Disgraced Stoneman Douglas Police Officer Defies Subpoena, Fails To Appear Before State Panel
The disgraced former police officer assigned to protect Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School defied a subpoena and failed to show up to a meeting of a state investigative panel that's examining the Feb. 14 massacre that left 17 people dead inside the school.
Scot Peterson's lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, appeared briefly at the meeting instead, accusing the panel's members of "libel[ing]" Peterson and announcing a lawsuit from the former school resource officer. It was not immediately clear the nature of the lawsuit.
As DiRuzzo left the packed meeting room at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, the father of one of the teenage victims confronted him.
"He didn't do his job," Fred Guttenberg said, adding that his daughter, Jaime, might not be dead if he had.
The commission had just finished watching an animated recreation of the shooting that showed Peterson had approached building 12 as shots were fired inside but then retreated to a hiding place rather than attempting to confront confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz.
The commission — members of which were appointed by the governor and leaders of the Legislature — has subpoena power and is required to produce a report for state leaders by Jan. 1 with recommendations for further legislative action. Thursday was the third of four days of this month's meeting.
Members said they would explore their legal options, such as holding Peterson in contempt of court, since he refused to comply with the subpoena.
Without Peterson's participation, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission moved on to hear testimony from Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and will later question Sheriff Scott Israel. The two local officials have faced heavy scrutiny and criticism of their handling of the shooting and its aftermath.
PETERSON HID FOR NEARLY AN HOUR
The commission spent hours on Wednesday and then again Thursday morning reviewing a presentation of more than 600 slides detailing the law enforcement response to the shooting. With video and audio from police body cameras and radio, the presentation showed details of what happened starting seconds after the first shots were fired.
During the presentation, commission members heard that Peterson had remained in a hiding place near building 7 for nearly 50 minutes after the shooting began. That was even as officers from several other law enforcement agencies entered building 12 and attempted to track down Cruz, rescue surviving victims and evacuate students who had taken shelter in classrooms.
A lieutenant from a nearby police department spotted Peterson as he left his hiding place and described him as pacing back and forth and breathing heavily, according to the report. When the lieutenant asked Peterson who he was, Peterson responded: "I'm the SRO." The lieutenant then asked Peterson what was going on.
"I don't know," Peterson said, according to the testimony. "I don't know. Oh my God, I can't believe this."
The commission had first watched the animation of the shooting during Wednesday's meeting, after which they discussed Peterson's choice to hide rather than enter building 12.
"If you were a real human being, you would have gone in," State Sen. Lauren Book, a Broward County Democrat who sits on the commission, said then. There were nods in agreement.
DELAYED SURVEILLANCE FOOTAGE HINDERED RESPONSE
Earlier during the meeting, the commission learned that police officers had delayed moving to the third floor of building 12, where 10 people had been shot, because they believed Cruz was still there.
But the surveillance video they were watching — which showed Cruz walking from the third floor to the second floor — was delayed by more than 26 minutes. Cruz had actually already left the campus. Four of the 10 people Cruz had allegedly shot on the third floor survived.
After Cruz left Stoneman Douglas, he walked to a nearby Walmart and then a McDonalds. At the fast food restaurant, he sat and talked with a Stoneman Douglas student who had been evacuated and was waiting for his mother to pick him up. In what the commission's chair, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, called "pure happenstance," Cruz had injured the student's sister in the shooting about 40 minutes earlier. The student said Cruz had been pushy asking for a ride.
The presentation included a disturbing video taken inside a classroom in building 12. Students were screaming and crying as officers assessed shooting victims and directed the kids to evacuate. Images of victims were blurred.
Photos also showed police officers' efforts to rescue victims. One officer created a tourniquet to apply to a gunshot wound on student victim Ashley Baez's thigh, an action that Gualtieri described as quick thinking. Later, there were images shown of police officers carrying badly injured student victim Anthony Borges from the third floor, also applying a tourniquet to his wounds.
Gualtieri and sergeant John Seuss, who gave the presentation, both stressed that while there were many officers who made mistakes, there were also many who responded appropriately.
"It was difficult for us the number of times that officers and deputies broke down crying during these interviews," Seuss said. "It was obviously a very trying and traumatic experience for these officers and deputies as well."
Following the presentation and the second playing of the animation, commission member Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed, tearfully thanked Gualtieri and other investigators for their detailed work.
"Ever since this happened, the only thing the 17 families have wanted was to find out the truth and some accountability," Schachter said. "Because of you, I think we're going to get that."
This story was updated at 3 p.m. with new information about Scot Peterson.
Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit .