Parkland SRO Found Not Guilty. What Cops Think About the Verdict.

July 24, 2023

Dr. Joel Shults’ recent article, The Parkland Deputy’s Verdict: Could That Have Been Me? drew heavy response from readers with varying opinions about former Broward Co. Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson actions—or lack of action—during the 2018 mass school shooting in Parkland, FL.

Here are some of the comments we received in the wake of Peterson being found not guilty of multiple criminal charges stemming from his decision to stay outside the school during the shooting:

Captain Jeremy Hayes with the Decatur (AL) PD writes:

I am a commander over our department’s SRO Unit. For many years, previous Chiefs of Police have put officers in those positions that were incapable of handling themselves on the streets either physically or mentally. This was basically a closet to hide them in. Do I firmly believe the deputy was a coward? Yes. However, I believe he knew he would never intervene in a situation like that and was simply hoping that it wouldn’t happen at his school.

Having said that, I believe that his Sheriff is ultimately to blame and should have known that he was a sub-standard police officer. We as command staff officers have got to get away from simply putting sub-standard officers who are physically or mentally incapable of the job in a position that they hope they can simply hide them away. We have to make the difficult decision to honestly evaluate the officers under our command. If they are coming up short, train them. If that does not fix the problem, then it is better that we terminate that officer’s employment instead of setting them up for a failure of this magnitude.

Senior Program Officer Jason Sproule with Canada Border Services Agency responds:

Everyone has to die sometime. I know that if I were in his shoes, I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror again if I did what he did. Am I saying I’m some kind of John Wick who would have handily dispatched the murderer without breaking a sweat? No, of course not, but I do know that I couldn’t live with myself if I was in a circumstance like that where it was in my hands to do something to stop an evil child killer and I hid like a coward and did nothing.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.

I know that before any of them came to be, all the days ordained for me were in the Lord’s book, and I know that whatever hour or way in which my end of time on this earth should come, no power in the universe, not even all the powers of Hell, will be able to snatch me from His hands. In the words of my Lord, “No greater love hath a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Better to die trying to do great good than live as a coward to an old age.

Detective Tom Popken who formerly served with Dallas PD writes:

I thought the article was spot on. Do I like what the Deputy did or didn’t do? No, not at all. Do I think, based on what I know, he could have done more? Yes, I think he could have. But to charge him with a crime I think was only political and to appease some people. If we are going to prosecute officers for not taking a certain action…watch out!

I am sure you got some negative feedback on this because most of us would say he was a coward. Yes, I felt that way, but I didn’t think he was a criminal. Great job! I am glad you had the courage to speak up.

From Terry Merriman with the Telluride (CO) Marshall’s Department:

I’m a retired patrol Sergeant with 30 years on the job. I’m also a Vietnam veteran. Lots of tactical training over the years. Rapid response to an active shooter training was available nationwide to all agencies from DHS. It’s my understanding that the officer in question was not given the opportunity of this training. I question why he was a SRO without this training. The protection of our kids and teachers are the reason you would be a SRO. Everything else would be secondary this day and age.

Someone up the chain of command dropped the ball. A SRO is not a retirement job. It’s a duty and you need to be up for the task. I’m sure there was a better choice for the job.

Roy Adams who served as a Senior Instructor and Rangemaster with the Rochester (NY) PD comments:

Sadly, police work is not for everyone. We all know officers who are “retired in place” and should not be assigned to any street job. His defense that as the school’s SRO it did not make him responsible for the students and staff is nonsensical on its face and without merit. If not him, then who?

While running into burning buildings in your polyester uniform without an Airpack is not very bright, confronting active shooters slaughtering children is at the heart of what we do. If you are unwilling to take risks for these defenseless people, what next? Do you fail to respond to an “officer in trouble” call?

You were not issued body armor and a gun to be a spectator. Grow a pair and do your job!

Officer Jed Fox with the Cameron University Office of Public Safety in Lawton, OK writes:

Does courage have a limit? Can you be the bravest of the brave for 16 years and suddenly find yourself scared into inactivity at 17? Would it be right to brand that officer a coward? I don’t know anything about Peterson prior to that fateful day, so I’m not making excuses. Some folks just shouldn’t have a badge. I’ve known a couple since 1989 when I started this job. But I, too, am glad he was found not guilty. How can we fairly put someone on trial for events that did not occur? “If he’d have gone in…”

Nobody knows what would have or could have been. He could have run toward the gunfire, tripped, shattered his knee and not have gone more than 10 feet. I could possibly see internal disciplinary action from his peers that knew his work but for me, that’s as far as it should have gone. Enjoyed the perspective of the author. Sounds like he would have been a fair Chief to work under.

