Many have called him a coward, but former sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson had no legal duty to stop the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, his attorneys say.
Peterson took shelter rather than confront the killer, but he did not act with malice or bad faith, according to his attorneys, Michael Piper and Christopher Stearns of Fort Lauderdale. Therefore he can’t be held legally responsible for the deaths, they say in court documents.
Allegations against Peterson suggest only that he “opted for self-preservation over heroics,” the attorneys wrote.
The statements came in a motion seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Andrew Pollack, the father of 18-year-old Meadow Pollack, who was killed in the shooting.
Pollack sued Peterson on April 30 in Broward Circuit Court, accusing the former school resource officer of failing to do his duty.
While shooter Nikolas Cruz rampaged through the school on Feb. 14, security footage shows Peterson ducking between two pillars outside, avoiding gunfire. Sheriff Scott Israel said Peterson should have entered the building and confronted the killer. President Donald Trump, like Pollack, called Peterson a coward.
Peterson’s lawyers say police officers are responsible for injury only if the officer takes control of a situation and people are hurt as a result or if the officer creates risk.
A Florida statute gives immunity to officers for injury suffered as a result of what they do while on the job unless they acted in bad faith or exhibited “wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property, ” the attorneys say.
They contend that Peterson, since he didn’t act at all, can’t be legally blamed.
Pollack’s lawyer, David Brill, said Peterson had a duty to save lives at the school as soon as he put on his badge.
“Aren’t you repulsed when you consider his conduct? Because I am and everyone I talk to is, and every law enforcement official I talk to is,” Brill said. “He had ample time to go in and save lives and he chose to cower while his 9 mm firearm lied imminent in his holster.”
Pollack said Peterson’s failure is recognized nationally.
“I really feel that we exposed him to everyone in the country, and we are going to keep exposing him,” Pollack said. “He hasn’t see the last of (my lawyer) and myself.”
Peterson was suspended without pay after the shooting and later resigned from the sheriff’s office.
Peterson’s motion also takes issue with what his attorneys characterize as “venom and sarcasm” in Pollack’s lawsuit. The suit accused Peterson of “never once attempting to save a life, never once attempting to fire a single bullet at Nikolas Cruz. Rather, Peterson listened to the din of screams of teachers and students, many of whom were dead or dying, and the blasts of Cruz’s repeated gunfire.”
“Passion and emotion of any kind, whether it’s sympathy or anger or desire for catharsis, whatever it is, has no place in a legal analysis if someone is responsible for damages,” Piper said in an interview.
Pollack’s lawsuit also was filed against Kimberly and James Snead, who took Cruz in after his mother died; the estate of the Cruz’s mother; and two behavioral health centers, one of which treated Cruz for two years. Pollack is seeking a jury trial and damages.