The Scapegoat of Broward County?

Scot Peterson might get 100 years for this tragedy, & to what end?

By Jim Glennon  |   Jun 5, 2019
photo Wikimedia

On Tuesday it was announced that the Broward County deputy who failed to confront the Parkland school massacre gunman has been arrested on child neglect and other charges.

Former Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, 56, was arrested for his “lack of action” during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass school shooting in February of 2018. He was charged with seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence, and one count of perjury.

All remember that fateful day and the realization that Peterson, the Parkland SRO and on duty during the shooting, never went inside the school.

Florida Department Law Enforcement (FDLE) Commissioner Rick Swearingen said the indictments come after a 15-month investigation. He said that, “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. There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.”

If convicted, Peterson could be sentenced up to 100 years.

I’m not writing this article to condemn or defend the former deputy. But to address two things that I address regularly: 1) the disturbing desire to find singular reasons for complicated criminal events and 2) the default to place blame on the police.

In almost any way you look at Peterson’s actions that day, you at least question his thought process as well as resolve. My first reaction over a year ago when he was taking the brunt of the abuse was to say and write, “There has to be more to this than a coward cop cowering in fear.”

And I still don’t know the complete story. That said, Scott Peterson, while perhaps guilty of nonfeasance, is certainly not the reason all of those people are dead. It’s not only more complicated than that but, it’s a travesty of justice and disrespectful to the victims to hang the blame on one deputy or any other singular issue.

Note what happened immediately—and I mean immediately—after Nikolas Cruz, ended his psychotic rampage.

Fingers started pointing and quite frankly, some of the most biased and witless people in the country were given platforms so they could spew unsubstantiated nonsense acting as though they had some special insight as well as solutions.

They didn’t.

But people wanted simple. So outlets such as CNN and politicians with agendas were all too happy to give them simple. It was as disgusting as it was disingenuous.

The National Rifle Association took hits immediately. A CNN townhall provided the platform and the Sheriff of Broward at the time, Scott Israel, provided them with the bona fides. After all, it was his jurisdiction and he’s in law enforcement so he must be an expert. Right?

According to a report in USA Today “Broward County deputies received at least 18 calls warning them about Nikolas Cruz from 2008 to 2017, including concerns that he ‘planned to shoot up the school’ and other threats and acts of violence before he was accused of killing 17 people…”

The FBI admitted they ignored at least one, possibly two, valid tips concerning Cruz and his plans to kill.

School and law enforcement officials, as well as the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) were aware he was violent, threatened others, punched people and walls, possessed weapons, and cut himself over a several year period.

According to Max Eden of the City Journal: “Nikolas Cruz, a notorious and emotionally disturbed student, was suspended from Stoneman Douglas High. He was even expelled for bringing weapons to school. Yet he was never arrested before the shooting.”

Why was he not in the criminal justice system long before that day?

Eden explains it this way: “… in 2013, the school board and the sheriff’s office agreed on a new policy to discontinue police referrals for a dozen infractions ranging from drug use to assault. The number of school-based arrests plummeted by 63 percent from 2012 to 2016. The Obama administration lauded Broward’s reforms, and in 2015 invited the district’s superintendent to the White House for an event, ‘Rethink Discipline,’ that would highlight the success of Broward and other localities’ success in ‘transforming policies and school climate.’”

So outside of the officer on the ground that day, there were significant systemic problems such as government higher-ups refusing to deal with reality and well-intentioned policies that ignored common sense.

As for law enforcement that day, according to the Sun Sentinel and their minute-by-minute breakdown of that fateful afternoon, “Broward Sheriff’s Capt. Jan Jordan, head of the Parkland district, arrives at the school’s administration building and is quickly overwhelmed as she tries to coordinate officers. The faltering radio system frustrates her. She spends her first seven minutes at the school in the administrative building and then goes to a nearby car to try again with the radio system. She eventually moves to another area near Building 12, where she takes cover behind a car to meet with officers.”

In addition, no command post was established, communication was confused, and apparently indecision reigned. Another police agency, Coral Springs, upon arrival ran into the building past some of the Broward deputies.

Again, from the Sun Sentinel investigative report: “The Sheriff’s Office fails to immediately set up a command post. A Broward deputy asks that the command post be set up to help control the response, but it isn’t done for another half-hour.”

Again, this is not to disparage the very brave deputies of Broward County, many of whom I know, but rather to point out that there is no simple singular blame here.  Scott Peterson appears to have not done his job that day. An investigation has led to 11 charges. He’ll have his day in court.

But is that it? Is the blame for all those deaths to fall solely on one police officer?

Is that all the public needs, someone to blame? Will they be satisfied that the problem is rectified and it will never happen again if Scott Peterson is sentenced to prison?

The bureaucratic government system is often set up to fail. Many of them ignore the true needs and complexities of law enforcement and fighting crime. Then we look for easy, simple, and one-step solutions to complex problems. Not always, but too often.

Preparing for Reality?

Training for real-world eventualities, injecting stress, and dynamic confusion into it—this is necessary but rarely done. Training is the first line-item cut during budget crisis’ and the system is impossible to criminally indict.

Many people are responsible for the carnage that day but no one more than Nikolas Cruz who decided to pick up a gun and start murdering. That said, the system failed every one of those victims and this indictment of Scott Peterson, if that’s all there is, will be completely counterproductive.

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Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.