By MARK EIGLARSH
SPECIAL TO THE SUN SENTINEL
OCT 19, 2021
I’ll never forget that press conference. In February of 2018, former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel announced to the world that during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, former Deputy Scot Peterson, should have “went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.” Like most, I immediately concluded that Peterson was a coward. Israel led us to believe that Peterson knew exactly where the murderer was in real time, while he was abhorrently executing innocent students and faculty.
Because I held that belief, I was reluctant to even meet with Peterson when I learned that he wanted me to defend him against his criminal charges. As a father of three teenagers all emotionally affected by the massacre, and as someone who represented and counseled victims of the tragedy, I couldn’t see myself choosing to assist someone who I was led to believe could have prevented deaths. Everything changed for me only after I performed an extensive investigation that uncovered the truth — that Peterson was innocent.
It was quite a relief when Israel finally admitted during his sworn deposition recently that Peterson didn’t know where the shooter was during the shooting. Israel also admitted publicly for the first time ever that Peterson’s actions, which consisted of him taking a tactical position of cover, were consistent with the belief that there was a sniper in the area possibly targeting the building or the surrounding area. Peterson, who followed BSO’s active shooter policy by initially taking cover, was never provided any real time intelligence from BSO dispatch of the location of the shooter and/or that anyone was being shot.
The BSO dispatch transcript proves that during the merely four-and-a-half minutes that he was on the scene while Cruz was committing his atrocities, Peterson worked diligently to protect students, faculty and his fellow officers. For example, he repeatedly reported on his police radio, “shots fired,” provided his location, ordered a “Code Red,” instructed the assistant principal to review surveillance video during the shooting to ascertain the shooter’s precise location, and relayed information to the first responders on the scene. He did so much more to help save lives during the shooting, but the public was never informed of those actions. Instead, we were erroneously sold the narrative that he was cowering in the corner, doing nothing and saving his own hide.
Israel’s recent admissions were unavoidable in light of resounding evidence proving that what he initially tried to sell the public in 2018 was bogus. The Sun Sentinel’s article this past weekend, “Why Scot Peterson doesn’t want to be blamed for Parkland school shootings,” detailed only a small portion of the overwhelming evidence that exonerates Peterson.
So, in addressing the question posed in the title of that article, the answer is simple: It’s because he is innocent. It is a miscarriage of justice to falsely blame an honorable, decorated officer who zealously served his community for 32 years. It’s even worse to strip him of his liberty and subject him to a potential life sentence when, during the shooting, he did everything he could to help save lives. Even Israel believes that Peterson should never have been arrested for criminal charges. I understand the community’s need to hold guilty people accountable. However, there can be no justice for those killed in Parkland by committing an injustice against Peterson.
Mark Eiglarsh is a defense attorney, former prosecutor and adjunct law professor based in Fort Lauderdale who represents Scot Peterson.