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School Massacre Panel To Hear From Criticized Deputy

Memorials for the students who perished during the Parkland School shooting.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The then-sheriff's deputy on campus during the Florida high school massacre is scheduled to testify Thursday before a state commission investigating the shooting, a day after members called him "not a real cop" and "a coward."

Former Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson is subpoenaed to appear before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, where he will be asked why he did not enter the building where 14 students and three staff members died Feb. 14 and try to stop the shooter.

There has been speculation Peterson might invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify as a criminal investigation of law enforcement's response continues, but commission spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Wednesday that the panel is planning on his attendance. Peterson's attorney did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and school district Superintendent Robert Runcie are scheduled to testify after Peterson.

Some of the heaviest criticism Peterson received Wednesday as commissioners watched a presentation on his actions came from the panel's law enforcement officials. The commission believes Peterson could have prevented at least six deaths if he entered the building immediately, but he took cover, drew his gun and never went inside.

"He was a cop in name only," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. "If he had been a real cop, he would have run in there with that gun."

"He ran. He did not want to go in," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission's chairman. The panel also includes educators, mental health professionals, a legislator and the fathers of two slain students.

Peterson told investigators he heard only two or three shots and didn't know whether they were coming from inside or outside the three-story freshman building. That is contradicted by radio calls in which he correctly identifies the building as the shooter's location. Bullets also came out a window almost directly above where he took cover. About 150 shots were fired.

Peterson, 55, retired shortly after the shooting rather than accept a suspension while an internal investigation was conducted.

Meanwhile, suspect Nikolas Cruz is facing new charges that he attacked a detention officer at the county jail.

Broward sheriff spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said Cruz, 20, assaulted Sgt. Raymond Beltran about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Jail records show Cruz now is charged with aggravated assault on an officer, battery on an officer and use of an "electric or chemical weapon against an officer."

Cruz faces the death penalty for the shootings and has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers say he would plead guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence.

According to the assault arrest report, Cruz attacked Beltran after he was told to "not drag his sandals around" while walking in a jail dayroom. Cruz responded, the report says, by showing Beltran his middle finger and then rushing the deputy and striking him with his fist.

The report says Cruz and Beltran fought and Cruz was able to wrest control of Beltran's stun gun. It discharged but it's not clear from the report whether it struck anyone.

Cruz struck Beltran multiple times with his fists, the report said.

Finally, the report says, Beltran struck Cruz in the face with a fist containing the stun gun and Cruz then "retreated to one of the seats" in the dayroom before he was taken into custody.

The report doesn't detail the severity of Cruz's or Beltran's injuries.