion that there was no probable cause for the felony counts against the former deputy.
But Judge Powell stopped DiRuzzo, saying, “I’m not going to entertain any motions at this moment.”
DiRuzzo also requested that Peterson be allowed 72 hours to travel to his home in North Carolina to fetch his passport. Powell denied the request.
In a statement released on Tuesday, DiRuzzo said the charges filed against Peterson were “unprecedented” and that the former deputy was being made a scapegoat.
“We will vigorously defend against these spurious charges that lack basis in fact and law,” DiRuzzo said in his statement. “Specifically, Mr. Peterson cannot reasonably be prosecuted because he was not a ‘caregiver,’ which is defined as ‘a parent,’ adult household member, or other person responsible for a child’s welfare.”
DiRuzzo added that Peterson was not criminally negligent in his actions, as no police officer has ever been prosecuted for his or her actions in responding to an active shooter incident.
“The State’s actions appear to be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution against Mr. Peterson, as no other individual employed at the Broward Sheriff’s Office or Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School has been criminally charged,” DiRuzzo said.