Parkland, FL – The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has announced it is conducting a criminal investigation into the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The investigation is set to determine whether police committed crimes during their response to the mass shooting.
Florida Governor Rick Scott directed the FDLE to criminally investigate the law enforcement response to the incident after Nikolas Cruz gunned down 17 students and faculty and injured 17 more, the Sun Sentinel reported.
The investigation included examination of the actions taken by then-School Resource Deputy Scot Peterson, who remained outside the building instead of rushing in to help the victims or to confront Cruz.
Several other deputies also took cover outside the school as shots were being fired inside.
According to FDLE Communications Director Gretl Plessinger, the department is working to determine “if there was anything illegal done by the law enforcement officers who responded to the scene that day,” the Sun Sentinel reported.
She refused to name the target of the investigation, but denied speculative claims that investigators were focusing on Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
“We’re not,” Plessinger said.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office will ultimately decide whether or not the investigative findings will lead to criminal charges.
“We do not know what the potential charges could be until the evidence is presented,” State’s Attorney spokesperson Constance Simmons told the Sun Sentinel.
Legal experts were surprised to learn that the FDLE investigation has turned into a criminal matter, and have raised questions regarding whether law enforcement officers could be charged criminally for hesitating or failing to stop a shooter as quickly as possible, the Sun Sentinel reported.
“Certainly, doing a bad job is not criminal,” Fort Lauderdale attorney Bruce Zimet told the paper. “However, lying about what you did, if you’re a law enforcement officer, could be, under certain circumstances, criminal in nature.”
Former New York Police Officer Eugene O’Donnell, who is now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it would be “inconceivable” for charges to be brought against former Deputy Peterson for making a “tactical judgement” to not intervene in the mass killing, especially when he was outgunned by Cruz.
“If you could show the officer was AWOL or under the influence, there might be some case that he was involved in some sort of official misconduct that impacted his ability to respond to these events,” O’Donnell said.
If convicted of official misconduct, that would be grounds for the state to revoke Peterson's pension.
The FDLE said the criminal investigation will likely not be completed until early 2019.
On Sep. 5, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission watched a second-by-second video account that showed where Deputy Peterson was during the shooting, relative to the location of Cruz.
The video was presented by Broward Sheriff’s Office Detective Zack Scott, who stopped repeatedly during the presentation to explain what exactly was occurring in the footage, including the body count as the shooter progressed through the building.
The video showed that the school resource officer arrived at the building and heard gunshots while the shooter was still on the first floor of the building.
“So if Peterson had gone through the door, he would have encountered the shooter?” the chairman of the commission, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, asked.
“Entirely possible,” Det. Scott responded.
Most members of the commission agreed that if Peterson had acted according to current police protocols and policies, fewer people would have died on Feb. 14, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
“So as Cruz was moving down the hallway, Peterson was standing at the door,” Sheriff Gualtieri reasoned aloud at the meeting.
“And either at the time or just before he shot Feis, Peterson was standing at that door,” the sheriff asked rhetorically, referring to the 37-year-old Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach who was murdered by the shooter that day.
At times during the meeting, the sheriff appeared challenged to control his anger at what he was seeing in the video.
“Peterson fled back over to the 7/8 building as opposed to going in and chasing him up the stairs and shooting him,” Sheriff Gualtieri declared.
That’s when then-Deputy Peterson got on the radio and ordered officers to stay away from the 1200 Building and told the dispatcher to have the intersections closed.
“What he’s saying here at this juncture is totally contrary to all law enforcement protocol and policy… telling people to lockdown intersections at this juncture when the guy was still on the second floor,” the sheriff ranted.
There was discussion of the Coral Springs police response in relation to the Broward Sheriff’s Office timeline, a highly controversial subject after it was revealed that Coral Springs SWAT officers were the first law enforcement to enter the building, 11 minutes after the shooting first began.
Sheriff Gualtieri told the Sun-Sentinel that the surveillance video and animated presentation clearly explained what had happened.
“If you’re a responding Broward sheriff’s deputy, and you have the deputy that’s on campus, who’s there in the best position, telling you what to do — i.e. lockdown intersections, they’re going to do what the guy who’s on campus is telling them to do,” he said.
“Coral Springs didn’t hear that direction. So Coral Springs is coming right in. Why are they coming right in? Because they weren’t hearing this nonsense direction about locking down intersections,” Sheriff Gualtieri explained.
The investigation so far showed that the gunman had reloaded his weapon five times during the course of his rampage, and commission members said the short breaks would have allowed a responding officer who was inside the Freshman Building to stop him from killing more people, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
Det. Scott’s presentation showed where the former school resource officer and the school’s two unarmed security guards were during the horrific event.
Peterson was standing only 69 feet away from the door of the building where the gunman was still shooting people, but made no attempt to enter as he issued outdated orders that kept immediate help from getting to those in the building.
As Peterson hid behind a pole, the shooter went up to the second and third floors of the building and murdered more people, Det. Scott’s timeline showed.
Sheriff Gualtieri said the commission wanted Peterson to testify before them at the October meeting and explain why he did what he did on that fateful day.
“It’s very important, and he should answer,” the sheriff told the Sun-Sentinel during a break. “He went on the Today Show, and he talked to The Washington Post, so he should answer questions from this fact-finding commission. He told a self-serving story on the Today Show in a friendly environment so he can answer questions from this commission.”