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Parkland massacre deputy, found not guilty of criminal wrongdoing, demands BSO pay his legal fees

Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Former Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, the school resource officer on duty during the massacre of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was in court Tuesday asking a Broward judge to force the Broward Sheriff’s Office to pay the legal fees connected to his 2023 negligence trial.

Peterson stood in front of Broward Circuit Judge Martin Fein, the same judge who oversaw his trial, and vowed to prove that his conduct on Feb. 14, 2018, when gunman Nikolas Cruz shot his way through the Parkland school’s freshman building, was consistent with Sheriff’s Office policy based on what he knew at the time the shooting was taking place.

Peterson was found not guilty of multiple counts of criminal child neglect stemming from his inaction during the Parkland shooting. Cruz shot and killed 17 people and wounded 17 more at the school. Peterson, the only armed deputy on campus, took cover outside the building and never confronted the gunman.

Cruz pleaded guilty to the shootings and, after an emotional penalty phase trial, was sentenced in 2022 to 34 consecutive life sentences.

After the shooting, Peterson told investigators he could not tell from his vantage point where the shots he heard were coming from, so he took cover in compliance with his training.

“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” Peterson said outside the courtroom. “Everything I did was based on my real-time intelligence during that shooting. I did not violate a single policy of the Broward Sheriff’s Office. I’ve been with that agency 32 years. I know the policy … They never charged me with violating the active shooter policy because I didn’t violate it.”


During Peterson’s criminal trial, defense lawyer Mark Eiglarsh (who stood by Peterson Tuesday but did not participate in the hearing before Judge Fein) painted his client as a scapegoat for the failures of the Broward Sheriff’s Office the day of the shooting, which included a communications breakdown that allowed Cruz to slip out of the building while police thought he was still inside.

Peterson’s professional reputation was damaged beyond repair when he was denounced by public officials from then-Sheriff Scott Israel to then-President Donald Trump.

Under most circumstances, legal fees for a deputy accused of wrongdoing are covered by the Sheriff’s Office, but the issue of whether Peterson violated policy remains unresolved. Peterson accused Sheriff Gregory Tony of employing a “scorched earth” policy of refusing to pay for his fees.

Broward Sheriff’s Office general counsel Terrence Lynch argued that Peterson improperly applied for the fee payment and is no longer entitled to it.

Fein declined to rule on Peterson’s motion, ordering the deputy to file a civil action since the dispute is over money rather than criminal wrongdoing.

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