FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The school deputy who drew national condemnation for failing to confront the Stoneman Douglas shooter fought back Monday, arguing his decision to not enter the building was made not out of cowardice but from his best assessment of the situation.
Deputy Scot Peterson, the school resource officer, had been accused of allowing students and teachers to face gunman Nikolas Cruz in a school building, while he remained sheltered outside. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said Peterson should have "went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer." President Donald Trump called Peterson a coward in the aftermath. After being suspended without pay last week, Peterson, 54, resigned.
"What I saw was a deputy arrive ... take up a position and he never went in," the sheriff said at a news conference.
But Peterson's lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, called that account a "gross oversimplification."
"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," he said "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."
Peterson said the initial report was of firecrackers, not gunshots, in the 1200 building, where the killer was shooting his victims. When he reached the building, he heard gunshots, but "believed that those gunshots were originating from outside of any of the buildings on the school campus," the statement said, in a quotation attributed to Peterson.
In the event of outdoor gunshots, sheriff's office training calls for deputies to "seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes to other law enforcement," the statement said.
"Consistent with his training, Mr. Peterson 'took up a tactical position between the 700-800 buildings corridor/corner," the statement said. Radio reports of a victim on the football field reinforced his belief that the shooter was outside, according to the statement.
He was the first sheriff's office to advise BSO dispatch of shots fired, and he initiated the code red that locked down the entire campus.
Peterson has been subjected to national ridicule for his actions in the Feb. 14 shooting, in which 17 students and staff were killed. In addition to calling Peterson a "coward," Trump said he "certainly did a poor job."
The president doubled down on that Monday, telling a White House gathering of governors, "Look at Peterson. Look what he did in Broward where he thought he was probably a brave guy, but he wasn't a brave guy under pressure. He choked, and other people choked."
Pete Blair, a professor of criminal justice and director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University in San Marcos, said more information was needed to know if Peterson genuinely was confused about the source of the gunshots or simply trying to avoid injury.
"What we train officers to do is to go to the sounds of gunfire," he said. "We know that every second you delay is time that people could get killed, and so there's that real emphasis on getting in there and finding, isolating, distracting and neutralizing the bad guy. But if there's confusion about where the gunfire is coming from, that certainly can slow that process down."
In a complex like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he said, the sound of gunfire can bounce off buildings and appear to be coming from somewhere else.
"I haven't seen the video to see if he's really looking for where the gunfire is coming from or if he's just hunkering down," he said. "But it could be a possible explanation."
The Broward Sheriff's Office said it could not comment in detail on the statement from Peterson's lawyer, but it issued a statement.
"Last week, when former deputy Scot Peterson was notified that an internal affairs investigation was going to be conducted regarding his actions and that he was being suspended without pay, he chose to resign," the sheriff's office said. "The case is an active internal affairs investigation. In accordance with Florida law, we are prohibited from discussing any details until the case has concluded."