Scot Peterson, the disgraced school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who failed to act when a former student shot and killed 17 people and injured 17 more, did not show up Thursday at the state commission where he was subpoenaed to testify.
Although Peterson didn’t show, others who have faced withering criticism in the wake of the massacre did, including Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie. Both expressed sorrow over the rampage by former student Nikolas Cruz, issuing apologies to the family that lost loved ones.
Miami Herald Reports:
Peterson, instead of making an appearance, announced through his attorney that he is suing the commission created to investigate the tragedy — and he’s started a GoFundMe page to raise $150,000 for a legal defense fund.
His lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, made a brief appearance before the commission to inform members that Peterson would not appear and to hand-deliver a lawsuit, which seeks to quash the commission’s subpoena.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the commission, said the panel was caught off guard. He said DiRuzzo had not communicated with the commission.
“When he showed up here this afternoon, he wouldn’t communicate with us,” Gualtieri said of the lawyer. “He wouldn’t tell us if Peterson was here or not. We heard what you [the audience] heard for the first time.”
Israel told a state commission that faulty radios, a patchwork 911 system and — perhaps — a lack of courage hampered the response of deputies responding to the Parkland school shooting
But he did not directly address the actions of seven deputies who failed to enter the campus even though they arrived in time to hear gunfire. And he rejected notions of a systemic breakdown in how the Broward Sheriff’s Office handled the chaotic mass shooting.
“Sometimes it’s not about policies and it’s not about training, it’s about performance,” Israel said. “And you just can’t measure heart.”
For Israel, it was the first time he had spoken publicly about BSO’s response since the commission was established in March.
“I wish I could have been there for the kids that day,” said Israel, who arrived on the scene after victims were already being medically treated.
Commission member Kevin Lystad, chief of Miami Shores Police Department, opened the questioning by saying he was concerned about a “lack of urgency” deputies showed after arriving on scene.
As they arrived, BSO deputies took cover behind cars, directed traffic and spent time putting on their bulletproof vests. It took 11 minutes for law enforcement officers to enter the building, and even then officers from Coral Springs Police Department led the way.
The deputies “weren’t really prepared when they showed up on the scene,” Lystad said.
Israel — in a statement that seemed to surprise commissioners — said that he did not believe deputies knew there was an active shooter on scene, except for school resource officer and Deputy Peterson, who was already on campus. That notion was quickly disputed by Gualtieri, who pointed out Peterson and others had reported shots being fired over their radios.
Israel’s turn came after an appearance by schools chief Runcie.
“I want to offer my condolences and say I am so, so sorry that you sent your kids to school that day like any other parent would, expecting them to return, and somehow we failed to live up to that promise to you,” Runcie told the commission at Sunrise’s BB&T Center.
Two fathers of slain Stoneman Douglas students are on the state commission. Fourteen students and three staff members died when Cruz, 19, showed up on campus, walked into the freshman building and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. He is awaiting trial.
Runcie said he had just finished a ceremony awarding the keys to a Toyota Camry to Broward County’s teacher of the year when he got a call informing him of an incident at Stoneman Douglas. “The trauma that continues to inflict our community is extensive,” said Runcie, who has been superintendent of the nation’s sixth-largest school district since 2011.
After his surprise announcement on behalf of his client Peterson, DiRuzzo quickly exited the packed hearing and declined to speak with a reporter. But he did send an emailed statement and a copy of the lawsuit.
In the statement, DiRuzzo said the commission was not acting as a “neutral fact-finding body” but had “succumbed to the not-so-thinly-veiled personal agendas of the commission members.” It also points out that Stoneman Douglas administrators were supposed to do a ”threat assessment” of Cruz after Peterson investigated allegations he had ingested gasoline, and argues that Peterson followed Broward’s active shooter training.
Peterson’s lawsuit argues that the commission is exceeding its statutory authority and asks a Broward judge to strike down its subpoena. It also says Gualtieri should be removed as chairman.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said he did not take the lawsuit seriously.
“That’s always warm and makes you feel really good,” Judd said.
Commission member Max Schachter, whose son Alex was among those killed that day, asked if Peterson could be held in contempt. Gualtieri said the commission would need to review the hand-delivered pleadings.
Peterson would have faced harsh questions from the commission. He was armed and on duty when former student Cruz walked into Stoneman Douglas’ freshman building and opened fire. But Peterson failed to enter the building and told other BSO deputies responding to stay away — in violation of standard active-shooter protocols. He then mistakenly told first responders that Cruz was still in the building when he had in fact already fled.
“Not only is he making things up, he’s creating more confusion and delaying the response,” said commission member Ryan Petty, whose daughter, Alaina, was killed in the attack.
Peterson has not spoken publicly since he gave an interview to NBC’s Today show in June. He defended himself in that interview, saying he did not know the gunshots were coming from inside the building, also known as the 1200 building.
But investigators for the commission presented compelling evidence that was not the case.
“I think we’ve got shots fired. Possible shots fired. 1200 building,” Peterson said over the radio less than two minutes after Cruz opened fire.
One first responder said as law enforcement officers converged on the building, Peterson told him the shooter was on the second or third floor.
Sheriff Israel announced Peterson’s resignation eight days after the shooting, saying Peterson made him “sick to his stomach.”
“It’s a bunch of lies,” Gualteri said of how Peterson would later seek to explain his conduct. “It’s fictitious.”
Peterson has been receiving an $8,700 monthly pension, according to media reports. As of Thursday evening, no one had donated to his GoFundMe page.
Andrew Pollack’s daughter Meadow was slain in the attack. Pollack attended the meeting — and said he wasn’t surprised Peterson, whom he is suing in a wrongful-death lawsuit, didn’t show.
“He’s a coward,” Pollack said. “He could have saved my daughter.”
From Miami Herald