As students cowered behind desks as an active shooter killed 17 teachers and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, there was one more person cowering for safety. Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy spent the entire six-minutes of the attack cowering outside behind a building. Despite being a trained deputy with a firearm and assigned to the school in order to protect students, Scot Peterson hid outside and listened to the sounds of gunfire as students waited helplessly for police protection that never came.
Peterson has since resigned. The local sheriff’s department is protecting Peterson’s house for his own safety, even though Peterson made no attempt to protect the students at the school while they were murdered by an armed gunman. Peterson is still eligible to collect his retirement benefits.
The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has reignited nationwide debates about guns, mental health and police protection in schools. Some say that Peterson’s failure to act is a reminder that police protection alone may not be enough to stop a school shooter. Others say that Peterson merely ran away when he should have run in to do his duty.
It’s unclear if Peterson may face criminal charges for his failure to act. In Florida, it’s a crime for a police officer to fail to perform a required duty. Any police officer who doesn’t perform a required duty is guilty of a misdemeanor in the second degree. However, in Florida, a misdemeanor in the second degree is only punishable by up to 60 days in jail. For many, that hardly seems adequate given the number of people that Peterson may have saved if he had gone into the building to engage the shooter.
The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that police officers have no duty to protect someone or respond to an emergency. Gun owners say that’s exactly why they don’t want lawmakers to restrict gun ownership in the wake of the Florida tragedy. Others say that addressing gun ownership will prevent gun violence.
There’s no word if Peterson will face charges of dereliction of duty for failing to go inside the school. Peterson was present and outside of the school building for four of the six minutes during which the school shooting took place. U.S. President Donald Trump says that he’s open to raising the minimum age for gun ownership. He also wants to allow teachers to carry weapons.