Dr. Philip Semple, Ph.D., a Professor with the Police Foundations Program at Centennial College in Ontario, Canada writes:

I hope you do not mind a Canadian weighing in on your conversation. However, I have made an observation I hope you might find interesting. I served with the Toronto police service for 31 years and spent my last six years as a use of force instructor. Regarding active attackers, I noticed that after Columbine, we had a similar copycat incident here in Canada, but since then, virtually none. Anecdotally, and I say anecdotally because I have not done any extensive research, the main difference between our two cultures is that we have the Young Offenders Act. What this means is that a young person, between the ages of 12 and 18 years, committing an offence in Canada is not allowed to have their names or identity published in the media by law. The result is that the offenders do not get fame or notoriety. This is an area that may be worth further research. Maybe the problem could be attacked at the root cause.

That court has also upheld the validity of s. 38 which prohibits the publication of any report as to an offence committed (or alleged to have been committed) by a young person, or as to a hearing, disposition or appeal under the Act concerning a young person, in which the name of the young person, or of a child or young person aggrieved or who appeared as a witness is disclosed. The publication of information that serves to identify such persons is also prohibited. Contravention of these prohibitions can result in prosecution. (

Regarding the issue of whether or not a person would, or should, go into an active attacker situation: It is my belief that no self-respecting police officer joined the job to kill people. However, with the level of training I have received I firmly believe that with three other competent officers I would feel confident in being able to go into an active attacker situation in diamond formation and obtain a positive outcome. The key point here is my faith and confidence in myself and my partners inspired by the level of training we have received.

Chief Dale Gustafson (ret.) formerly with Homewood (IL) PD responds:

Great article! I didn’t watch the trial, so I don’t know all the facts, if the officer was a coward or legitimately couldn’t determine the source of the gunfire. I DO KNOW that the verdict was good for law enforcement. Can you imagine being criminally charged for every high-risk incident that goes bad? Armed robbery in progress (no shots fired)…go in and risk a shootout among a bunch of shoppers or wait and confront the offender outside the business? Either way it could go bad in a multitude of ways and then the OFFICER gets charged for making a “bad decision.” Ridiculously bad possibilities! Glad it turned out the way it did. Just my thoughts.

Chief Andrew J. Scott, III, DCJ (ret.) formerly with the Boca Raton (FL) PD writes:

Having been a law enforcement officer for over 30 years in South Florida, having seen the evolution of police tactics to address active shooters over those years, and living minutes away from Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I too was very vocal about my criticisms of Officer Peterson’s actions and behavior that dreadful day. However, in my humble opinion, the jury returned the correct verdict because inaction, ambivalence, and cowardice are not crimes. Any cop worth their salt should have tried to put themselves in Peterson’s shoes that day and try to imagine what they would do. To that end, the vast majority of us would like to think we would have acted differently than he did; seeking the miscreant shooter and attempting to neutralize him. However, one does not know how they would act until confronted with such a scenario. In the end, Mr. Peterson will have to deal with what he did and did not do that day for the rest of his life. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, a coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero dies but once. Conversely, if there was ever a jury that got it wrong, it was the jury that presided over the sentencing of the Parkland murderer. That jury recommended he receive the penalty of life in prison instead of the death penalty. The victims’ parents, relatives, and friends were re-victimized because of that decision.

Kevin West, Director of Security at Mars Hill (NC) University responds:

Thanks for your admonishment for officers to take a minute and think about wearing another’s shoes before being so quick to judge. It’s hard enough with the media, district attorneys, local governments, and yes, clueless street-stupid police administrators judging officers harshly based on ridiculous expectations.

In the cold light of recrimination, nothing gets solved and very little is ultimately learned. I am a retired police professional with experience from raw boot patrol to running our CID (27 years) and a former police tactical officer with continuing experience in the field. For the last seven years I have been in the position of Director of Security for a college campus. I spend a lot of my collaborative time with other peer staff, as well as the Presidents Leadership Team updating and exposing them to realistic expectations. It’s important for us as police officers and administrators to behave rationally, and NEVER act in ways that fan the flames of those that for good or ill would see harm come to other law enforcement officers. Point out the facts, train and retrain when you can, usher who should never have been there off the bus, and carry on!

Excellent shared thoughts sir!

Constable Hugh Plylar (ret.) writes:

As you stated so well it could have been me.

I am going to use what Christ said about the woman caught in Adultery.

To one without sin cast the first stone.

Yes, we all can make armchair comments but when the bullets start flying just what would I do? Truth, I don’t know.

Great article.

Sgt./Det. Michael Hanson (ret.) from the Indianapolis (IN) Metro PD writes:

Did Peterson have a rifle or a shotgun at his disposal? It is easy to Monday morning quarterback, but we all know what happens when you bring a handgun to a rifle fight. Sure, SWAT has rifles, maybe patrol units too, but Peterson, by all accounts I have seen, did not. I don’t know what I would do or how I would react. I have faced armed men and lived, but there was no gunfight. Judging someone is one thing…but keep it to yourself. Because the next one to be chastised just may be you!

Supervisory Agent Vince Carag (ret.) formerly with the HHS-OIG in Austin, TX comments:

I can unequivocally say this would not be me because I am not a physical and moral coward. Over the course of a 24-year career in patrol, SWAT, and investigations (and leadership in all three specialties) I was involved in numerous critical incidents which included two OIS’s and two active shooter incidents where I and other officers ran to the sound of the guns, not away from it. The actions of this former officer are shameful and disgusting.

