In previous articles in this series, I have given former Deputy Scott Peterson the benefit of the doubt, observing, among other things, that it is possible he had no idea where gunshots, if he heard any at all, were coming from. With the release of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Commission’s draft report, we know a great deal about what actually happened. Deputy Peterson was the sole armed officer assigned to that campus of some 3300 students. He was never issued a body camera, nor was he wearing his issued ballistic vest. The Commission’s report indicates he does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.
By 2:23:15, Peterson arrived in a golf cart with two other staff, in the courtyard between buildings 7 and 12. By that time, the killer already shot 21 and killed 9 (pp. 78-79—in the Commission’s report). At this point, an unarmed “security specialist” with Peterson observed Peterson was stressed and had drawn his handgun. Peterson said he heard gunshots, but wasn’t sure from where they were coming (p. 79).
2:23:26: “Deputy Peterson interrupted a dispatcher who was trying to raise him and Deputies Hanks and Seward. Deputy Peterson stated ‘Be advised we have possible, uh – could be firecrackers. I think we’ve got shots fired. Possible shots fired. 1200 building (p. 79).” Clearly, Peterson knew shots were being fired inside building 12 by this point. He and others would continue to hear shots emanating from building 12.
Police radio traffic—pp. 81-82—indicates substantial confusion, though Peterson’s order for officers to stay at least 500 feet from building 12 indicates he knew the shots were coming from that building.
About 2:26, someone standing with Peterson at building 7 heard gunshots, and was “pretty sure the gunshots were coming from inside the 1200 building (p.55).
2:33:48: Another officer testified Peterson told him: “Shots fired. The shooter is on the second or third floor.” The last shot had been fired approximately five minutes earlier (p. 82).
3:11:20: “Around the time Peterson went to the east side of building 12, Lieutenant C. Cardinale (Sunrise Police Department) responded to building 12. He recalled seeing Deputy Peterson on the east side of building 12. Lt. Cardinale saw Peterson pacing back and forth on the east side of building 12 saying ‘Oh my God. Oh my God.’ Lt. Cardinale looked at Peterson and asked ‘Who the (expletive) are you?’ Peterson responded ‘I’m the SRO.’ Lt. Cardinale asked ‘What’s the deal? What’s going on?’ While pacing back and forth and breathing heavily Peterson replied ‘I don’t know. I don’t know…Oh my God, I can’t believe this.’ (p. 83)
If that was not bad enough, these findings, from pp. 86-89 of the report, are particularly damning:
*Former Deputy Scot Peterson was derelict in his duty on February 14, 2018, failed to act consistent with his training and fled to a position of personal safety while Cruz shot and killed MSDHS students and staff. Peterson was in a position to engage Cruz and mitigate further harm to others and he willfully decided not to do so.
*There is overwhelming evidence that Deputy Peterson knew that the gunshots were coming from within or within the immediate area of building 12. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that Peterson attempted to investigate the source of the gunshots. In fact, the statement of Security Specialist Greenleaf confirms Peterson did not attempt to identify the source of the gunshots and by all accounts – including surveillance video – Peterson retreated to an area of safety.
*Confusion in identifying the source of gunshots due to echoes around the structures was eliminated as an excuse for Peterson not entering building 12 due an abundance of evidence including, but not limited to:
Peterson had been told by Medina that the noises were coming from within building 12.
Peterson was dropped off at the doors to building 12. Peterson repeatedly referenced building 12 on his BSO radio. Peterson told Officer Best that the shooter was on the second or third floor.In his BSO interview, Peterson identified the gunshots as coming from withinor in the immediate area of building 12.
*On February 14th, the BSO law enforcement response to MSDHS was hindered in part by MSDHS School Resource Officer Scot Peterson’s erroneous directions and other improper information he relayed over BSO’s main radio channel 8A to include, directing responding deputies to shut down nearby intersections and requesting no pedestrian traffic anywhere on nearby roads.
*Peterson instructed deputies to stay at least 500 feet away from the 12 or 1300 buildings. These instructions conflict with current law enforcement response procedures to active shooter situations. Law enforcement officers should try to eliminate any immediate threat even if that requires approaching gunfire and danger.
*Deputy Peterson responded to the area of building 12 within approximately 1 minute 39 seconds after the first shots were fired. Prior to his arrival 21 victims had already been shot, 9 of which were fatally wounded. This makes clear that seconds matter and that SRO’s cannot be relied upon as the only protection for schools. Even if there is a rapid response by an SRO, it is insufficient in and of itself to safeguard students and teachers.
