Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has clearly found one person to blame for Nikolas Cruz's shooting rampage: Scot Peterson, the armed BSO deputy who, Israel says, failed to rush in and "kill the killer" while Cruz was murdering students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Israel held a stunning news conference last week in which he said Peterson "never went in" to the school and stood outside for four minutes while the massacre occurred.
In response, Peterson voluntarily retired from the force after serving as a BSO school guard since the 1990s. Most people assumed his retirement was an admission of guilt — but Peterson's lawyer today released a statement to the media claiming the officer was not, in fact, a coward.
"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," Peterson's lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, wrote. "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."
Instead, Peterson claims he initially thought the gunshots were coming from outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School's freshman building and was therefore "correctly" taking cover to assess the situation, which Peterson says BSO instructs its officers to do in the event of an outdoor shootout. New Times has asked DiRuzzo why Peterson retired if he believes he did nothing wrong. (The Miami Herald also reported on Peterson's statement earlier today.)
Peterson's camp released its own timeline of the events that day, adding that Israel at his news conference last week "conveniently omitted the following facts": Peterson says someone initially phoned in the gunshots as "firecrackers," which led the guard to believe the noises were coming from somewhere outdoors. Once he got closer to the building, Peterson says, he realized the noises were gunshots, but he still claims he thought they were coming from outside. The officer says he was actually the first person to tell BSO an active shooter was on campus. He also said someone reported a victim outdoors on the football field via police radio.
"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 wrote. "Consistent with his training, Mr. Peterson 'took up a tactical position between the 700-800 buildings corridor/corner.'"
Peterson says the first additional officer to arrive was a Coral Springs PD cop, who also took cover behind a tree because, Peterson claims, that officer also thought the gunfire was outdoors.
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This statement appears to be inconsistent with previous news reports: Sources within the Coral Springs Police Department told CNN last week that when CSPD cops arrived on the scene, they found three other BSO cops waiting outside taking cover. Israel said CSPD Chief Tony Pustizzi relayed the same message.
"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 wrote. "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 himself might wind up losing his job over this whole affair. Most Americans following the shooting are now asking why BSO (and the FBI) missed sign after sign that could have prevented Cruz from buying a gun or shooting up the school. BuzzFeed News has confirmed that BSO appears to be lying about the number of calls it received about Cruz in the past (the number seems to be at least 45, as opposed to the 23 that Israel claims), and the Miami Herald expertly explained Friday that there was ample evidence in the past to detain Cruz, commit him to a mental institution, or possibly charge him with felonies. Cruz would have been barred from buying a gun had he been convicted. Instead, BSO, the FBI, and the Florida Department of Children and Families all seem to have failed spectacularly.
Despite this, Israel went on CNN over the weekend and somehow denied he was to blame.
"I’ve given amazing leadership to this agency,” he told host Jake Tapper.