By TERRY SPENCER, Associated Press FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) 05/02 — The then-Florida sheriff’s deputy assigned to protect the high school where 17 died in last year’s massacre has filed a rebuttal to a commission’s conclusion that he was “derelict in his duty,” saying the findings were “biased” and not supported by evidence.
“The findings contained in the MSD Commission Report regarding my response to the shooting … are blatantly false,” Peterson wrote. A 30-year deputy who had been assigned to Stoneman Douglas for nine years, Peterson, 56, wrote the report “does not contain evidence to substantiate the findings regarding my law enforcement actions.”
The rebuttal was first reported Thursday by the South Florida Sun Sentinel .
The commission’s January report found Peterson knew a gunman was inside but took cover rather than enter and confront the shooter. He refused to testify before the commission. Peterson resigned days after the shooting when he was told he was going to be suspended without pay and subject to an internal affairs investigation. He became a target of widespread public criticism, including from President Donald Trump.
Commissioner Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina died in the shooting, said Thursday that nothing in Peterson’s rebuttal matches up with the facts, including the school’s surveillance video and the testimony of other police officers.
“He keeps mentioning his ‘real time intelligence,’ but I wonder how things would have been different on Feb. 14 if he had shown some real-time courage. This is just a continuation of his cowardly behavior,” Petty said.
According to surveillance video and the commission’s report , Peterson was at the school’s main office when the shooting began shortly before classes were to be dismissed for the day. Video shows two unarmed security monitors on a golf cart dropping Peterson off at the freshman building about 90 seconds after the shooting began. By this time, 21 people had been shot, nine fatally, on the first floor.
Peterson drew his gun, but told investigators and others he didn’t enter because he thought a sniper was shooting from outside the building. He told investigators he only heard two or three shots — the shooter fired several dozen more shots after Peterson arrived, some of which were picked up by the body-camera microphone of an officer a quarter-mile away.
Peterson moved to the base of a stairwell at a nearby building. He radioed that shots had been fired and told dispatchers to have arriving deputies close down nearby intersections. He radioed to have deputies stay back 500 feet (152 meters). Bullets exited a second-floor window of the freshman-building, almost directly above Peterson’s head. He remained at the stairwell for about 40 minutes, long after the shooting ended and other officers had entered. Commissioners contend that if Peterson had entered when he arrived, he may have been able to prevent the last eight fatal shootings.
Peterson wrote that as the first deputy on the scene, he had to establish a perimeter around the building to make sure no civilian entered and to coordinate the response. He pointed out that then-Broward Sheriff Scott Israel had changed the agency’s policy to say deputies “may” engage an active shooter from “shall,” saying this shows he “did nothing wrong.” He said his thought that the shooter was outside was buttressed by police radio reports that shots had been fired at the football field and that an injured student was being treated at the neighboring middle school.
Peterson wrote that the commission failed to include “exculpatory evidence,” calling that “reprehensible.” He asked that his rebuttal be attached to the commission’s report.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission’s chairman, told the Sun Sentinel that won’t happen, calling the rebuttal “a fairy tale.”
“It makes me mad,” Gualtieri said. “The reason why is he continues to engage in this self-serving rhetoric. He needs to take responsibility for his actions. He needs to fess up.”
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Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission Report
Posted in: Accusations, Campus Crime, Deaths, Homicide, Investigations, Mass Casualty Attacks, Misconduct/Abuse of Authority, Murder/Attempted Murder, Negligence, Policies & Practices, School Resource Officers (SROs), School Shootings, Victims of Crime