A former Broward County Sheriff’s deputy, Scot Peterson, has been accused of cowardice. Some people say that he failed to properly respond when a gunman started shooting and killing 17 students, teachers and staff members, and wounding 17 others.
On June 6, he was criminally charged with seven counts of felony neglect of a child and culpable negligence and perjury during a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. This came in response to his action to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
Because of the horrible 1999 Columbine massacre, police agencies learned a new way of handling mass shootings. The first three officers arriving on a scene were taught to attempt to stop the threat, and not wait on a SWAT team. Former deputy Scot Peterson was a one-man team.
The lieutenant who reached Scot Peterson first stated he was behaving in a manner normally attributed to people who show fear or panic. He said that Peterson was pacing outside, repeating, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God while he moved back and forth, talking to himself and breathing heavily.”
Peterson has said firmly that he was not scared. Many police officers have time to be scared when confronted with tragic circumstances, but for many, the fear often comes afterward. For others, they are scared even when they respond to danger. If they are like me, they looked back after an event and realize that their move could have been their last.
Peterson said that when he first heard the noise, he wasn’t sure if it was gunfire or firecrackers. He said that in this time of chaos and confusion, he didn’t have time to think, but that he did react. He said the shooting happened in a hurricane-proof building that has thick glass which was very hard to hear through.
Some officials said that Peterson, the school resource officer, was the only armed person at the school. They made it clear that they believe that he did “absolutely nothing” to stop the mass shooting.
Peterson said that he was looking on rooftops, windows and sidewalks for the gunman. He said that he did not go inside the school building because he thought that there might be a sniper nearby.
All police officers swear to an oath of office. These oaths usually cover supporting the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state. The oath might cover faithfully discharging the duties of a police officer, and bearing true faith and allegiance to a community.
A typical code of ethics might cover an officer’s fundamental duty to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice.
Did former Deputy Scot Peterson violate his oath of office or code of ethics? Since I wasn’t there, I will hold my judgement until the case is over. I do know that I have sworn to several oaths over the years, and don’t recall hearing that people expected me to give up my life.
Different segments of the public have different ideas about what a police officer does. Some believe they protect and others think that police officers torment. I have said in several columns that police officers simply want to go home at the end of the day. I have also said that a police officer will step in front of a speeding locomotive to save a citizen.
Just what do we expect of our police officers? Do we expect a mother of three to drown trying to rescue a man who foolishly drove around barricades to cross a swollen river? Do we expect an only son to be shot in the face just because he wears a badge? Some people say yes to both, and that if police officers don’t like the risk, they should find another line of work.
It seems to me that some segments of society believe that police officers should be weight lifting angels who can shoot a flea off a gnat’s rear at 100 yards. Many want police officers to be doctors, psychologists, and counselors and possess the ability to differentiate between real and fake, even with their eyes closed.
Peterson’s case should bring about legal questions like, “should police officers be incarcerated if they don’t follow their training?” On June 27, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers didn’t have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm. Will this case set a new precedent?