Former School Resource Officer Scot Peterson, who was accused of failing to confront the mass shooter during the 2018 Parkland massacre, has been found not guilty on all charges. When the first not-guilty verdict was announced, Peterson was visibly emotional, placing his head on the table and being comforted by his attorney. Peterson’s wife also cried in the courtroom.
After the verdict was delivered, the prosecutors left the courtroom without providing any comments. Peterson, 60, had faced multiple charges, including child neglect and perjury.
The case attracted significant attention as Peterson was the only person, aside from the gunman Nikolas Cruz, to face charges related to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which resulted in the loss of 17 lives and injuries to 17 others. Additionally, Peterson became the first law enforcement officer charged with child neglect as a “caregiver.”
Peterson, who served as the school resource officer assigned to protect the students, arrived at the scene armed but did not enter the building immediately. Prosecutors argued that if he had entered, he could have taken action against the shooter.
However, Peterson’s defense stated that he took cover and reported the shots fired, believing that they could have originated from outside the building. The confusion caused by the echoing gunfire and the proximity of nearby buildings contributed to the uncertainty of the situation.
In addition to the criminal charges, Peterson has faced lawsuits from the families of the victims and has been publicly criticized by various individuals, including former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and former President Donald Trump, who accused him of cowardice and dereliction of duty.
The verdict does not absolve Peterson from the civil lawsuits he faces. Although he avoided the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence, it is likely that he will lose his pension. Family members of the victims have been present during parts of the trial, seeing it as an opportunity for accountability. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was previously sentenced to life in prison.
Deliberations in Peterson’s case began on Monday and continued until Wednesday morning before the verdict was reached.