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credit: Broward County Sheriff’s Office

Surveillance video of some areas apparently near Building 12, where the murders took place, has been released to the public. They purport to show former Deputy Scot Peterson, at various times traveling in a golf cart (commonly used by security personnel on such a large campus with multiple buildings), running, standing, and speaking on a radio. It appears Peterson was near a building some distance from Building 12 for some time. According to The Sun Sentinel, the released video begins around a minute after the shooter began shooting inside Building 12, and while the video has a running time index, that cannot, at this point, be relied upon as accurate.

Peterson is supposed to have transmitted, at some unknown point:

Be advised we have possible, could be firecrackers, I think we have shots fired, possible shots fired – 1200 building.

According to The Sun Sentinel, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office claims the shooter continued to fire for four minutes after Peterson stopped near the nearby building, but that too cannot be assumed to be accurate.

Sheriff Scott Israel

The video speaks for itself,’ the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that accompanied the release of the video. ‘His actions were enough to warrant an internal affairs investigation, as requested by Sheriff Scott Israel on Feb. 21. After being suspended without pay, Peterson chose to resign and immediately retired rather than face possible termination.

A video of this type, without sound or verification with other evidence, does not speak for itself. Any cop should know that. We also don’t know if this video was on a 20 minute delay, as has already been widely reported. As I noted in Update 5 (the Parkland archive is available here), There is no way Sheriff Israel could have had sufficient information to suspend Peterson so early. Absent additional information–which I’ll address momentarily–the probability Israel intended to use Peterson as a scapegoat–and is still doing so–cannot be discounted.

Peterson’s lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, issued a statement two weeks ago challenging this narrative, saying Peterson had taken up a ‘tactical position’ against the wall of building seven, the appropriate move from his perspective, since he thought the shots might have been fired outside.

‘Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the 17 victims on that day, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need,’ DiRuzzo. ‘However, the allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue.

That Peterson may have made a mistake also cannot be discounted. Knowing the general location of the shooter, and being in a position, considering time and distance, to engage him, he chose not do to that. But as I pointed out in Update 5, we just don’t know enough to come to any reasonable conclusion–yet.

Returning from a rehearsal, I listened to the Hannity show, as former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino and the always verbose and often wrong Geraldo Rivera opined on the newly released video, claiming it absolute proof of Peterson’s cowardice. They stopped short of claiming he caused every death, but not by much. Even Sean Hannity, who knows better than to make unsupportable pronouncements, claimed the video is evidence of cowardice because Peterson rode in a golf cart, spoke on the radio, and was standing near a concrete wall. This is the general tenor of media coverage, which stands a very good chance of being badly wrong. What more must we know to draw intelligent, informed conclusions?

1) A complete and accurate time line, constructed from all timed sources such as dispatch tapes and call logs, surveillance video, etc., and eventually buttressed by interviews with everyone involved is absolutely necessary. Without this time line, no one can draw any conclusion about time and distance, about who, if anyone, might have been in a position to actually engage and potentially stop the shooter.

2) A complete and professional forensic investigation must be completed of the crime scene, which must place the dead and injured, accounting for their actions. Without this, there will be far too many unanswerable questions.

3) Every officer involved must be exhaustively interviewed. Not only must a timeline of their actions and locations be constructed, this must be compared to radio transmissions, surveillance videos, and the statements of other involved officers. Without this, there is no way to know what any officer knew, suspected, or was able to do, and when. One can’t hold officers responsible for failing to take an action if they didn’t have the information–at the time–necessary to convince them that action needed to be taken.

4) All witnesses, including other first responders, and kids in Building 12, and anyone they called or texted during the incident and thereafter, must be exhaustively interviewed, and their testimony reconciled–if possible–with the information gathered in steps 1-3.

5) It will be necessary to re-interview many, but probably not most, witnesses and officers again. In a complex case like this, additional information is always found, potential conflicts must be reconciled, anomalies must be clarified–if possible. It’s never possible to know everything about everything, but it’s virtually always possible to know enough–if the investigation is done properly, and supporting preconceived political narratives is rejected.

6) The shooter must be exhaustively interviewed, if possible. Because the shooter is lawyered up, this may be difficult, if not impossible, but unless local prosecutors have already given away their biggest bargaining chip–the death penalty–that may be the only way they can get the shooter to tell the whole story. There is apparently more than enough evidence to convict him even if he doesn’t cooperate, but his cooperation can answer many questions.

credit: Broward County Sheriff’s Department

Without all of this, and more, there is no real, professional way to properly understand what first responders did right and wrong. Do you get a sense, gentle readers, why Sheriff Israel’s actions in suspending Peterson were unprofessional? Also keep in mind his Deputies, and every other involved officer, are going to be worried about cooperating in the investigation. Israel was more than willing to throw Peterson under the bus without sufficient knowledge to do that. Why wouldn’t he do the same to them? This incident is going to need a great many scapegoats. This case will be investigated by the Florida State Police, but officers are generally distrustful of brass from any agency.