*BSO trained Deputy Peterson on active shooter response and he was familiar with solo deputy response protocols. Peterson knew through his training that the appropriate response was to seek out the active shooter and not ‘containment.’ (Containment is the unaccepted practice of setting a perimiter and waiting for the shooter to exit the building or waiting for other deputies or SWAT to arrive before entering as a group.)
*Peterson knew that an active shooter situation called for a Code Red response. Based on interviews conducted with MSD school personnel, Deputy Peterson never called out a Code Red over the school radio.
*Deputy Peterson was an SRO for 28 years and that likely provided him a great deal of experience in some aspects of being an SRO, however, it also contributed to his inadequate response to this shooting.
*SROs typically are not faced with many high-risk, high-stress situations such as domestic violence calls, robberies, shootings, etc. As a result, they are not afforded the chance to maintain and exercise their tactical skills other than in training scenarios. For that reason, it is of the utmost importance that SROs be provided with frequent, thorough and realistic training to handle high-risk, high stress situations.
*At the time of the incident, Deputy Scot Peterson did not have a ballistic vest or a patrol rifle with him.
It seems clear Peterson froze. He knew what he should do, but rather than entering building 12, if for no other reason than to determine if the gunshots he was hearing were actually coming from that building, he did nothing, and significantly contributed to other responding officers doing nothing. It is possible that if he entered Building 12 as early as possible, he might have saved at least some lives. He could not have saved them all. Many were seriously injured, dying or dead before that point. To be entirely fair, by the time he could have entered, the killer was probably on the second floor of the building, perhaps even on his way to the 3rd. By the time Peterson might have been able to find and engage him, his shooting rampage, which lasted only 6 minutes and 28 seconds, might have been over.
Deputy Peterson was allowed to retire, and to keep his full pension, which has caused considerable controversy. Paul Sperry explores this issue at Real Clear Investigations:
Parents of children gunned down in the Parkland school shooting in Florida last year have never understood two actions taken by Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel: his refusal to fire a campus-based deputy who failed to enter the school during the rampage that took 17 lives, and his continued defense of controversial Obama-era school policies that allowed the accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz, to avoid arrest and a police record and thereby purchase the murder weapon.
Note: It is general SMM policy to avoid using the names of school shooters. However, the shooter’s name is now so well known, there is little to be gained by not using it, and I do so here mostly for convenience.
Some now think they have found the answer in a single incident that occurred in 2014. A police report shows that’s when Israel’s then-17-year-old son, Brett, was accused of participating in a sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The case was investigated by Scot Peterson — the armed deputy who took cover while children and staff were shot last February. Using the Obama-era guidelines, Peterson’s recommendation helped his boss’s son receive just a three-day suspension. [skip]
According to the four-page report filed by Peterson, the victim, who was a freshman at the time, alleged that Israel, then the school’s starting quarterback, held him down while another senior kicked him, grabbed his genitals and rammed a baseball bat between his buttocks, simulating rape.
People familiar with the case say Peterson could have referred Israel for felony charges, but reduced the crime to “simple battery,” making him eligible for a leniency program requiring no arrest. “The school district’s disciplinary matrix requires no law enforcement action required regarding the incident,” the deputy wrote.
Because I don’t have the reports on this incident, it is difficult to be absolutely certain what a correct disposition would be, but from Sperry’s account, young Israel surely could, perhaps should, have been charged with multiple felonies. Even common fighting, in many schools run by professionals, requires much more serious consequences than Israel received.
[Attorney Alex] Arreaza said that the same lax disciplinary culture meant [Nikolas—the shooter–] Cruz was never expelled or sent to the juvenile justice system despite committing multiple offenses every year throughout middle and high school. Peterson was warned at least twice of the threat Cruz posed as an active shooter, but failed to investigate the matter. Peterson had an office on the Stoneman Douglas campus, where he’d been posted for nine years.
I’ve previously noted the Principal, Robert Runcie, is very much an Obamite, and during the Obama years, instituted various programs that made it all but impossible to discipline students committing felonies, particularly if those students were Black or Hispanic.
In 2013, Israel jointly developed the no-arrest PROMISE program with Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie as part of a crusade first launched in 2011 by the Obama administration to end disproportionate arrests and suspensions of minority students. It required school districts to report data on discipline disparities by race and close racial gaps in suspensions and arrests. The national policy, known as the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, was announced in July 2011 by then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Runcie’s former boss and longtime mentor. Three months later, on Duncan’s recommendation, Runcie was hired by the Broward school board. Records show Runcie met with Obama officials in the White House as he put the policy into practice at the largest school district in the country.
As Runcie pioneered the most lenient discipline policies in the nation, the administration pumped millions of dollars in education grants into his district. More than 50 other large school districts adopted similar programs as the administration opened race-bias investigations and threatened funding cuts for those who failed to comply with the lower disciplinary standards.
