Ex-Fla. deputy called ‘coward’ by Trump once said his goal was to ‘protect our kids’
Long before he was called a "coward" by President Donald Trump for not confronting a mass shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, former Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson told a school board, "We're all here for the same goal, to protect our kids."
Three years after making the comment, Peterson is defending himself against accusations he did nothing to protect the staff and students from shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz during his shooting rampage at the Parkland, Florida, school, which left 17 dead.
"Mr. Peterson has had a decorated career with the Broward Sheriff's Office, including receiving glowing annual performance reviews and being named the school resource officer of the year in 2014," Peterson's attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo said.
Peterson, the 54-year-old divorced father of four children, abruptly resigned and retired last week after Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel suspended him without pay. Israel said his decision was based on witness statements and video purportedly showing the deputy standing outside the building where the Parkland, Florida, school shooting was taking place but never going inside to confront the gunman, who killed 17 people.
In an appearance before the Broward County School Board, Peterson touted the Resident On Campus Security Program, also known as ROCS. At the time, Peterson, in addition to his duties as a school resource officer for the sheriff's office, was a ROCS officer who lived on the campus of Atlantic Technical College in Coconut Creek, Florida.
"I want to talk to you about accomplishments," Peterson said in the YouTube video taken during his appearance before the Broward County School Board.
Peterson recalled two calls he responded to in an attempt to show the benefit of having a law enforcement officer living on the Atlantic Technical College campus.
"There was one time, it was a Sunday morning, it was about 8:30, I was out washing my car, my cell phone went off and it was a school board [member] alarm to assist people," Peterson said. "As a matter of fact I remember his name, Dan, and he goes to me 'Scot, the alarm's going off in the cafeteria.'"
Peterson said he felt "the hairs on the back of his neck" rise because the cafeteria alarm had never gone off before. He said he didn't hesitate to respond.
"So I ran into my trailer, I grabbed my firearm and my ID, and my shorts and my sneakers, and I ran over…to the cafeteria," he said. "As I got to the cafeteria, sure enough, there were four males inside the cafeteria."
He said the burglars saw him peeking through a window and fled.
"I'm getting older, but I chased them," he said. "I identified who I was and, as ironic as it may seem, they ran right toward my trailer."
He said he jumped into his car and apprehended two of them, adding that he "threw 'em in the back, kept going, grabbed the other two."
"Four burglars and … those are the accomplishments that I want you folks to realize that are part of the ROCS program," he said. "It's not all that can be identified in some statistical data."
Recalling another incident, Peterson told the board, "This one is chilling." He said he was once in bed in his campus trailer when he heard banging on his door at about 11:30 p.m.
"I jump up, I get to the door and there's a facilities lady … and she's screaming," he said. "And I go, 'What's going on? What's going on?' She goes, 'There's a guy all in black, with a ski mask and a gun. I say, 'Whoa, you know obviously, holy crap, pardon my French."
He continued, "So I ran, put some shorts on, ran out with my firearm. While I'm running, I'm contacting Coconut Creek Police. We set up a perimeter. Long story short, we caught the individual when he ran across Coconut Creek Parkway and he was hiding behind a bank."
He said the suspected gunman turned out to be an 18-year-old with a paintball gun.
"I know I've probably caught a hundred trespassers at Atlantic Tech College, most of them skateboarders, most of them juveniles," he said. "I'm almost on my way out … but I have other police officers that, you know, made homes there. They're part of the community. We're all here for the same goal, to protect our kids, to protect our property."
Born in Illinois, Peterson moved to Florida with his family as a boy and graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School. He went on to graduate from Florida International University in Miami with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.
While still in college, Peterson, started working at the Broward County Sheriff's Office in 1985 and completed multiple training programs, including a mandatory firearms training program and special tactical problems training program, according to records released by the sheriff's office.
Peterson was named Parkland district employee of the month in May 2012 and was recognized two years later as school resource officer of the year.
Peterson "takes pride in protecting the students, faculty and staff at his school. Deputy Peterson is dependable and reliable and handles issues that arise with tact and solid judgment," according to an evaluation released by the sheriff's office.
An internal memo dated March 2017 said, “Peterson is a positive influence on the students and they respect and appreciate his position.” The memo also shows Peterson was nominated for Parkland deputy of the year.
On Monday, Peterson hired DiRuzzo to respond to "unfounded criticism of his actions" during the mass shooting. DiRuzzo laid out details of how Peterson responded to the shooting, saying the deputy thought the gunfire was coming from outside the building where the massacre was taking place.
DiRuzzo also said Peterson was the first officer to advise dispatch of the shooting and initiated a "Code Red" lockdown of the school. He said the deputy also got school administrators to immediately start reviewing closed-circuit cameras to locate the gunman and obtain a description, and that he gave an arriving SWAT commander handwritten diagrams of the entire campus to evacuate students.
"Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the 17 victims on that day, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need," DiRuzzo said in a statement. "However, the allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue."