Deputy scheduled to testify about school massacre response
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The then-Florida sheriff's deputy who didn't rush into the building as a gunman killed 17 high school students and staff members is scheduled to testify this week before the commission investigating the massacre, but could refuse by citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Former Broward Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson is scheduled to testify Wednesday during the second day of this month's three-day hearing of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.
Peterson, then the school's resource officer, is scheduled to testify about security camera video that shows him hurrying to the three-story freshman building, drawing his handgun but then remaining outside even though Broward County sheriff's officials say his training taught him to charge in and shoot the gunman.
President Donald Trump and others have called him a coward for not doing so, something he has vehemently denied. He will also be given a chance to discuss that training and whether it was adequate.
But recent word the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating possible criminal misconduct in the law enforcement response to the shooting may allow Peterson to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. His attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo III, did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment.
If Peterson testifies, he will face hostile inquisitors. Commissioner Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died in the Feb. 14 shooting, only calls Peterson "the coward from Broward" during meetings of the 14-member panel, which has been meeting about every four weeks since April.
The commission is composed of law enforcement, education and mental health officials, a legislator, and two fathers of victims: Schachter and Ryan Petty. The members must file a report by Jan. 1 with findings on what caused the massacre and recommendations for preventing future school shootings.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission's chairman, declined recently to say how the newly announced investigation might affect Peterson's testimony. He said at the commission's September meeting it would be hypocritical for Peterson to refuse as he gave two media interviews released in June.
Peterson "went on the 'Today' show, he talked to the Washington Post, so he should come here and answer questions from this fact-finding commission," Gualtieri said last month. "He told a self-serving story on the 'Today' show, at least I think so, in a very, very friendly environment and he should answer questions about (the shooting) from an objective, fact-finding body. ... He should stand here and answer."
Peterson, 55, was a decorated sheriff's deputy for 32 years but retired weeks after the shooting rather than face suspension, receiving a $100,000 annual pension. In the Post interview and to investigators, Peterson insisted he did not know shots were coming from inside the freshman building. He said he thought a sniper might be outside the school, on a roof or in the trees. He couldn't pinpoint the shots, he said, because he only heard a few, not the 150 investigators say suspect Nikolas Cruz fired from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
"The thing I keep coming back to is all those shots," Peterson said in the Post story. "I heard two or three. It's like my focus narrowed."
Peterson's critics don't buy it. They point to his radio calls, where he says there "appear to be shots fired" at the freshman building, but instead of going inside to confirm he began radioing orders to close streets. Most concede Peterson could not have prevented Cruz from killing 11 on the first floor — they were dead or mortally wounded when Peterson got to the building. But he remained outside as investigators say Cruz climbed to the second floor, where he fired shots that crashed through windows above Peterson's head — another fact his critics point out. No one died there because students and teachers, hearing the first-floor shots, had locked their classrooms.
Cruz then went to the third floor, where insulation had likely muffled the sound of the first-floor shots. The smoke the shots created triggered the fire alarm, putting students into the hallway as they thought they needed to evacuate. Hearing the shots on the second, they were scrambling back into classrooms or fleeing toward the west stairwell when investigators say Cruz emerged from the east stairwell and opened fire, fatally wounding six.