Parkland shootings: Prosecuting cowardice
“How much bravery do we expect, or demand, of law enforcement officers?” asked Shaila Dewan and Richard Oppel Jr. in The New York Times. The state of Florida took the unprecedented step last week of charging former sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson with crimes for failing to confront the gunman who killed 17 people and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year. Instead of going into the school where the former student was firing 140 rounds and slaughtering students with an AR-15, Peterson, the school’s resource officer, stood passively outside with his gun for 45 minutes, saying, “Oh, my God.” Dubbed “the coward of Broward,” the 56-year-old faces 11 charges, including seven for “child neglect” and one for perjury. Jeff Bell, president of the Broward County deputies union, warned that criminally prosecuting first responders for failing to act heroically is a slippery slope. “Are we going to go after a firefighter for not going into a building or a nurse for not properly triaging patients?” Bell asked.
Peterson’s failure was far worse, said The Florida Times-Union in an editorial. He received a gun and years of training, but an exhaustive investigation found he did “absolutely nothing” to protect students and staff. When they arrived at the school, four officers from the Coral Springs Police Department ran inside, knowing that “a police officer must be prepared to die” if lives are on the line. Family of the deceased justifiably “burn with anger” when discussing Peterson, said Carl Hiaasen in the Miami Herald. Whether or not he’s convicted and sent to prison, Peterson’s failure to try to protect those kids “will haunt him forever.”
Still, “it is not a crime to be a coward,” said Sue Carlton in the Tampa Bay Times. Charging Peterson with child neglect is “legally indefensible,” although it’s possible a jury will convict him “purely on the emotion and horror of what happened.” That would be deeply misguided, said the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in an editorial. “Peterson offers an inviting target” to divert attention from the systemic breakdown that took place. The school district failed to “assess the threat” the shooter posed, and two tips to the FBI that he might shoot up a school “got lost in the system.” “Finally, how was an unstable 19-year-old” able to buy a military-style weapon? Peterson is easy to hate, but “more than one person carries blame” for this tragedy.