scorecardScot Peterson, the school resource officer during the Parkland shooting, was acquitted. The failed case will complicate criminal cases for Uvalde parents, expert says
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Scot Peterson, the school resource officer during the Parkland shooting, was acquitted. The failed case will complicate criminal cases for Uvalde parents, expert says

Azmi Haroun   

Scot Peterson, the school resource officer during the Parkland shooting, was acquitted. The failed case will complicate criminal cases for Uvalde parents, expert says
LifeInternational2 min read
  • On Thursday, a Parkland, Florida, school resource officer was acquitted on criminal child neglect charges.
  • Broward County prosecutors argued that Scot Peterson was criminally liable after he failed to quickly stop school shooter Nikolas Cruz.

Potential criminal cases against the Uvalde, Texas, police officers who have been criticized for their response to the Robb Elementary mass school shooting could be even more difficult for prosecutors to build, after a former Parkland school resource officer was acquitted on Thursday.

A Broward County, Florida, jury acquitted Scot Peterson of ten child-neglect and culpable negligence charges, after prosecutors and parents of slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students had accused him of running away and waiting 45 minutes to confront school shooter Nikolas Cruz.

The result of the highly-publicized case — where Peterson was branded the "Coward of Broward"— could dash the hopes of parents and prosecutors seeking to hold Uvalde law enforcement officials, who waited over an hour to engage a school shooter, accountable, a legal expert told Insider.

"This will give some pause in terms of going after law enforcement officials, or these types of school resource officers," Neama Rahmani, the president of West Coast Trial Lawyers and a former federal prosecutor, told Insider.

The failure to convict Peterson came months after Broward County prosecutors were unable to secure a death sentence for Cruz related to the shooting.

In Florida, the ten charges alleged Peterson failed to act, and his defense and witnesses argued that Peterson did not know where the gunfire was coming from, or how many students were at threat, according to the Washington Post.

"Generally, there's no legal duty for a failure to act," Rahmani told Insider. "If there is no legal duty, then your failure to act is not criminal by a matter of law."

Broward County prosecutors argued that Peterson had failed in his capacity as a "caregiver," an argument which didn't resonate with jurors, who acquitted him on all counts. That standard is even harder to prove when arguing that Peterson was responsible for thousands of students, Rahmani told Insider.

Uvalde offers some similar legal pitfalls, but also stark differences

As it stands, Texas prosecutors have brought no criminal charges against law enforcement officials who responded to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, where 19 students and two teachers were killed.

Frustration has been building in Texas, where the DOJ has been investigating the breakdown in law enforcement response for close to a year, and where officers involved in the response have faced little discipline, per the Washington Post.

"I could see a hesitation in moving forward with criminal charges in Uvalde," Rahmani said. "These are the types of cases that get DAs and others voted out of office if prosecutors lose."

In Uvalde, individual officers could be protected because of the "systemic failure" of the response, Rahmani added. Others could say that they were just following orders.

But a key distinction in Uvalde is that some officers restrained parents, even handcuffing some, as the shooter was inside the building.

Though it may be difficult for prosecutors to go after the individual officers, parents could argue that they were restrained when they had a legal duty to protect their children.

Additionally, prosecutors could point to the fact that Uvalde officers waited 77 minutes to engage the shooter, and were better equipped to stop him than Peterson, with tactical gear.

"There's a strong argument that they did something wrong, but I'm not sure they will be prosecuted for it," Rahmani said.




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