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Parkland shooting verdict: School security officer Scot Peterson found not guilty over failure to confront gunman

Scot Peterson had been charged with neglect of a child and culpable negligence in the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17.
Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School School Resource Officer Scot Peterson during his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Scot Peterson, a former school resource officer at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, during his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 23.Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP Pool file
/ Source: NBC News

A former school security officer was found not guilty Thursday over a failure to confront the gunman who massacred 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

Scot Peterson, who was a Broward County sheriff’s deputy and worked as a resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was charged in 2019 with seven counts of neglect of a child and three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury.

He broke down in tears as the unanimous decision was read Thursday.

The charges carried a maximum potential sentence of 96½ years in state prison, the Broward County State Attorney’s Office said.

Seventeen students, teachers and staff were killed in the shooting Feb. 14, 2018, and another 17 were injured.

Peterson, 60, was the only other person at the school with a gun when the shooter opened fire. He was forced to retire following the school shooting.

He was taken into custody in Broward County after a 15-month investigation that showed he “refused to investigate the source of the gunshots, retreated during the active shooting while victims were being shot and directed other law enforcement who arrived on scene to remain 500 feet away from the building,” according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Department Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a news release that Peterson “did absolutely nothing” to stop the shooting.

“There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives,” Swearingen added.

Previous lawyers for Peterson have denounced the charges against him as “unprecedented” and “spurious.”

“The State’s actions appear to be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at politically motivated retribution against Mr. Peterson,” attorney Joseph DiRuzzo said in a statement to NBC News in 2019. “The charges against Mr. Peterson should be dismissed immediately.”

A former student, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. In 2022, a jury spared him from the death penalty, recommending that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2018 massacre.

In an interview with NBC’s TODAY about three months after the shooting, the former guard apologized to the families of the 17 victims.

“I’m sorry,” he said through tears in the interview.

The 33-year law enforcement veteran said at the time it wasn’t fear that kept him from rushing into the school as the gunman stalked the halls with an AR-15. It was chaos, miscommunication and his assumption that the shots were being fired outside by a sniper.

“I didn’t get it right,” Peterson admitted. “But it wasn’t because of some, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go into that building. Oh, I don’t want to face somebody in there.’ It wasn’t like that at all.”

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