Judge rejects embattled school deputy's claim he had no duty to confront Parkland gunman
A judge has rejected a deputy's claim that he had no duty to confront the gunman during the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Refusing to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the parent of a victim, Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning found after a hearing Wednesday that ex-deputy Scot Peterson did have a duty to protect those inside the school where 17 people died and 17 were wounded on Feb. 14.
Video and other evidence shows Peterson, the only armed officer at the school, remained outside while shots rang out.
The negligence lawsuit was filed by Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the attack. He said it made no sense for Peterson's attorneys to argue that a sworn law enforcement officer with a badge and a gun had no requirement to go inside.
"Then what is he doing there?" Pollack said after the ruling. "He had a duty. I'm not going to let this go. My daughter, her death is not going to be in vain."
Peterson's attorney, Michael Piper, said he understands that people might be offended or outraged at his client's defense, but he argued that as a matter of law, the deputy had no duty to confront the shooter. Peterson did not attend the hearing.
"There is no legal duty that can be found," Piper said. "At its very worst, Scot Peterson is accused of being a coward. That does not equate to bad faith."
Meanwhile, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which is investigating the shooting, released a 407-page draft report on Wednesday citing a series of failures by Broward County agencies and recommendations for avoiding mass shootings at schools in the future. According to the Sun Sentinel, the recommendations include a controversial proposal to allow teachers who undergo training and background checks to carry guns in classrooms.
The commission voted 13-1 Wednesday to recommend the legislature allow the arming of those teachers, saying it's not enough to have one or two police officers or armed guards on campus. The commission includes law enforcement, education and mental health professionals, a legislator and the fathers of two slain students.
One of the fathers, Max Schachter, was the sole voice of dissent against the recommendation, the paper reports. He said he's heard from teachers who are opposed to the proposal, which has garnered criticism from lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"Teachers want to teach, not be armed for combat in their classrooms," he said, reports the paper. "Law enforcement cannot push their responsibilities to make our communities safer on to civilians that should be focused on educating their students."
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission's chairman, pushed the measure, saying that most deaths in school shootings happen within the first few minutes, before officers responded.
"We know from the history of these things that the majority are stopped by school personnel," Gualtieri told the Associated Press last month, pointing to shootings where the gunman was tackled or disarmed by a teacher or campus employee. "People need to keep an open mind to it as the reality is that if someone else in that school had a gun it could have saved kids' lives."
The recommendations also include requiring that all Florida public schools have single points of entry, that open gates be staffed, that all classroom doors remain locked and that every district has active shooter policies and staff training. The panel also suggests that teachers should have intercoms in their classrooms and that districts allow law enforcement agencies have access to school video feeds. The panel rejected a recommendation that schools be allowed to use facial recognition systems to grant campus access, saying many parents would object.
As they met in Tallahassee, the commission criticized the Broward Sheriff Office's active shooter policy, saying it contributed to the failure of some deputies to run into the building and confront the gunman.
The panel found that Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel's policy that deputies "may" confront active shooters rather than "shall" gave some an excuse for not entering the building.
Israel told commissioners last month he didn't want deputies engaging in "suicide missions," but the commission's law enforcement members said that could be handled by training deputies how to confront shooters in the safest way possible.
Wednesday, the panel heavily criticized the Broward school district for not having a universal policy for calling a "Code Red" – the term for immediately locking down classrooms because an active shooter is on campus – and little training for staff and students. Commission members meeting in Tallahassee said that contributed to no one calling a Code Red until more than three minutes after the first shots were fired. By that time, 15 people were fatally shot inside the three-story freshman building and the last two victims were in the shooter's sights. Nikolas Cruz, 20, a former student with mental health issues, has been charged with the shooting.
"I am extremely dismayed that the people around this table and behind the scenes are taking this much more seriously than Broward County," said commissioner Melissa Larkin-Skinner, the Florida chief executive officer for a mental health treatment group. "It makes me physically ill. … I am sitting here and getting more and more pissed off by the minute."
Broward school officials did not return a call and email Wednesday seeking comment.
The commission also hammered then-security monitor Andrew Medina, who told investigators he saw Cruz entering the campus carrying a rifle bag and recognized him as the same student whom staff had previously identified as a potential school shooter. But instead of confronting Cruz or calling a Code Red, Medina radioed a security monitor inside the freshman building, investigators have said. He then drove his cart to get Peterson at the school's administration offices. Medina told investigators shortly after the shooting that he was wary of calling a "Code Red" without more certainty about what was going on.
Commissioner and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd called Medina's failure to stop Cruz "reprehensible," but also criticized the district for laying the brunt of school security on low-paid employees who have little training.
Medina was fired in June after it was revealed he had sexually harassed two female students last year, including Pollack's daughter.
Cruz has pleaded not guilty, but his lawyers have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
First published on December 13, 2018
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