Arreaza suspects that Israel protected Peterson because the deputy protected his son from prosecution, adding that Israel tried to keep the four-year-old incident report under tight wraps. After the report was leaked to him, Arreaza said that ‘a BSO [Broward Sheriff’s Office] attorney called me to try to scare me into not doing anything with it.’ RealClearInvestigations has obtained a full, unredacted copy of the report, but is withholding the name of the victim.
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in the shooting, speculated that Peterson’s dispensing of the case provided him with ‘job security.’ Pollack is also suing Peterson, whom he’s slammed as ‘the coward of Broward.’
Such things are always possible, and are particularly dangerous to sheriffs, who are elected officials. Deputies everywhere know that if they do not help their Sheriff keep his job, they may very well be out of theirs. While the “Promise” program routinely shielded—and continues to shield–dangerous, criminal students from the consequences of their actions, young Israel’s favorable treatment under that program is not significantly different from the treatment afforded others, including Cruz. This does not, obviously, excuse the favorable treatment afforded Israel.
Parkland parents and their lawyers believe one reason for Sheriff Israel’s continued defense of a controversial no-arrest pact he signed with Broward County Public Schools to divert offenders from jail to counseling is that his son benefited from the lenient policy.
The 2013 agreement, known generally as the PROMISE program,was designed to reduce school-based arrests for minor offenses and stop the so-called ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ disproportionately affecting minorities.
‘We can only measure our success by the kids we keep out of jail, not the kids we put in jail,’ Sheriff Israel said at the November 2013 signing ceremony. ‘Our kids need to be in schools, not jails.’
Unless those students kept in school are mentally unbalanced, as Cruz seems to be, or generally criminal, as Cruz also seems to be. In which case, all that is being accomplished is allowing those future felons to prey on their peers and teachers, and to make learning difficult or impossible for kids that want to learn. Experiencing no real consequences for their crimes, all such programs do is ensure those young criminals end up in prison, just a bit later, and after piling up a higher mound of victims.
Despite misgivings expressed by police and prosecutors behind closed doors, as student arrests plummeted in 2016, Israel boasted, ‘We have drastically cut down on juvenile arrests’ by giving school criminals who under previous rules would have been arrested ‘second, third chances.’
It’s very easy to cut down on juvenile arrests if one is determined not to make any. This does not, for a moment, however, reduce the number of crimes. Rather, it increases them. One might also wonder about the wisdom, particularly in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre, of giving kids committing felonies “second, third chances.”
All told, ‘BCPS documented nearly 70 incidents involving Cruz in its incident computer system,’ according to a draft report of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. ‘BCPS disciplinary referral system also contained nearly 55 school incidents involving Cruz.’
This means Cruz committed far more disciplinary/criminal offenses than the official record would suggest. Probably, non-felonies—and perhaps felonies–were often handled by nothing more than saying, “bad! Don’t do that again!”, and many criminal offenses were likely simply ignored in the pursuit of low student arrest rates.
Cruz kept getting breaks under the PROMISE program (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support & Education). It allowed even chronic offenders, including Cruz, to ‘reset’ their discipline records to zero infractions at the end of each school year, making them appear like first-time offenders.
This is the very definition of insanity in school discipline policies. Clearly, the inmates were running this particular asylum.
Last week, after standing by Israel in the wake of the shooting, the South Florida Sun Sentinel published a scathing editorial blasting him for “failed leadership” and demanding his removal from office. The paper cited the newly released state commission report exposing embarrassing new revelations about Israel, including how he changed the word ‘shall’ to ‘may’ when it came to an officer confronting an active shooter.
Last month, the Trump administration revoked the Obama policy, formalized in a January 2014 guidance letter to all public school districts, arguing it has led to increased violence in schools.
And so it has. By all means, take the link and read the rest of Sperry’s article.
One of the recommendations of the commission, in recognition that a single armed officer cannot possibly protect students and staff, even were he willing, is that willing faculty and staff be armed. I’ll pursue this issue in upcoming articles. Such policies are essential in every American school. Ironically, it is the schools with criminal coddling policies that will most loudly resist allowing teachers to protect their students and themselves. For the “leaders” of such schools, feeling safe is far more important than being safe.
It appears the policies of the school district not only aided Cruz, they ensured he, or someone like him, would eventually shoot up schools. Sheriff Israel is obviously complicit in this incompetence, and former Deputy Peterson, almost certainly understanding that failing to shield the non-minority son of the Sheriff from the felony charges he apparently deserved, would result in his termination, went along. He was eventually repaid in kind.
Corruption? To be sure, but more on the part of Sheriff Israel than Deputy Peterson. More on the Commission report soon.