The school resource officer accused of not entering a Parkland school building during the Feb. 14 shooting that claimed 17 lives is disputing Broward Sheriff Scott Israel's account of his actions and the sheriff's "uncalled for attacks upon his character."
Attorney Joseph A. DiRuzzo, who represents Deputy Scot Peterson, released a lengthy statement Monday, denying claims that Peterson was a "coward" and justifying Peterson's actions during the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
At a news conference last week, Israel said Peterson should have "went in, addressed the killer and killed" the gunman. Israel said Peterson chose to resign and retire after he was suspended without pay pending an internal investigation.
Stoneman student Brandon Huff has said he saw Peterson "just standing there," occasionally talking on his radio outside the school, and felt he could have done more to prevent further deaths. President Donald Trump said after Israel's news conference that Peterson "didn't react properly under pressure."
But Peterson's attorney contends that Peterson believed the gunfire was coming from outside the building, and that his response to that kind of threat was in line with the department's training.
"Sheriff Israel held a press conference a mere eight days after the tragedy and accused Mr. Peterson of failing to respond appropriately, with the clear implication that Mr. Peterson was responsible for failing to help the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School," DiRuzzo said in the statement.
DiRuzzo said Israel has "maligned" Peterson and that the sheriff's statement was "at best, a gross oversimplification of the events that transpired."
"Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the seventeen victims on that day, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need," DiRuzzo 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. Mr. Peterson is confident that his actions on that day were appropriate under the circumstances and that the video (together with the eye-witness testimony of those on the scene) will exonerate him of any sub-par performance."
DiRuzzo said Peterson initially received a call of firecrackers in the area of the building and ran to the building with a security specialist. Once there, Peterson heard gunshots but thought they were coming from outside the building, DiRuzzo said.
"BSO trains its officers that in the event of outdoor gunfire one is to seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes to other law enforcement," DiRuzzo said. "Consistent with his training, Mr. Peterson 'took up a tactical position between the 700-800 buildings corridor/corner.'"
Peterson initiated a "code red" lockdown of the school and was the first BSO officer to advise BSO dispatch that he heard shots fired, DiRuzzo said.
DiRuzzo said Peterson told the first officer to arrive on scene, a Coral Springs police officer, that he thought the shots were coming from outside, and the officer took up a tactical position behind a tree with his rifle.
Peterson also heard radio transmissions that indicated there was a victim in the area of the football field, which added to Peterson's belief that the shooter was outside, DiRuzzo said.
"Mr. Peterson had the presence of mind to have the school administrators go to the school’s video room to review the closed-circuit cameras to locate the shooter and the obtain a description for law enforcement," DiRuzzo said.
DiRuzzo said Peterson also provided his keys to the Coral Springs SWAT team so that they could enter the 1200 Building and gave BSO SWAT Command handwritten diagrams of the entire Stoneman Douglas campus for student evacuation.
"It is our understanding that Sheriff Israel acknowledged that the investigation remains on-going and that '[i]nvestigations will not be rushed or asked to jump to conclusions,'" DiRuzzo said. "But this is exactly what Sheriff Israel did, he jumped to a conclusion regarding Mr. Peterson’s performance on February 14th even though Israel claims that '[i]t is more important for us to wait and let the investigators get it right[.]' We question why this statement would not also apply to Mr. Peterson?"
Israel has come under scrutiny after it was revealed that multiple calls about the teen suspect were received by BSO in the years before the shooting.
Israel says he will not step down as sheriff, despite a call by 73 Republican Florida lawmakers demanding that he be removed from office. He said he will fully cooperate with an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into how his deputies responded to the shooting.
"Mr. Peterson is looking forward to cooperating with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation, which we hope will detail the events of that tragic day and which we believe will ultimately clear Mr. Peterson’s name," DiRuzzo said.