Those investigators are going to have to be careful to convince officers they can cooperate without being–to put it plainly–screwed. Whatever they say in an internal investigation can’t be used against them in a criminal prosecution, and their employer can demand they cooperate. They still retain the right to invoke the 5th Amendment, but if they do, they can be disciplined, even fired. Imagine the political fallout if a significant number of involved officers reasonably came to believe they couldn’t trust the investigators? Israel is not helping to encourage that kind of trust.

Remember that there is evidence a Sheriff’s Captain–Jan Jordan– ordered officers, perhaps including Peterson, to establish a perimeter. That order would exclude the possibility of entering any building. Peterson’s supposed radio transmission tells us little. Did he actually hear what might be gunfire? Could he tell from where those sounds came? Was he told by others there were firecracker-like sounds that might be coming from the area of Building 12? His supposed transmission does not suggest he knew precisely from where the shots came. How do all of these possibilities, and more, fit into a time line, and what do they tell us about the distance/time equation.

Refer to the photo accompanying this article, and suppose, for the sake of argument, Peterson knew, in the four minutes supposedly available to find and engage the shooter before the shooter abandoned his rifle and fled, that gunshots were absolutely, to the exclusion of every other possibility, coming from somewhere inside Building 12. Would he have had sufficient time to run to that building, to enter it, to immediately realize the shooter was somewhere on the second floor of that big, three-story building (that’s supposedly where much, if not all, of the gunfire took place–according to media accounts), to run up the steps to the second floor, and to find and engage the shooter within that four minute time frame?

We don’t know that. Sheriff Israel certainly didn’t know any of that when he suspended Peterson, and he doesn’t know it now. No one, for the time being, knows that with any degree of certainty.

The Douglas High School Campus
credit: goolemaps

Perhaps Peterson did less than he could have done. But if that’s so, what about the other four deputies that reportedly did not enter the building? Are they all cowards, and if so, why didn’t Israel suspend all of them, and why aren’t Hannity, Bongino and Geraldo giving them hell on TV?

It is easy, after the fact, when it’s clearly known where the shooter was, what he did there, and roughly how long he was doing it, to think everyone knew that at the time, but the dispatcher’s phone transcripts I’ve seen indicate mass confusion, which is the usual state of affairs. Remember this: we now know there was a single shooter. At the time, no one could have been sure of that. Many of those calling were people that were called or texted by students or others on the campus, so dispatchers were getting second, third and more handed information, most of it contradictory, likely all of it out of date, and doing all they could to pass something useful and timely to officers, who, knowing what dispatchers were going through, had to filter that through what they knew and were learning second by second. I’ve yet to see any communication that clearly identified the shooter’s location and what he was doing at any point in the event when time and distance would have been to the advantage of the police.

None of this is surprising; it’s human nature. Despite being in my classroom daily for most of a school year, virtually none of my students could recite my room number, the number of the room in which they are sitting. Think gentle readers: can any of you, from memory, recite the street address of any business you regularly frequent, of the home of a good friend whose house you often visit? Imagine having to do it under gunfire, or after receiving a call from a loved one under gunfire. Time and distance.

All of this, gentle readers, is also the status quo. As much as they would love it, it’s virtually impossible for the police to arrive in time to save lives, and in virtually every school shooting in history, they’ve played no direct role in stopping an attack. There are lessons to learn from that fact above all others.

It’s also possible Peterson had at least some idea what was happening and where, and might have been close enough at the right time to have some positive effect, but was told to remain outside, or simply made a less than perfect decision. In that case, cowardice likely wasn’t involved, and the probability at least four additional deputies may have done more or less what Peterson did, also mitigates against cowardice—unless one thinks it’s infectious…?

Once again, gentle readers, we’d be wise to give first responders the benefit of the doubt until it can be proved they don’t deserve it. We just don’t know enough right now. We’re not going to know in a week, in a month, and perhaps not until next year–if ever. To do this kind of investigation right takes time. Rushing or politicizing an investigation is not going to make school children safer, and screaming “coward” without evidence is not going to inspire police officers to bravery and self-sacrifice.

Making political points? Well, that’s another matter, isn’t it?