Florida judge finds former Parkland deputy had a legal duty to protect Stoneman Douglas students and staff

Florida judge finds former Parkland deputy had a legal duty to protect Stoneman Douglas students and staff
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.—The only armed deputy stationed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School the day of Nikolas Cruz’s deadly rampage asked a Broward judge on Wednesday to find he had “no legal duty” to protect the students and faculty from harm.

The judge rejected his argument.

In a video frame grab from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Scot Peterson outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during his response to the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Fla.  (BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF S OFFICE / The New York Times)

Scot Peterson, who resigned from the Broward Sheriff’s Office in late February and is accused of shirking his responsibility by hiding instead of confronting Cruz, wanted Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Meadow Pollack, one of 17 people shot and killed in the Parkland school on Feb. 14.

“We want to say he had an obligation, but the law isn’t that,” said Peterson’s lawyer, Michael Piper. “From a legal standpoint, there was no duty.”

Englander Henning saw it differently, finding Peterson had a duty to the school community as someone whose job was security and who had an “obligation to act reasonably” under the circumstances of the shooting.

The judge also found Peterson was not protected from the lawsuit by “sovereign immunity,” a legal doctrine that shields public employees from legal action based on their official conduct.

‘It was my job, and I didn’t find him:’ Parkland resource officer remains haunted by massacre

Piper said he would appeal the ruling.

Peterson was not in court Wednesday for the hearing —in a separate motion he is asking the judge to keep Pollack’s father, Andrew, from attending a formal interview as part of the lawsuit. Pollack, who is also suing Cruz, the family that took him in two months before the shooting, and his mental health providers, sat at the plaintiff’s table during the hearing.

One of the lawyers representing Pollack expressed shock that Peterson would try to get out of the lawsuit.

“It is inconceivable that anyone could advance the proposition that Scot Peterson had no duty to these people,” said attorney Joel Perwin. “That is an absurd proposition. ... This was an abdication of responsibility when this (shooting) happened, and it is an abdication of responsibility now in this courtroom.”

Cruz is facing the death penalty if convicted of 17 counts of first-degree murder. He is also charged with 17 counts of attempted murder. On Tuesday he was formally charged with attacking a deputy and removing his stun gun at the Broward main jail, where Cruz has been housed since the Stoneman Douglas shooting.

After Englander Henning rejected the motion to dismiss, attorneys argued over the deputy’s effort to keep Andrew Pollack from attending his deposition. Piper argued that comments Pollack had made about Peterson online, while not explicitly “threats,” were hostile and “unfriendly.”

Pollack posted a comment on a GoFundMe page Peterson established for his legal defence fund, asserting that “the only thing we should help him with is which solid tree to hang a noose from.”

In a later interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Pollack acknowledged writing the comment and added, “He’s not going to hide from me forever. One way or another, he’s going to sit across from me at that table.”

Piper cited that comment as further reason Pollack should not be permitted to attend Peterson’s deposition.

Englander Henning postponed Peterson’s deposition, originally scheduled for next Monday, but ruled that Pollack could attend it.
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