Opening Statements Held in Trial of Former Parkland School Resource Deputy, State Begins Case

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Opening statements began Wednesday in the trial of former Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Scot Peterson who is accused of taking cover instead of action during the Parkland school massacre.

Following the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed, the police response was scrutinized.

Heavy criticism of inaction fell on the school resource officer — Peterson.

The now former BSO deputy was fired and eventually charged for failing to confront the shooter.

“The defendant and Green Leaf are on the other end of the building – they are at the far other end of the building outside. They are about as far away from the shooter as they could possibly be,” Assistant State Attorney Steven Klinger told the jury.

Peterson’s defense attorney, Mark Eiglarsh, however, said his client was the sacrificial lam thrown under the bus by a former ego-maniac of a sheriff, who after taking heat from a CNN town hall suddenly found someone to redirect the national outrage to.

“He did everything that he possibly could with the limited information that he had to help serve and protect everybody at that school,” Eiglarsh said.

Broward County Judge Martin S. Fein, however, told Eiglarsh to refrain from mentioning former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel during his opening statements.

Eiglarsh used his opening statement to inform the jury about his client’s 32 years of service in law enforcement with “an unblemished record” and remind them that the school shooter and not Peterson caused the deaths of those killed that day.

“Every single witness we spoke with told us he was an exemplary officer,” Eiglarsh said. “Not a coward in any way.”

The state started its case by playing dispatch calls taken from the shooting.

Jurors also heard from a surviving student and teacher.

“We were just waiting for the police, (it was the) longest 20 minutes of my life,” MSD surviving student Danielle Gilbert said.

Teacher Ivy Schamis testified that “shots were flying through the glass window of the door and flying all over our classroom.”

Gunshots, moaning, and the whispers of terrified students were played to the jury as the state tried to establish how many gunshots could be heard.

During cross-examination, the defense highlighted that their client had not yet reached the building.

Peterson is facing seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury. The charges stem from those killed or injured on the third floor of the 1200 Building.

Those killed on the third floor include Meadow Pollack, Cara Loughran, Peter Wang, Jaime Guttenberg, Scott Beigel and Joaquin Oliver.

Those injured on the third floor include Marian Kabachenko, Stacy Lippel, Kyle Laman and Anthony Borges.

Tony Montalto, President of Stand with Parkland and father of Gina Rose Montalto, who was also killed in the shooting, released the following statement after opening statements.

“I am deeply concerned and utterly frustrated by the egregious failure of Deputy Peterson, as I find myself in the courtroom with him,” he said. “It is nothing short of disheartening to witness the unfolding of this criminal case, particularly due to the specific portion of the law that applies. Among the many failures that contributed to this devastating outcome and the loss of 17 innocent lives, Deputy Peterson stands as a prominent figure. It is crucial to emphasize that he is not a victim in this situation; rather, his actions, or lack thereof, directly contributed to the tragic events that unfolded that day.

“His unforgivable negligence resulted in the endangerment of the students and teachers on that tragic day. The gravity of his failure is further magnified by the fact that he and his fellow members of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office were unable to stop the shooter on campus, and their blatant disregard of established policies prior to that horrific day and for the lives of the students only exacerbated the tragedy. This situation demands immediate attention and action, as it reflects a grave injustice that cannot be overlooked.”

Peterson has defended his actions, saying he did not know where the gunman was and he thought a sniper may have been targeting the building.

“I would not want any law enforcement officer in the country to experience this,” Peterson told reporters during jury selection.

Last week, Fein ruled that the jury would not be traveling to see the site of the shooting, the 1200 Building of the school.

Peterson’s trial is expected to run through mid-August with 60 to 80 witnesses taking the stand in all. There are six jurors and four alternates.

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