Was 'Cowardly' Fla. Deputy Told to Wait for Backup?

Was 'Cowardly' Fla. Deputy Told to Wait for Backup?
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The failure of Scot Peterson, the sheriff’s deputy assigned to Stoneman Douglas High School as a resource officer, to engage a teenage shooter apparently required Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to call a nationwide press conference. After sending sheriff’s department cars on more than two dozen calls looking into Nikolas Cruz’s activities over the past decade, and doing nothing to either address concerns or prevent a clearly disturbed Cruz from being able to buy an AR-15 by properly entering a police record, Israel now was faced with this last-minute shocker.

Or was he?

According to the sheriff, he had now seen the surveillance camera videos establishing that the deputy had been outside for the entire time Cruz went on his rampage. “I am devastated. Sick to my stomach. He never went in,” Israel said. Israel added that his deputy should have acted. “Addressed the killer,” he said. “Killed the killer.”

But “Stoneman Douglas student Brandon Huff, 18, a senior, said he had seen Peterson standing outside the building and talking on his radio during the shooting,” according to reports in the Florida Sun-Sentinel and The New York Times.

The deputy appears to have been in constant radio contact with Israel’s Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Jim Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, told reporters that Peterson thinks he followed protocol. “He believed he did a good job calling in the location, setting up the perimeter and calling in the description [of Cruz],” Bell told reporters.

So with all that radio communication between the Sheriff’s Office and Peterson at the school, are we really supposed to believe the first time Israel realized his deputy had never gone into the school was when he finally saw the surveillance tapes? Particularly now that Coral Springs Police have told CNN that they saw three more Broward County deputies taking cover outside the school when they arrived, and passed them going into the building?

Israel didn’t include these deputies in his remarks about Peterson. Wasn’t he just as “devastated” that they “never went in”? Or is it possible all four were responding to orders from his office?

According to USA Today, Israel was asked by a reporter “whether his deputies were told to wait for SWAT officers before going into the building.” Israel said he didn’t know anything about that and moved on to another question. He did not respond to a direct follow-up by USA Today.

Strangely, when Sheriff Israel suspended Deputy Peterson, no one from the Broward Sheriff’s Office made the call to him. They arranged for Jim Bell to do it, even though Peterson was not a member of Bell’s union. Israel also allowed the deputy he had been heaping condemnation upon to take immediate full retirement with no disciplinary action.

When a local television reporter tried to look into Peterson’s side of all this, he hit a wall. “Reporters who attempted to approach the West Palm Beach home of ex-Broward County Sheriff's Office Deputy Scot Peterson were reportedly met with resistance from at least six police officers who were standing guard outside,” according to Fox News. So the disgraced deputy was now getting six times more protection from the Broward County Sheriff’s office than Stoneman High School ever got. Why?

What if the Broward County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t protecting their brother in uniform, but itself? The accounts we have of the deputy’s conduct by both the student Douglas Huff and as relayed by Bell sound suspiciously like that of a police officer under instructions to keep his headquarters apprised and wait for backup. Was that the reason Peterson was spared disciplinary action and given full retirement? Was he following instructions and Israel is merely continuing his shady attempt to cast blame for the Parkland shootings anywhere but on the behavior of his own department? Were the guards outside Peterson’s house posted by Israel to make sure the press couldn’t reach him?

It’s easy enough to answer those questions. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office records the field broadcasts of its members. Scot Peterson’s communications with HQ during the shooting are on the record. So are the surveillance tapes. Let’s play them. Was Peterson told to wait for backup? Was he urged to go in and engage the shooter and refused? It’s all there.

Maybe Robert Lasky, the special agent in charge of the Miami FBI office, can finally do something useful in this case and evaluate the facts as a disinterested third party -- before the tapes get lost or “misplaced.”

We might be surprised to learn that we have done Deputy Scot Peterson an injustice, and that the president of the United States, Sheriff Israel, and most of the rest of us owe him an apology.

Thomas Lipscomb is an editor and journalist who is a former New York state deputy sheriff from Rockland County.

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