You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Former deputy Peterson a no-show at Parkland shooting hearing

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 11/15/2018 By Scott Travis and David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel
a man and a woman sitting at a table: Florida Senator Lauren Book and Ryan Petty, the father of shooting victim Alaina Petty, listen to videos from the school shooting during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting Thursday Nov 15, 2018 in Sunrise, Fla. © Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS Florida Senator Lauren Book and Ryan Petty, the father of shooting victim Alaina Petty, listen to videos from the school shooting during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting Thursday Nov 15, 2018 in Sunrise, Fla.

SUNRISE, Fla. - Scot Peterson, the disgraced Broward sheriff's deputy who hid in a stairwell during the Parkland school shooting, refused to appear Thursday before the state commission investigating the massacre.

Peterson's lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, stepped up the lectern in the commission's meeting room in Sunrise and made a brief statement.

"As you can tell, Mr. Peterson is not here," he said. "Mr. Peterson will not be testifying today. Earlier this morning, I filed a complaint with the court, seeking to quash this subpoena."

He said the complaint asked the court to declare the subpoena illegal and hold members of the commission liable.

"I have copies of the complaint here," he said. "I will leave them."

Bob Gualtieri, the Pinellas County sheriff who serves as chairman of the commission, said Peterson's refusal to appear came as a surprise, since his lawyer had said he would comply with the subpoena.

"Just so everybody knows, the attorney who just appeared was contacted on Nov. 8 and he accepted service on behalf of Mr. Peterson, and he told us that Mr. Peterson would appear," he said. "So we were operating under the premise, based on the representation of the lawyer who showed up and left that Mr. Peterson would be here."

The next step would typically be to go to court and ask for the court to hold Peterson in contempt for failing to comply with the subpoena. He said the commission's general counsel will first review the lawsuit before they decide how to proceed.

a person looking at the camera: Lori Alhadeff, the mother of shooting victim Alyssa watches videos from the school shooting during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting Thursday Nov 15, 2018 in Sunrise, Fla. © Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS Lori Alhadeff, the mother of shooting victim Alyssa watches videos from the school shooting during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting Thursday Nov 15, 2018 in Sunrise, Fla. Peterson, vilified as a coward for taking cover until well after the killer was gone, was to be allowed to enter from the back of the room, allowing the former Broward sheriff's deputy to avoid walking through the audience, where family members of murdered students were seated.

Metal detectors were set at the entrance to the BB&T Center in Sunrise, an indication of what a hated figure Peterson had become over his conduct during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. No metal detectors had been in place for the two earlier days of meetings this week.

Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said the metal detectors had also been set up to protect Peterson, as well as two other prominent figures speaking Thursday, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and school superintendent Robert Runcie.

Israel's agency has been criticized over the timid response of the first deputies to arrive, who took cover and hung back, as the killer's rifle shots cracked over the campus. Runcie has been criticized over school security lapses, lax disciplinary practices and what some saw as the district's post-massacre focus on public relations rather than solutions.

Peterson, the only law enforcement officer on campus when the shooting started, took cover in a stairwell near the building where the massacre was taking place, never making any attempt to confront the killer. His conduct make him a subject of national ridicule as the "Coward of Broward" and drew scorn from members of the commission, who said he lied about his actions to cover up his failures that day.

Peterson's conduct was the most egregious of what many commissioners felt was an inadequate performance by the Broward Sheriff's Office. During testimony Thursday morning, an investigator for the commission described what some felt was a leisurely response by deputies, who delayed to put on bulletproof vests, make other preparations and discuss what to do.

"It would appear there's not a tremendous sense of urgency," said state Sen. Lauren Book, a member of the commission, after viewing videos of the BSO deputies at the scene. "Is that common?"

The response of Capt. Jan Jordan, who had been in charge of the Parkland district for the sheriff's office, was criticized.

In a statement to investigators, Broward Sheriff's Lt. Stephen O'Neill described a "dream-like" nature to her speech and said the initial command structure was "ineffective" and "not engaged with the problem."

During a break, Gualtieri said similar statements were made by others about Jordan.

"I can tell you there are others, and you'll hear more from them, that described Capt. Jordan as being over her head," he said.

The response of the BSO deputies was contrasted with the quick action by officers in the Coral Springs Police Department. Coral Springs Sgt. Scott Myers told the commission's investigators that he thought the situation was so urgent that he couldn't take the time to go into his trunk for his rifle.

"I made the decision to go in with my handgun," he said. "I have an AR-15 and a .308 (rifle) in my trunk. The decision to go into my trunk and unsecure the AR-15 in my mind would take too long. I felt like every second mattered and I made the conscious decision to run in with my handgun instead of arming myself with the rifle, knowing full-well that the rifle was one thousand times better than the handgun. ... I had to make the decision that seconds mattered."

During a break, Gualtieri described the unhurried approach of some of the BSO deputies as the wrong response to an urgent situation in which lives were being lost.

"You don't have the right to sit there and say 'I'm going to put my vest on,'" he said. "Every time a shot is going off, that means someone's getting killed. That's what you have to assume. And when you see hear a volley of gunfire and you're going to the trunk of your car to get your vest out, that's a problem. You need to go, and you need to go in now because seconds do matter."

More questions about Peterson's credibility came up Thursday, as commissioners heard recordings of radio transmissions from that day. In the aftermath of the shooting, the former deputy had made statements that he was unsure where the shooting had been coming from, as a way of explaining why he didn't go into the 1200 building.

In one recording, a Coral Springs police detective asked Scot Peterson if he knew where the shooter was, and Peterson responded, "I believe he's on the 3rd floor," according a timeline of events presented.

That response surprised Commissioner Ryan Petty, whose daughter was killed in the shooting. He notes that Peterson had never entered the building.

"Not only is he making things up, he's creating more confusion and delaying the response," Petty said.

The panel must produce a report to the state Legislature by Jan. 1 outlining systemic failures in mental health care, school policies, and police response surrounding the massacre of 17 students and educators.

___

(Staff writer Megan O'Matz contributed to this report.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Sun Sentinel

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon