Former Broward County sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson has been widely vilified for failing to intervene in the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. But did Peterson’s failure amount to a crime? Although that is what local prosecutors argue, it seems like a stretch.
The arrest warrant approved by Circuit Court Judge Andrew Siegel this week charges Peterson with seven counts of child neglect, a felony, and three misdemeanor counts of culpable negligence as well as one misdemeanor count of perjury for allegedly lying to investigators about how many shots he heard while taking cover 75 feet away from the building where a gunman was murdering students and teachers. Only the perjury charge seems like a straightforward application of the relevant statute, while the other charges are novel applications of laws that are generally applied to very different contexts.
As relevant here, Florida defines “neglect of a child” as “a caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person.” A “caregiver” is defined as “a parent, adult household member, or other person responsible for a child’s welfare.” Did Peterson, as the resource officer assigned to the high school, qualify as a caregiver, and did he therefore have a legal obligation to risk his life by running into the school? Not surprisingly, Peterson’s lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, argues that he did not. But other legal experts are also skeptical.