Florida deputy who failed to confront Parkland shooter faces 11 charges

Prosecutors say the Florida deputy who failed to confront a gunman during last year's Parkland massacre has been arrested on 11 charges, including child neglect.

17 people were killed and 17 wounded at school shooting last year

The Florida deputy who did not confront the gunman who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School last year has been charged with 11 counts. (Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images)

Prosecutors say the Florida deputy who failed to confront a gunman during last year's Parkland massacre has been arrested on 11 charges, including child neglect.

State Attorney Mike Satz announced Tuesday that 56-year-old Scot Peterson faces seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury. Peterson, who was a Broward County deputy at the time, was on duty during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but never went inside.

One of the victims was 14-year-old Gina Montalto, whose father Tony Montalto said families wanted justice to be done.

"We are happy to see some accountability for this tragedy that took the life of my daughter Gina and 16 other wonderful individuals as well as terribly injured 17 others," said Montalto, president of the Stand With Parkland victim families' group.

Peterson's bail was set at $102,000 US, Satz said. Once released, Peterson will be required to wear a GPS monitor and surrender his passport, and will be prohibited from possessing a firearm, the prosecutor said.

Peterson lawyer Joseph DiRuzzo didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, he has defended Peterson's conduct as justified under the circumstances. 

Peterson himself has defended his actions in the past, including in an 18-page letter. "My actions on February 14, 2018 were consistent with the training I had received for the past 30 years," he wrote. "I assessed the situation and acted accordingly to the real time intelligence I assessed on the scene."

The charges follow a 14-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), according to that agency.

"The FDLE investigation shows former deputy Peterson did absolutely nothing to mitigate the MSD shooting that killed 17 children, teachers and staff and injured 17 others," FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen in an email statement said. "There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives."

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said Peterson has been formally terminated, although he announced his retirement shortly after the shooting.

"It's never too late for accountability and justice," Tony said.

David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said the key to the case will be the culpable negligence charge, which essentially means an "utter disregard for the safety of others."

"They are focusing on the care he was required to give to the students as a caregiver who was responsible for their welfare," Weinstein added.

The Peterson arrest is the latest fallout from the shooting. Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended then-Sheriff Scott Israel for "neglect of duty and incompetence" over the department's actions that day. Israel is appealing that decision to the state Senate and said he intends to run again next year.

'A coward, a failure and a criminal'

The case also spawned a state commission that issued a 458-page report detailing a litany of errors before and during the shooting, including unaggressive Broward deputies who stayed outside the school building and the policies that led to that. The commission also recommended voluntary arming of teachers, which state lawmakers approved this year.

The chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, said in an interview that the charges against Peterson are "absolutely warranted."

"Scot Peterson is a coward, a failure and a criminal," Gualtieri said. "There is no doubt in my mind that because he didn't act, people were killed."

Twenty-year-old Nikolas Cruz has been charged with killing 17 people and wounding 17 others in the attack. If convicted, he faces the death penalty. Cruz's lawyers have said he would plead guilty in return for a life sentence, but prosecutors have refused that offer.

Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson, who was assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the February 14, 2018 shooting, is seen in this still image captured from the school surveillance video released by Broward County Sheriff's Office in Florida, U.S. on March 15, 2018. (Broward County Sheriff's Office/Reuters)

With files from CBC News