The Broward campus deputy slammed for not entering Marjory Stoneman Douglas High during the shooting spree that killed 17 people insists he is no coward, a label given to him by President Donald Trump last week.
Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson said his actions during the Valentine’s Day massacre “were appropriate under the circumstances,” he said in a statement released through his lawyer on Monday, the Miami Herald reports.
Peterson “heard gunshots but believed those gunshots were originating from outside of the buildings on the school campus,” the release states. “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 with other law enforcement.”
“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,” according to the statement sent from the office of Fort Lauderdale attorney Joseph DiRuzzo.
Monday’s statement comes four days after Broward Sheriff Scott Israel publicly lambasted Peterson for failing to engage school shooter Nikolas Cruz. The sheriff said Peterson waited outside Building 12 for four minutes while Cruz continued to spray bullets on students and staff inside.
“I am devastated. Sick to my stomach. He never went in,” Israel said during a news conference Thursday. He declared that officers are taught to engage active shooters immediately and not wait for backup.
Hours before the press conference, Broward Sheriff's Office suspended 32-year veteran deputy Peterson without pay, then he promptly retired. Peterson was named school resource officer of the year in Parkland four years ago.
President Trump also branded Peterson a coward for his inactions during the Feb. 14 attack on the Parkland, Florida school.
“He’s trained his whole life… but when it came time to get in there and do something, he didn’t have the courage or something happened. He certainly did a poor job, there’s no question about that. That’s a case where somebody was outside, they’re trained, they didn’t react properly under pressure or they were a coward,” Trump said.
In his statement, Peterson claimed he held his position outside Building 12 after rushing to respond to a report of firecrackers. He said that he was the first BSO deputy to dispatch on the radio that shots were being fired. He also claimed that he told a first-arriving Coral Springs officer that he “thought that the shots were coming from outside.”
“Radio transmissions indicated that there was a gunshot victim in the area of the football field, which served to confirm Mr. Peterson’s belief that the shooter, or shooters, were outside,” according to the lawyer. He also said he “had the presence of mind” to have school officials review closed-circuit TV cameras “to locate the shooter.”
Peterson's lawyer also hit back at Israel for publicly criticizing Peterson while also cautioning the public to wait for the results of a fast-moving investigation.
“Sheriff Israel’s statement is, at best, a gross oversimplification of the events that transported,” the statement said.
Israel has also been a target of scrutiny for his deputies' response to the shooting and potential warning signs as dozens of state lawmakers called for his removal.
While Peterson has been removed from his office, multiple news outlets like CNN and NBC have reported that at least three more armed Broward County sheriff's deputies were present on the scene, taking cover behind their vehicles instead of immediately entering the school.
Israel dismissed those reports based on unnamed sources from the neighboring Coral Springs Police Department, as politically motivated.1comments
“Our investigation to this point shows that during this horrific attack, while this killer was inside the school, there was only one law enforcement person, period, and that was former deputy Scot Peterson,” Israel told CNN Sunday.
He did not rule out that the investigation could find other deputies who failed to act properly during or immediately after the massacre, which authorities say lasted about six or seven minutes.