Prosecutors presented their final arguments to the jury this Monday in the trial of Florida deputy sheriff accused of non-confrontation to the shooter who murdered 14 students and three staff members at a Parkland high school five years ago.
Broward County Officer Scot Peterson could have located and detained Nikolas Cruz as he carried out his attack on February 14, 2018 inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but instead of opening a door, looking through a window or looking for information on fleeing students, he chose to take refuge next to an adjoining building, prosecutor Kristen Gomes told the jury.
Peterson, 60, is charged with child neglect and other charges for his alleged failure to confront former student Nikolas Cruz before the shooter reached the third floor of the 1200 building, killing six of victims.
Peterson is not charged in connection with the death of 11 people on the first floor before he reached the building.
This is the first time a US law enforcement officer has been tried in connection with a school shooting.
“As the defendant ran, he left behind an unrestrained killer who spent the next four minutes and 15 seconds roaming the halls at will. Because when Scot Peterson fled, he left them in a building with an uncontrolled predator,” the prosecutor noted.
During his two-day presentation, Peterson's attorney, Mark Eiglarsh, called several officers who arrived during the shooting and students and teachers who testified that they did not believe the shots came from the 1200 building.
Peterson, who did not testify, said that because of the echoes, he was unable to determine the location of the shooter.
Eiglarsh also emphasized the failure of the sheriff's radio system during the attack, which limited what Peterson could heard from arriving officers.
Eiglarsh, argued that Peterson is being turned into a “sacrificial lamb” by the failures of elected officials and administrators.
“The evidence proves that Peterson's insistence that the echoes of the gunshots prevented him from identifying the gunman's location is the truth and Peterson did everything he could under the circumstances,” he said.
He said that the only one responsible for what happened that day is “that monster” Cruz.
The jury will also have to decide whether Peterson was a "caretaker" for the minor students who died and were injured on the third floor,
Florida law defines a caregiver as “a parent, adult household member, or other person responsible for the welfare of a child.” Caregivers are guilty of gross negligence if they fail to make “reasonable efforts” to protect children or provide necessary care.
Security video shows that 36 seconds after Cruz's attack began , Peterson left his office about 100 yards from the 1200 building and jumped into a cart with two unarmed civilian security guards. They arrived at the building a minute later.
Peterson got off the cart near the east door of the first-floor hallway. Cruz was at the opposite end of the hall, firing his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle.
The officer, who was not wearing a bulletproof vest, did not answer the door. Instead, he took cover 75 feet away in the alcove of a neighboring building, gun still drawn. He stayed there for 40 minutes, long after the shooting had ended and other cops had stormed the building.
Peterson faces up to nearly 100 years in prison if convicted, though given his clean record it's highly unlikely for a sentence to approach that length. He could also lose his $104,000 annual pension.