Marjory Stoneman Douglas school resource officer never confronted Parkland gunman, sheriff says

Posted at 5:36 PM, Feb 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-26 15:11:34-05

PARKLAND, Fla. - Thirty-two years in law enforcement, twenty-five years as a school resource deputy, training in stress management techniques and special tactical problems, and yet, Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson allegedly stood outside a building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for four minutes while a gunman shot people inside.

"After seeing video and witness statements, and Peterson's own statement, I decided this morning to suspend Scot Peterson without pay pending an internal investigation," said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, during a press conference on Thursday.

After learning about the investigation, Israel said Peterson chose to then resign and retire.

FULL COVERAGE: Parkland school shooting

Israel said Peterson took a position but "never went in" as the onslaught occurred, citing security footage.

Israel said Peterson was "absolutely on campus" he was armed he was in uniform during the shooting. "But what I saw was a deputy arrive at the west side of Building 12, take up a position, and he never went in," the sheriff said.

The admission sent a shockwave through the Parkland community.

"You can tell that guy who had no heart," said MSD senior Nicholas Vaccarezza. "Two guys that had a lot of heart were Coach Feis and Hixon. They went in there without a weapon, and [Peterson] is sitting outside hiding, and he has his gun drawn."

Football coach Aaron Feis and MSD Athletic Director Chris Hixon were killed in the massacre while trying to stop the gunman.

It's a move even some fellow law enforcement officers fail to understand. 

"Wow, I mean - listen, I have been in three shootings. We are trained. You have to run towards where the treat is," said Florida Police Benevolent Association Vice President John Kazanjian. "We are the sheepdogs. We have to keep the sheep from the foxes. That is why you take this job. I mean, that is why you put the badge on."

Asked what Peterson should have done the sheriff said: "Went in, addressed the killer. Killed the killer."

"Our main goal at this point, absent of helping these families heal and keeping our schools safe, is making sure this killer receives the justice he deserves," Israel previously said.

Peterson, who was once the School Resource Deputy of the Year, had a personnel file full of accolades and positive reviews. According to Kazanjian, just because Peterson is now retired, does not mean he is off the hook for the internal affairs investigation.

"He retired under investigation," Kazanjian explained. "Once they get this investigation done, they will probably send it over to the State Attorney's Office to see if there are any criminal charges."

While it is unclear if Peterson committed a crime by not going inside the building, an egregious internal policy violation could, at most, keep Peterson from collecting retirement and strip him of his law enforcement license. 

Contact 5 Investigators tried to talk to Peterson on Friday at his home in suburban Boynton Beach, but Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputies kicked media out of the neighborhood. PBSO officials confirmed Peterson's family asked for protection from law enforcement following numerous threats.

The internal affairs investigation announcement comes after 17 people were shot dead at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

David Burton’s daughter is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He said, "I am concerned. Did he get scared? Did he not just show up? Was he following the rules and people just don’t like it after the fact? Hindsight is always 20-20 but I would like to hear a little more about that before I make a judgment."

Kevin Siegelbaum is a special education teacher at Douglas. He knows Peterson personally. 

"For me, I’m a little disheartened by the situation. I don’t know if he resigned because he just felt it was time to hang it up and he may be already considering it," he said. "Until we hear from him, I don’t know if we’re ever going to find out."

The accused gunman is Nikolas Cruz, a former student who had previously been reported over disturbing behavior particularly about weapons.

Israel on Wednesday announced that he directed a new policy that will arm Broward County deputies stationed at schools with a rifle.

Two other officers who previously interacted in one of the calls related to Cruz have been placed on restrictive duty.

Story from our news partner NBC 6

The WPTV web team contributed to this report.