Major (Ret.) Andrew Casavant with the Walton Co. (FL) SO responds:

The Dr. makes some very compelling arguments about this case. He is absolutely right on about one of those and that is the not guilty verdicts. The courts have rules enough on that issue regarding a police officer’s duty to act to protect citizens. There is nothing that says we have to act. We may never know what was going through the deputy’s mind or what he was thinking or not thinking. However one feels about his actions or inactions, his behavior was not criminal. Despicable, cowardly, horrific whatever you want to call it, but not criminal.

We do not need to go down that rabbit hole. That would be the end of us. If you have never been in a situation like this, it is hard to you to imagine what is going through your mind. There are two conflicting thoughts. One is to get there and act to do what your trained to do and the other is that you will not do anyone any good if you go down.

Think of driving to an officer needs assistance call. If you wreck, you’re no good to that officer. Most training says to get there ASAP but safely. There is and always should be a balance in your tactics. Single officer response means that you have to know that the danger is higher for you then if a team goes in so your tactics should reflect that. You might not move as fast as you could or want but you’re still moving.

We all like to think we would be heroic when the time comes and do what needs to be done, however that may not be the case. You will only know that when it’s your turn to face that type of situation and not before. The author was right, there is no training that can prepare you for the real thing. You hear that in sports all the time; that the speed of the game can’t be replicated in practice. The missing ingredients in training is the heart and a willingness to act.

One last point – administration has a part in this. How does one stay a SRO for most of twenty years? Rotating officers out of specialized units or positions needs to be considered. It’s healthy for the officer and organization.

Sgt. (ret.) Joel Johnston formerly with the Vancouver, Canada Police Department writes:

This is a well-articulated, thoughtful, and thought-provoking article. “Blame in tragedy is a natural knee-jerk reaction that should not presume fault or cause, and the emotional relief of a scapegoat must not seep into the justice system.” Brilliant line! Still, most cops have to think they’d have acted in this incident.

And finally, another reader writes:

A failed math test DOES indict the math teacher that made no effort to teach the students. A death on the operating table DOES indict the surgeon who failed to use the skills in which they were trained in an attempt to save the life.

I’m no expert on the case, but people don’t have strong opinions against Peterson because he failed to save lives; but because it appears he made no effort in his duty to protect children when they needed him most. He had training, a weapon, and body armor; the children had none of that. It is looking through these lenses that brings forth the feeling that he was a coward. Was he attempting to discern location of the suspect? Trying to find a way in to make a tactical approach? Coordinating response for officers enroute? Taking any action in an effort to stop the killing?

Or hiding in the parking lot?

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  1. Chas Weinblatt

    As one writer opines; inaction and cowardice is not a crime. The truth of the matter is, malfeasance under the color of law is certainly an issue to address.

  2. David Porter NYPD Sergeant Spec. Assn. (ret.)

    “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face!” Mike Tyson What we all need to consider is that in most police responses to situations such as these, responding officers (unlike Uvalde) the responding officer had a partner or more with them. Peterson had nothing but his training and in spite of his tasking a will if not a need or desire to survive. Was he coward? I shall let history decide that. As said this profession is a calling and is not for the faint of heart. If his leadership who assigned him knew he would have been better off counting lightbulbs at the warehouse, shame on them for not putting him there and placing him at the school.

  3. Ken

    He was a coward, not a criminal.

  4. David Ramos

    On two occasions while in LE I attempted to fire two officers for cowardice, these were separate events by different individuals. Both department heads feared being sued more than they feared a officer who would turn and run it it got nasty. One of the events resulted in a officer sustaining a injury which forced a medical retirement. No administrator would touch it. I have been retired for 18 years now and miss nothing of the politics and those who have no courage. As far as Mr. Peterson is concerned, he must live with his decisions of that day. In my two cases, the peer pressure became so intense that the cowards resigned and went to work in different states.

    To those who do have courage and are willing to place themselves in harms way, I will always admire your resolve. Most of the men and women in LE are exceptional individuals. Stay strong and on task, thank you for your service.

    David Ramos
    retired Sgt. in Arizona

  5. Lt. Stephen Charla, BSO, ret.

    Now that it is Monday morning, we all know what was going on in one of several school buildings. Peterson didn’t have a clue. When Cruz was firing through the 2nd floor windows, Peterson and others thought the shots were coming from outside and looked over their shoulders for a shooter. Plus the female BSO Parkland captain, from her office, ordered everyone to stay back 500 feet. All 911 calls from the school were going to Coral Springs PD, not BSO dispatch. The BSO deputies on scene did not know what was happening, until 6 CSPD units drove up and the officers ran into the school. When the deputies heard what was going on, they ran in with them. Cruz was already off campus and later on some Coconut Creek PD officers caught him nearby. I knew Deputy Peterson personally, and if he knew what was happening and where it was taking place, he would have taken appropriate action.


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